Assessment in Higher Education: Issues of Access, Quality, Student Development, and Public Policy

By Samuel J. Messick | Go to book overview

PART V
ISSUES OF EQUITY AND FAIRNESS IN HIGHER EDUCATION ASSESSMENT

Equity and fairness are social values that apply whenever decisions are made or actions taken that affect individuals or groups. If these decisions or actions are based on test scores or assessment information in general, then equity and fairness become central measurement concerns that fall squarely in the area of validity. Indeed, validity is also a social value, and we should not let its technical underpinnings in psychometric theory obscure the fact that validity's power and legitimacy as a judgmental standard derive from its basis in societal values.

In recent years, the concept of validity has been extended to encompass the adequacy and appropriateness of interpretations and actions based on test scores or other assessment devices. The term "adequacy" refers to the evidential basis of test validity and "appropriateness" to the consequential basis. Equity and fairness are key issues with respect to the consequential basis of validity because they can ultimately be evaluated only by taking the intended and unintended consequences of test interpretation and use into account.

Moreover, equity and fairness are principles of social justice, a broader social value also closely linked to the consequential basis of validity. In the context of educational assessment, the major issues of equity are equal access and treatment as well as equal opportunity to learn. The major concern of fairness is to achieve a proper balance of the needs, rights, and demands of different individuals and groups in test interpretation and use. The relevant validity principle in establishing fairness is comparability of scoring, interpretation, and use across diverse individuals, groups, and settings. These issues of equity and fairness, as they bear on higher education assessment, are the topics of Part V.

In Chapter 14, Randy Bennett notes that congressional legislation along with federal regulations aimed at assuring test fairness for disabled examinees puts the testing community in a state of conflict. This conflict stems from the dual legislative requirements of accurate and valid assessment of the capabilities of disabled individuals simultaneously with the prohibition of inquiry about disabled status. Unable to guarantee the comparability of scores across standard administrations and those modified for disabled examinees, the testing profession resorted, at least temporarily, to flagging the latter scores, thereby violating the prior-inquiry prohibition.

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