Gender and Fair Assessment

Gender and Fair Assessment

Gender and Fair Assessment

Gender and Fair Assessment


There have been many important changes in the participation of women and men in American society over the past quarter-century. Tests play a role in those changes by providing evidence of the diverse achievement and proficiency of women and men. They aid the learning process and reflect inequalities in opportunity to learn and participate. In addition, they provide useful information in considering what alternatives in education and work make most sense for individuals and influence views about groups of students, educational programs, and a wide range of issues. For all of these reasons, it is important that tests assess fairly and reflect accurately the ways young people are and are not achieving as well as desired.

The test performance of women and men is a research topic of historical interest and has received much attention in recent years. Because of this increased interest, there is a great deal of new research and data available. The purpose of the study presented in this volume was to review this new information with two objectives in mind:

• to clarify patterns of gender difference and similarity in test performance and related achievements, and

• to see what implications those findings might have for fair assessment and, as a corollary, examine the assessment process as a possible source of gender differences.

This study is interested in tests used in education to assess developed knowledge and skill. In order to gain a broader view of gender similarity and difference, the contributors looked at other types of measures and other characteristics of young women and men. Their hope is to contribute to a firmer basis for insuring fairness in tests--an objective which is particularly important as the field moves increasingly to new forms of assessment in which there is less experience.


Two contemporary issues encouraged the undertaking of this book. The first issue involved the need to know more about the test performance of women and men--to be sure we know and understand the basic results about which there has been some debate. The second issue concerned the challenges that new methods of educational assessment pose for fair testing. Together, the two issues led us to ask, "Do we know enough about gender differences and similarities to know where our concerns should lie?" And, "If we knew enough, what should we do with the knowledge in order to design fair assessments for the future?"

Although some may think that enough is known about the performance of women and men on tests, we saw inconsistent patterns in some results. Such inconsistencies have caused a degree of confusion regarding gender differences and similarities in achievement, and have also caused some concerns as to whether the tests themselves may unfairly influence patterns of performance. Considerable recent research on the test performance of females and males makes this a good time to review and extend what has been learned.

New assessments have become more possible and more prevalent in recent years, raising a whole new set of issues about how to design assessments for fairness. Several trends account for the progressive move to broadened forms of assessment. Increasingly, an informed public asks for testing that will lead to more effective education for all students. Researchers are learning more about critical cognitive skills and how to teach and assess them. Technology is expanding the practical alternatives for new assessment methods. Each of these trends leads to assessment options that are more diverse and more complex. It is not only an exciting time for the measurement profession but also a sobering task.

Designing and using more complex tests that are more directly connected with the educational process will require more from all of us. We will have to know more about how people perform on different types of tests and why a particular type of test in a particular situation may be more fair for one student and less fair for another. How can we be sure that new types of tests . . .

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