Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Culturally Responsive Performance-Based Assessment: Conceptual and Psychometric Considerations

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Culturally Responsive Performance-Based Assessment: Conceptual and Psychometric Considerations

Article excerpt

This article provides a rationale for advocating the development of culturally responsive performance-based assessments as a means of achieving equity for students of color. It first addresses the arguments for and against these types of assessments, noting important psychometric concerns. It then discusses their potential for effectuating culturally responsive instructional approaches. Last, it recommends that existing test development procedures be modified to emphasize the meaningful participation of individuals who are not only experts in the content area being assessed but have deep understandings of the cultural contexts of students of color based on substantial teaching experience in those contexts.


The noted educational researcher Edmund Gordon issued a challenge to the assessment community at a conference entitled "Assessment Questions: Equity Answers," sponsored in 1993 by the Center for Research on Evaluation Standards and Student Testing (CRESST). At that conference, Gordon outlined three ways to make assessment more equitable (Rothman, 1994). First, he suggested that we educators and policymakers make better use of available information to allocate resources more equitably. Second, he suggested that we develop new instruments and procedures to tap students' affective traits and not just their cognitive skills. Third, he recommended that we conduct research and development work to build on what is known about cultural pluralism and its impact on teaching and learning.

I agree with Gordon on all three points. Indeed, this article reflects my most recent attempt to elaborate on his second point and to stimulate the generation of ideas that amplify his third point. It begins with a rationale for proposing culturally responsive performance-based assessment as a potential vehicle for achieving equity for students of color. That argument is followed by a discussion of some of the major technical concerns associated with measures of reliability and validity when assessing students of color using performance-based assessments is the central consideration. Finally, the article discusses the probable consequences of employing specific strategies that modify typical test development procedures. It recommends targeting the inclusion of individuals who are not only experts in the content area of the assessment (e.g., mathematics, science, etc.) but also have an in-depth understanding of students' cultural context. This latter focus examines the likely outcomes of involving individuals who are grounded in both the substantial schooling and real-life experiences of the cultural contexts of targeted examinees of color.

At the core of Gordon's second point is the need to develop assessment devices that do not place examinees at a disadvantage simply because their cultural background differs from that of European Americans. In recent years, performance-based assessments have been offered as an alternative to traditional forms of standardized testing because they are believed to be potentially more culturally fair. Certainly, alternatives to the traditional approaches used to assess students of color must be rigorously explored and implemented. We must further consider developing assessments that parallel pedagogical strategies that are grounded in the cultural contexts of examinees of color. If it is true that culturally responsive forms of assessment can quite possibly improve the assessment of what examinees of color know and can do relative to specific learning outcomes, then it is incumbent upon us to begin discussing how these devices can be developed and validated.

In the past few years, the discussions prompted by the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, the proposed National Voluntary Test, and other educational reform efforts have challenged our thinking about curriculum, instruction, and assessment (Howe, 1991; Shepard, 1993). However, when students of color are included in the equation of desirable educational and social outcomes, the complexity of the issues surrounding these reform initiatives increases exponentially. …

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