Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Culturally Responsive Assessment: Develpoment Strategies and Validity Issues

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Culturally Responsive Assessment: Develpoment Strategies and Validity Issues

Article excerpt

A basic premise underlying educational interventions within a culturally responsive model is that referents meaningful to students are intentionally provided within the curriculum. As such, curriculum-embedded assessments can be developed to support learning, and these assessments must be grounded within the same contextual and content frameworks as instructional activities. The mixed-item type assessments associated with them face serious validity challenges, however. This article recognizes and addresses these challenges, basing its responses upon both evidential and consequential facets of validity such as construct underrepresentation, score generalizability, curricular relevance, value implications, and content/experience bias.


When looking at the measured learnings of African American children, we educators must surely feel compelled to question our abilities. It is obvious that we have failed to meet the needs of a vast number of Black children using traditional educational practices and activities. For years, many of us have viewed these children's internal frameworks as being deficient and have attempted to restructure their ways of thinking to fit a prescribed pattern. In doing so, we have not only lost generations of potential leaders and scholars, but have disturbingly positioned ourselves to lose numerous more. We clearly need to reconsider the strategies and tools that we use to facilitate learning for African American youth.

Children do not come to schools as blank slates to be crafted in the manner we educators deem appropriate. Rather, they come to us as thoughtful individuals with developing cognitive processes and abilities that are partially shaped by environmental factors. Many children from the same cultural group will share a set of common experiences and knowledge. As Lee and Slaughter-Defoe (1996) note, drawing upon the earlier work of Hymes (1974) and Gee (1989), the effects of culture on cognition can often be realized in the following manner:

This acquired knowledge is often transmitted through language and includes knowledge about social roles and relationships, structures for communicating, norms about what is appropriate to be communicated to whom and under what circumstances, and conceptions about the natural world and the individual's role in it. (pp. 356-357)

It is these shared cultural interpretations and understandings that educators must positively exploit to facilitate learning. In particular, the cultural experiences of African American children provide a broadly conceived framework within which educational interventions can be implemented.

A culturally responsive pedagogical approach recognizes and validates these varied experiences and uses them as scaffolding to structure educational activities. Such an approach serves to contextualize and expand curricula in ways that more appropriately build upon the knowledge bases of the students being served. According to LadsonBillings (1992), culturally relevant pedagogy should "empower students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to import knowledge, skills, and attitudes" (p. 382). The adoption of a culturally relevant model, however, may lead school systems to value some educational goals over others. What is thus valued serves to reflect the intended focus of all educational activities and ultimately is expressed in terms of expected student learning outcomes.

By articulating, prior to instruction, that which students are expected to be able to do or feel at the end of instruction, a clearer focus can be provided for all involved parties. The conditions and activities most conducive for learning to take place can also be stipulated. Such explicit statements of the targeted objectives of instruction provide a basis for determining whether learning has occurred. As Stiggins, Rubel, and Quellmalz (1988) point out:

As educators, we want students to do far more than just restate facts that we have taught them. …

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