Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Toward an Equitable System of Educational Assessment

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Toward an Equitable System of Educational Assessment

Article excerpt

This article addresses the challenges posed for traditional approaches to instruction and assessment in their use with students from diverse backgrounds. It argues that equity problems in assessment are secondary to the failure to achieve equity through educational treatments. Woven throughout is an overarching concern with teaching, learning, and assessment as constructive, interactive, and reflective processes. Several assessment alternatives are discussed: the "unbundling" of standardized tests to render them more informative of teaching and learning; the diversification of tasks, contexts, referents, and canonical content; the introduction of examinee/ examiner choice between items or performance options; and the use of portfolios and other curriculum-embedded approaches.

The most fundamental issues concerning human diversity, equity, and educational assessment have to do with the effectiveness and sufficiency of teaching and learning. When teaching and learning are sufficient and truly effective, most of the problems posed for equitable assessment as a function of diverse human characteristics become manageable. It is when teaching and learning are insufficiently effective with the universe of students served that problems arise in the pursuit of equity in the assessment of diverse human populations. Thus, it can be argued that the problems of equity in educational assessment are largely secondary to the failure to achieve equity through educational treatments. However, the fact that these problems of equitable educational assessment are only secondarily problems for assessment does not mean that they should not be engaged by the assessment community, even if they cannot be solved through assessment alone.

It is not by accident that existing approaches to the standardized assessment of educational achievement are insufficiently sensitive to the diversity of the student populations served and to the pluralism of society. The prevailing standards by which academic competence is judged are calibrated in large measure against either: (a) what most persons at a specific level of development can do, or (b) what society agrees is necessary for students to meet the demands of increasingly challenging levels of work. That some persons have greater difficulty than others or seem unable to achieve these standards is generally thought to be a problem of individual and group differences in abilities or productivity, not a problem of the appropriateness of the assessment instruments or practices used. Despite educators' efforts to be responsive to diverse learner characteristics and pluralistic social standards, the prevailing wisdom suggests that there may be limits to what can be done to make the design and development of assessment technology and procedures more inclusive. The assessment process may be made more instructive and supportive of diverse learning experiences, the varied contexts in and vehicles through which students can demonstrate their competencies may be determined, test items may be made more process-sensitive, and less emphasis may be given on tests to narrowly defined products. Yet, in the final analysis, the assessment procedure is ultimately most likely to reveal the effectiveness of the teaching and learning to which students have been exposed. Thus, diversity and pluralism may have more serious implications for teaching and learning than for equitable assessment technology and practice.

Increasingly, we live in a world that places multiple and concurrent demands upon our competencies. More and more, all of us are called upon to function in multiple contexts, cultures, and languages. The most effective among us are multilingual and multicultural. Thus, pedagogical intervention in this day and age must be responsive to this diversity and pluralism in order to meet the criteria for educational sufficiency and effectiveness. Equitable assessment must be influenced by these developments, even if it must be less responsive to both than it is to educational intervention. …

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