Thursday, May 23, 2024

Assessments should be more inclusive to reflect all students’ cultures, experiences

(EdTrust) WASHINGTON – Soon, students across the country will take the annual federally required summative assessments. However, a new EdTrust report explains why these tests need to be more inclusive, with passages and questions that reflect the diverse cultures and experiences of the students taking them.

Statewide annual assessments are an essential tool for policymakers, parents, educators, and the public to understand how school systems are serving students, particularly Black and Latino students, who have long faced inequitable opportunities in school. By updating these assessments, students of color can more fully demonstrate what they know and can do, giving parents, policymakers, and educators a more accurate picture of how schools are serving all students. Right now, many assessment companies intentionally eliminate questions that involve cultural topics or themes, but by being devoid of any culture or context, these items inherently default to the dominant culture of Whiteness.

“Research tells us that learning is inherently cultural,” said EdTrust Assistant Director of P-12 Policy Nicholas Munyan-Penney, one of the report’s authors. “In other words, we connect new information to what we already know, including our experiences, social constructs, and personal perspectives. Attempts to remove culture from assessment questions in the name of objectivity not only privileges White perspectives but is out of step with how students learn and demonstrate their knowledge and skills.”

EdTrust’s call for inclusive assessments comes at a time when diverse and inclusive curriculum is increasingly under attack. However, research shows that students are more engaged when they see people like themselves in materials at school, and that increased engagement leads positive outcomes in critical thinking skills, standardized test scores, course completion, school attendance, and graduation, as well as self-esteem and well-being — especially students of color.

“EdTrust’s ‘Advocates’ Guide to Demanding Racially & Culturally Inclusive State Assessments’ serves as a helpful resource to empower educators, policymakers, and advocates to address the issue of cultural bias and ensure proper cultural representation in assessments,” said Amalia Chamorro, director of education policy at UnidosUS. “This report is aligned with research conducted by UnidosUS and the National Urban League that highlights concerns about the lack of cultural representation and bias in assessments, and a belief that the design and administration of assessments should be more reflective of today’s racially and ethnically diverse student population. When 28% of the K-12 student population is Latino and 10% are identified as English learners, this call to action is a necessary shift to better capture achievement data for historically marginalized groups and all students.”


(CDC / Unsplash)

In the “Advocates’ Guide to Demanding Racially and Culturally Inclusive State Assessments,” EdTrust defines inclusive assessments as those that authentically reflect students’ own cultures and identities and the cultures and identities of others, intentionally include important cultural and contextual information, reflect students’ intersecting identities, and are honest about both the challenges and opportunities of students’ realities.

The report lays out ways that assessment companies can include more diverse subject matter, which starts with diversifying the team of assessment item writers and updating bias and sensitivity guidelines. The report also provides strategies for advocates to work with state leaders, who can then exert consumer pressure on the assessment companies who create the tests. State lawmakers, for example, can allocate additional funding to assessment companies specifically for the development of inclusive assessments, and state education agencies can use Request for Proposal application processes to require these vendors to create inclusive items that offer a range of races, cultures, identities, and interests.

“EdTrust provides concrete solutions for advocates to address cultural and racial bias in assessments,” said the National Urban League. “This vital work advances the field’s vision of next-generation assessments necessary to create equitable accountability systems.”
Today’s report is a follow-up to a report released by EdTrust in August 2023, “Future of Assessments: Centering Equity and the Lived Experiences of Students, Families and Educators,” which was informed by feedback from focus groups to four equity pillars of federal assessment policy, including one focused on encouraging relevant, inclusive assessments.

EdTrust is committed to advancing policies and practices to dismantle the racial and economic barriers embedded in the American education system. Through our research and advocacy, Ed Trust improves equity in education from preschool through college, engages diverse communities dedicated to education equity and justice, and increases political and public will to build an education system where students will thrive.


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