By Poshak Agrawal, Co-Founder at Athena Education
In our increasingly interconnected world, classrooms have become melting pots of diverse cultures, languages, and experiences. In 2014, the number of Latino, African-American, and Asian students surpassed the number of white students enrolled in public schools in the US. Furthermore, as per the US Census, 49.3% of the US population will comprise people of color by 2044. But diversity is not limited to race and ethnicity. Whether in India or abroad, educational institutions are inhabited by students from diverse religions, economic statuses, gender identities and sexual orientations. And while this push towards diversity has led to the altering of teaching methodology, student development, student services and campus programs, not much has been achieved with respect to incorporating cultural diversity in assessments.
Lack of culturally-diverse assessments, both at the stage of admission and within the classroom, has a negative impact on student performance and morale. The SAT, for instance, has been repeatedly criticized for being culturally biased, favoring white, upper-middle-class students. As educators, we must ensure that assessments are fair, unbiased, and inclusive of all students. Here’s a guide on how to create assessments that reflect the kaleidoscope of talents and backgrounds found in classrooms.
Embrace Culturally Responsive Assessment Methods
Educational institutes have traditionally understood cultural diversity in terms of race in ethnicity. In their paper titled “Equity and Assessment: Moving Towards Culturally Responsive Assessment,” Montenegro and Jankowski argue for an expanded definition of culture that incorporates (1) explicit elements such as race, religion, language, customs, practices and behaviour that can be attributed to a specific group; (2) implicit characteristics including beliefs, values, ethics, gender identity and sexual orientations; and (3) cognitive factors such as cognition, learning, communication, and expression. Educators must not only understand cultural diversity through the lens of intersectionality but also develop assessments that are sensitive to a wide range of learner differences.
Monitor the Language Used in Assessments
Being mindful of stereotypes in assessments can make students feel included. Educators must scrutinize the language and imagery used in assessment materials and challenge their preconceptions about students from different backgrounds. Furthermore, jargon, idiomatic expressions, and culturally-specific references must be avoided to accommodate students with diverse learning experiences and capabilities.
Explore Alternative Assessments and Offer Accommodations
Employing a mix of assessment methods can foster a holistic understanding of a student’s abilities and knowledge. Instead of banking on pen-and-paper exams and multiple-choice tests, educators must employ a range of assessment techniques, including but not limited to project-based assessments and oral presentations. In addition, educators must provide appropriate accommodations to students with special needs or language barriers. They must familiarize themselves with available resources and collaborate with support staff to ensure every student has the opportunity to succeed.
Solicit Student Feedback
Culturally responsive assessments are centred around student needs and experiences. As such, students must be involved at every step in the assessment process, starting from identifying learning outcomes. Seeking student feedback on assessments can help educators identify potential issues and make necessary adjustments. Furthermore, fostering open dialogue can also contribute to enhancing equity and inclusion within the classroom.
Set Clear and Transparent Assessment Criteria
Once an assessment is created, it is crucial to establish clear, specific, and measurable assessment criteria to minimize ambiguity and unconscious bias in evaluation. This allows students to understand what is expected of them and enables them to be better prepared while taking an exam or submitting an assignment.
As we move toward a future where diversity is the norm, it is imperative that we create assessments that reflect the richness of our classrooms. Educators must develop culturally responsive assessments that cater to the unique learning experiences and capabilities of each student. By monitoring the language used in assessments, exploring alternative assessments, soliciting student feedback, and setting clear and transparent assessment criteria, educators can create a learning environment where every student gets an equal chance to shine.