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How do I make my assessment inclusive?

Emilie Poletto-Lawson is a BILT fellow (based in Academic Staff Development), working on the BILT theme of inclusive assessment. July 2019

What struck me, the more I read about inclusive assessment, was that what I was looking at was “simply” excellent educational practice. I have designed this document as a conversation, listing questions one might ask themselves in order to design inclusive assessment.

Who should I be inclusive of?

Interestingly enough, even though universities are legally required to offer inclusive practice since the 1995 Disability discrimination act, what “inclusivity” entails has not been defined. The most referred to definition in the field is Hockings’ (2010): 

Inclusive learning and teaching in higher education refers to the ways in which pedagogy, curricula and assessment are designed and delivered to engage students in learning that is meaningful, relevant and accessible to all. It embraces a view of the individual and individual difference as the source of diversity that can enrich the lives and learning of others.

The acts ensure the right to inclusion of disabled students (The 1995 Disability Discrimination Act, the 2001 Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA – recognizing dyslexia as a disability) and the 2010 Equality act). Evans (2016) defines inclusive practices as “provid[ing] every student with an equal and effective opportunity to access learning and teaching opportunities and to achieve the intended learning outcomes”. This definition can feel overwhelming as all our students are unique but it can also be seen as a springboard to take time to think of the diversity of our learners and how best to support them. Haggis (2006) in reaction to the massification of Higher Education added “mature”, “disadvantaged”, “nontraditional” and “overseas” to the list of students to be conscious about. Wray (2013) added “international students, postgraduate students and distance learning students”. There is now a lot of work being done on decolonisation of the curriculum and widening participation. 

Where do I start?

Just like you would for any unit/programme design. What do you want your students to be able to do by the end of your unit/programme? How will you know they are able to? Therefore, what are your intended learning outcomes? Constructive alignment (Biggs and Tang, 2007) is key to students’ success, it is thus essential to consider the end point to conceive how best to support your students’ learning and the best way to assess them.If you would like some support for this, there is an excellent session on the CREATE programme designed called “Unit and Programme Design” which supports academics with the design process and the questions to ask oneself. 

I have clear intended learning outcomes, how do I know what are the different assessments I could  align them with?

Does it need to be through a 2000-word essay in an exam hall in the summer? Besides being an excellent way to ensure academic practice while honouring tradition, it is worth asking if it really is the best fit for your unit/programme? An approach which acts positively regarding academic practice is to design authentic assessment. The students’ perception of such assessment is positive: meaningful, relevant, engaging and worthwhile (Groves, 2015). It is also seen as potentially the first time they feel like an engineer, a lawyer, a linguist, a chemist etc. What would authentic assessment look like in your discipline? 

Another aspect to consider when designing your assessment is variety. When we think of inclusivity, we often think of the array of adjustments we put in place to make sure our assessments are accessible to all of our students. If we are satisfied that these adjustments meet the intended learning outcomes without lowering expected standards why not make them available to all our students (Gravestock, 2006)? Why not empower our students to choose how they want to be assessed (Kneale and Collings, 2015)? Here we need to be mindful to not favour risk takers or we would be going against inclusivity. Students will need to build assessment literacy and to be able to experiment “safely” before their summative assessment. The next question is how many assessments will your students take? 

How do I ensure my students will be well prepared for their assessment?

Three key elements of success are making sure that students can tell what good performance looks like, where they are at and what they need to focus on to achieve it (Royce Sadler, 2010). It is consequently important to build in tasks that will support the understanding of marking criteria and expectations in higher education (Haggis, 2006). Consider making your students mark exemplars and do group discussions around assessment (O’Donovan, Price and Rust, 2008). It is also essential for students to receive feedback on their own work hence the necessity to build in formative tasks (Kneale and Collings, 2015; Wray, 2013). The literature on feedback is very vast, if you would like to enhance your practice, there is a feedback session available on the CREATE programme. It is also key to support students to develop self-evaluation skills (Evans, 2016). One suggestion would be to introduce peer review activities. It is also worth noting that pre-assessment activities, besides better preparing students, also increase their level of engagement and decrease the levels of anxiety students may experience (Haggis, 2016). Gaining a clear overview of what the semester looks like for your students in terms of assessment will also be key to decreasing levels of anxiety. If all assessments are due the same week, students will prioritise surface learning and summative assessments at the loss of all the beneficial formative work you had in place and deep learning. It will take a little bit of time to liaise with your colleagues to map out assessments and deadlines but this investment in time will be well worth it. One successful approach is the TESTA (Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment) project that some departments have started engaging with.

What role will/can technology play?

It is important to differentiate assistive technology that makes an assignment accessible as opposed to technology used for blended learning and increasing access. Submitting work on line increases access and is an alternative to handwritten assessment. How inclusive are handwritten assessments? Technology is also a good way to provide immediate feedback to students, to give them more agency and also to track their learning. While those are very positive advances, Broadfoot P., Timmis S., Payton S., Oldfield A. and Sutherland R. (2012-

2013) raised the interesting question of ethics of “big data”, the use of “social software for assessments” and “assessing young people’s informal learning”. In any case, the use of technology should respond to the essential pedagogical needs of fitness for purpose.

Ok, so I designed clear outcomes, built in opportunities for feedback throughout the term, found a balance between formative and summative assessments but I am still unsure about what form they should take. Where to next?

The Space project (2006) developed by Waterfield and West offers a matrix of assessment modes as well as a great number of case studies of assessments and their inclusive alternatives. The latter look at resources needed, advantages and issues of the approaches across schools and faculties. This HEFCE funded report is a great place to start looking at options as it is very comprehensive. It also reinforces the idea that inclusive assessments are good for all. I would also recommend the Inclusive Assessment document edited by Miller, Collings and Kneale (2015) which lists assessment methods and their modified assessment provision implications. These should provide a starting point but are not exhaustive. If you underpin your practice in the literature, you will be able to answer potential challenges from colleagues, your external examiners and even possibly students. Change is never easy, but it is essential to transform our assessment practice and ensure we are supporting all of our learners. TO SUPPORT ALL OUR

LEARNERS???

It is very common to hear that offering other forms of assessments and some of suggestions made above are just dumbing down higher education, is it? 

The SPACE report makes an excellent job of identifying any arguments against change in assessment and deconstructing it (chapter 5.1). Is making sure that students understand what good practice it and how higher education works dumbing it down? Giving them the choice of assessment method is not encouraging them to play to their strengths but to get them to be able to identify their strengths and weaknesses, supporting them to bridge the gap. It is an excellent way of facilitating student’s ownership of their own learning. It is also important to start seeing the assessments are part of the learning. It is worth adding that the more authentic the assessment is the more likely it is to facilitate academic integrity and to positively motivate and engage students. Finally, one last consideration, designing assessments that are accessible to all is very cost-effective, you will no longer need a plethora of adjustments. This will hopefully convince the last recalcitrant detractors. 

Conclusion

Inclusive practice is simply good practice. Like anything good it takes time, but it is worth the investment. I hope these suggestions were food for thought and that this document and the bibliography can be a good place for you to start to explore inclusive assessment in more depth. Do keep up with the literature as it should be at the heart of your decision-making process. What I hope to see for higher education and our practice is a shift from a deficit model to embrace the diversity of our learners and everything it has to offer. Inclusive practice is practice for all. Thank you for reading.

References

Biggs, J. B. & T ang, C. (2007). Teaching for Quality Learning at University . (3rd Ed. ). Maidenhead: McGraw Hill Education & Open University Press.

Broadfoot P., Timmis S., Payton S., Oldfield A., Sutherland R. (2012-2013) Ethical issues in technology enhanced assessment. University of Bristol, Graduate School of Education [Accessed 7.03.2018]

Evans, C. (2016) Enhancing assessment feedback practice in higher education: The EAT framework. University of Southampton. [Accessed 10.12.2018]

 Gravestock, P. (2006) Developing an inclusive curriculum: a guide for lecturers in geography, earth and environmental sciences. Glos.ac.uk [Accessed 15.03.2018]

Groves, N. 2015.Authentic assessment: what does it mean for students, staff and sector?, The Guardian.com. [Accessed 9.02.2018]

Haggis, T. (2006) Pedagogies for diversity: retaining critical challenge amidst fears of ‘dumbing down’. Studies in Higher Education, 31(5), pp.521–535. [Accessed 15.03.2018]

Hockings, C. (2010) Inclusive Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: A Synthesis of Research Evidence. York: Higher education Academy.

Kneale, P. and Collings, J. (2015) Developing and embedding inclusive assessment: issues and opportunities in Miller, W. et al, (2015) Inclusive Assessment, PedRIO paper 7, University of Plymouth. [accessed 11.06.18]

Royce Sadler, D. (2010) Beyond feedback: developing student capability in complex appraisal, in Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(5), 535-550.

Waterfield, J. and West, B. (2006) Inclusive assessment in higher education: a resource for change. Report on the HEFCE funded SPACE (Staff-Student Partnership for Assessment Change and Evaluation) project. University of Plymouth & South West Academic Network for Disability Support (SWANDS). [Accessed 15.03.2018]

Wray, M. (2013) Developing an inclusive culture in higher education: final report. York:

Higher Education Academy.

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