Equity, diversity and inclusion is becoming increasingly important to higher education institutions. There are many initiatives that seek to improve diverse students’ participation, many of which focus on admissions and the transition to studying in a university. Despite this, the success and graduation rates of equity groups has not improved in the same way.
Assessment is likely to be a key factor in students’ success, yet little research has focussed on improving how inclusive assessment is (Tai, Ajjawi & Umarova 2021). While by law, there must be accommodations made (including within assessment) for some equity group students such as students with disabilities, diversity is complex and intersectional in nature, and so it is likely that our current assessment systems are not as fair – or equitable – as they could be.
For example, in Australia there are a range of equity characteristics which universities are required to report upon, however students might report several of these characteristics (Willems 2010). Moreover, there are many reasons why students might not wish to or be able to disclose to the university about their personal situation to gain access to accommodations (Grimes et al 2019). Individual accommodations also become time-consuming and logistically difficult to keep track of as the scale of higher education increases. Focussing on inclusive assessment design and implementation may help to provide a more equitable assessment environment for diverse students.
In 2020 I was fortunate to be awarded a National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education grant to investigate how students with disabilities (SWDs) experienced exams and other high-stakes timed assessment, and what could be done to modify these assessments to improve how inclusive they were. A total of 51 students across two universities contributed their experiences of exams to the project. We then drew on these students’ stories within workshops with academic teams, students, and disability liaison staff to identify targets for improvement or change within specific units (modules) of study.
While students reported difficulties relating to accessing accommodations and being sure that they would be implemented for a particular exam, they also spoke highly of a number of modifications to exams during the Covid-19 pandemic. For instance, the shift to online exams and assignments meant that students required fewer physical accommodations since they had access to their own familiar equipment and spaces. Timeframes for exams also expanded, which was helpful for students who had fluctuating symptoms across the course of a day, and also enabled them to time their exams amongst other commitments such as caring or work duties. The redesign of questions to demonstrate understanding rather than recall was also viewed positively.
Thus, refining assessments to account for diverse students’ capabilities from the outset is a potential way forward to improve inclusion. Universal Design for Learning (CAST 2018) is one lens through which some of this work can be done, such as ensuring there are multiple means of communicating assessment requirements, and multiple ways that students can respond to an assessment prompt. In our workshops, while we found that significant changes to exams were not frequently possible straight away, even small changes could make a difference to students’ experiences and perceptions of inclusion.
You can read the full report Reimaging Exams: How do assessment adjustments impact on inclusivity?. One of the key messages to take away from the work is that inclusion in assessment is an ongoing process that involves discussion between many stakeholders – not just students and academics, but also those working within institutional access services, invigilators, and even professional bodies.
So, in this LTHEchat it would be great if we could spark some of these conversations and consider what we are doing well, and what changes – big and small – could improve how inclusive assessment is.
Join Us 🕗
The live tweet-chat will take place via https://twitter.com/LTHEchat on Wednesday 2nd March 2022, 8:00 to 9:00 pm GMT (Melbourne/Sydney time – Thursday 3rd March, 7:00 to 8:00am).
During this time 6 questions will be posed (one every 10 minutes) – everyone is welcome to contribute (as much or as little as they like) or just to read. Conversation is also welcomed at any time post 9:00pm GMT.
- At your institution, what types of curriculum-related equity, diversity & inclusion initiatives are there? (are there any that target assessment?)
- What types of diversity do you notice day-to-day in your student cohort?
- How might equity differ from equality in assessment? What is the impact on assessment validity?
- How do you use Universal Design for Learning in your curriculum and assessment design?
- What are the biggest challenges you face in trying to modify assessment?
- What would your ‘dream’ inclusive assessment look like? Who would you have to convince to implement it?
Here’s the link to the Wakelet: https://wke.lt/w/s/ag41yv
CAST. (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. http://udlguidelines.cast.org
Grimes, S., Southgate, E., Scevak, J., & Buchanan, R. (2019). University student perspectives on institutional non-disclosure of disability and learning challenges: reasons for staying invisible. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 23(6), 639–655. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2018.1442507
Tai, J., Ajjawi, R., & Umarova, A. (2021). How do students experience inclusive assessment? A critical review of contemporary literature. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2021.2011441
Willems, J. (2010). The equity raw-score matrix – a multi-dimensional indicator of potential disadvantage in higher education. Higher Education Research and Development, 29(6), 603–621. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294361003592058
Joanna Tai’s bio 📷
Joanna Tai is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning (CRADLE) at Deakin University. Her research interests include student experiences of learning and assessment from university to the workplace, peer learning, feedback and assessment literacy, developing capacity for evaluative judgement, and research synthesis.
Joanna is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, co-convenor of the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) Assessment and Measurement SIG, and is Treasurer for the Australian and New Zealand Association for Health Professions Education. Her doctoral work won the Association for Medical Education Europe (AMEE) inaugural PhD prize in 2016. She has a background in medicine and health professions education.