What makes assessment inclusive?
By Dr Doreen Said Pace, University of Malta
The keywords in this seemingly simple yet complex to answer question are ‘assessment’ and ‘inclusion’. Defining the inclusivity of assessment requires a shared understanding within an operating framework of what inclusion is.
In this attempt, the definition by the Council of the European Union (2017, p.3) is taken as a guiding reference because it provides a broad dimension of inclusion.
It states that inclusive education should be:
available and accessible to all learners of all ages, including those facing challenges, such as those with special needs or who have a disability, those originating from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, migrant backgrounds or geographically depressed areas or war-torn zones, regardless of sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion of belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.
If inclusive education should attend to the aspects defined here, then assessment, in being the core of teaching and learning, which, in turn, are the heartbeat and pulse of education, should provide to this diversity. One type of assessment that fits well this equation is formative assessment (FA) as Black and Wiliam (2009) stated FA can be used by people of any age and in every subject. To this intent, they provided an operating framework of three pillars – where we are, where we need to be, and how to get there. Subsequently, seven strategies emerged from this framework which although all are important, the success criteria (SC) are central for differentiation while providing a reference point for the other strategies. Effective use of the SC comes in both during the planning and implementation phase of the teaching and learning. If at the planning stage, teachers ask, “in what ways can the diverse group of students within the classroom show me, and themselves, that they have learnt?”, they would be setting scaffolding targets to be accomplished by the students in their progression towards the learning outcome. In setting different small levels of achievement, teachers would be also offering a repertoire of assessment modalities as highly recommended by the Universal Design for Learning approach, thereby being inclusive through the diverse modes of representation. Apart from being inclusive in the product, the teacher can use inclusive assessment procedures throughout the lesson process by framing questions and feedback on the evidence provided by the student in relation to the achievement target set by the success criteria.
Given that the good formative assessment practices require a solid partnership between the teacher and the learner, then the latter must also be skilled on the use of the SC to assist their own learning. Empowering learners is another aspect of inclusion as it helps them towards independent learning. When they reach this goal, they would be able to use the SC for self and peer assessment that will assist them to focus on the task in the intra- and inter-personal feedback. Hence, the benefits would not only be of academic nature but also psychological as the positive impact on the learner’s self-confidence motivates them to move forward to the next level. Good use of peer assessment and feedback exchanges supports collaboration and dialogic talk between teacher-learner, learner-learner, and learner-teacher, another attribute of feeling included.
The inclusivity of assessment should go beyond the classroom walls in that the levels achieved by learners on the lower end of the continuum should be recognised. In this regard, Malta, in its Qualifications Reference Report of 2016, had introduced two levels – Level A and Level B which are below Level 1 on the European Qualifications Framework, but they give worth to what would have been achieved at that level. Recognising and acknowledging what has been learnt is a sign of respect towards the learners’ efforts. Perhaps, it would be worth considering whether the European Qualifications Framework can include comparable recognitions to increase the opportunity to other learners.
Effective implementation practice can be guaranteed if users believes in what they are doing. Consequently, the extent of inclusivity in assessment goes as far as what is in the mind of the user meaning that inclusion starts first in the mind of the beholder.
Council of the European Union. (2017). Conclusions of the Council and of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States, meeting within the Council, on Inclusion in Diversity to achieve a High-Quality Education for All. Brussels: 17th February 2017.
Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (2009). Developing the theory of formative assessment [journal article]. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability(formerly: Journal of Personnel evaluation in Education), 21(1), 40. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11092-008-9068-5
Meletiadou, E. (2021). Exploring teachers’ perceptions of the use of peer assessment in EFL testdominated writing classes. Languages, 6(3).
National Commission for Further and Higher Education (2016). Referencing Report. 4th revised edition.
Said Pace, D. (2022). Inclusive Teaching and Learning: Starting in the Mind. In E. Meletiadou (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Policies and Practices for Assessing Inclusive Teaching and Learning (pp. 283-308). IGI Global. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-7998-8579-5.ch013
Wiliam, D., & Leahy, S. (2015). Embedding Formative Assessment: Practical Techniques for K-12 Classrooms. Learning Sciences International.