Educators and students need access to assessment data to help inform learning needs and outline a successful path forward in academics and the workforce

3 ways assessment data advances student equity

Educators and students need access to assessment data to help inform learning needs and outline a successful path forward in academics and the workforce

As educators, we all know the importance of data in decision-making. We understand how limited, skewed, or biased data–or no data at all–can result in faulty decision-making and regressive actions, be it in our teaching and learning, curricular design, assessments, or administrative responsibilities.

We know that robust data and effective dissemination of the same are needed for nuanced and meaningful use. Additionally, data-informed decision-making must be inclusive in its approach by engaging all potential stakeholders so that it can lead to transformative action and change. Afterall, data in the right hands at the right time has the power to change destinies.

Students also need robust data to make informed decisions that can have a positive impact on their educational journey and their long-term success. We train our students to engage in research, build evidence-based arguments, and practice scientific thinking, but as educators, we often limit it to the discipline-specific content we cover. We absolve ourselves of the responsibility to teach students how to learn–using data–especially as they age.

In higher education, we often leave it to academic support services and student affairs to handle this responsibility. These offices and personnel consistently and carefully help students learn important habits for success, such as time-management, effective organization and planning, task-oriented focus, iteration, problem-solving, and practice approaches to learning.

However, there is more that faculty and teachers can do to help students learn. There is a lot of data — assessment data— that must be shared with students to help drive their educational success. For minority students and those from marginalized communities who have been systemically and historically resource-starved and under-served by our education system, this data is even more exigent. Having access to this data helps level the playing field and narrow achievement gaps.

I share with you a three-question checklist to review to aid your educational practice so that you can identify your strengths and explore opportunities for growth. The foundational question undergirding this review process must be, “Am I doing everything in my power to help students learn better and be successful in their assessments?”

Student grades often define access to opportunities and reinforce positive or negative self-efficacy. Sharing various assessment data with students can go a long way in enabling their success. This list is not exhaustive but is a starting point for you to audit your own practices to better align with a student-centered approach.

The three-question data checklist:

1. Are you explicitly and proactively connecting learning outcomes with your assessments or assignments and sharing this information/data with your students?

Reasoning: Students must be able to see how their performance on an assignment or assessment demonstrates their progress toward achieving the intended learning outcomes. Relevance of outcomes, course material, and assessments are very important in determining how much effort the student puts in. Additionally, educators should use the assessment performance data generated from linked outcomes and assessments on their technology platforms to analyze the efficacy of student learning. This assessment performance data will help educators make data-informed decisions about assessment, curricular, or instructional improvements.

2. Are you clearly articulating expectations using checklists or rubrics and sharing this data with students? Are you offering students data around examples and non-examples of deliverables — especially against stated expectations/criteria?

Reasoning: Our assumptions that students should knowhow to do something is a privileged position. Students of color and others who are traditionally underserved are often the most negatively impacted if expectations are not explicitly articulated, because as educators, we often do not realize the implicit biases that pervade our educational system/expectations. Our educational systems/expectations are consciously/unconsciously founded upon white, capitalistic, western-European, imperialistic values and cultures that do not translate easily to various communities and students who have been minoritized in/by these systems/expectations. As educators, we need to make the hidden, implicit rules for success in this system clear for everyone.

We must take responsibility for teaching our students how to successfully deliver or approach the assignment/assessment per our standards, norms, and expectations. Articles from various assessment journals show that student performance substantively improves when well-designed assignments/assessments with explicit criteria/metrics are proactively shared with students. Checklists and analytic rubrics help students live up to educator expectations and help students help themselves. We need to help our students learn habits, skills, behaviors, and attitudes well beyond content knowledge. We need to give them examples of what a strong presentation looks like, what an excellent essay looks like, how to work well in a group, how to communicative effectively with an instructor, and how to advocate for themselves and their learning.

3. Are you providing assessment performance data and feedback to students from formative and summative assessments?

Reasoning: With various assessment and learning technology platforms and tools available, faculty have engagement and assessment performance data at their fingertips that they should use to drive their curricular, instructional, and assessment design decisions. This data should also be shared with students to support their metacognitive engagement with their own learning and performance. Students should have the opportunity to consume rich, detailed, and personal feedback on their assessments or assignments. They should also be able to review their own performance data and growth over time on formative and summative assessments, which can tell them their strengths and opportunities for growth. This data can help students better channel their effort on specific topics or concepts, outcomes or competencies, or assessment formats and delivery modalities to significantly impact their success.

Overall, offering students actionable, self-awareness-building, assessment-related data to engage in critical, iterative reflection and learning empowers them to explore their learning/study preferences and preferences for successful demonstration of learning. They gain agency to be their own advocates/champions. We gain insights into instructional and curricular approaches best suited for our students.

Basically, all the various assessment data discussed here can help students adopt best practices that authentically connect their learning and lived experiences to their assessment performance for them to succeed in their educational journey and beyond. It will help them thrive as the life-long learners we want them to be.

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