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July 8, 2021
Vol. 16
No. 21

Advancing Fair and Equitable Digital Assessment

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The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted educators to reconsider the role of technology in learning. School closures took technology from the category of “nice to have” to necessary, as communities have worked to encourage legislators to address the digital divide. At the same time technology shifted from the margins to the center of instruction, ongoing movements against systemic racism and police violence have given rise to equity conversations across the country. Discussions of racism have broadened to acknowledge historical, systemic policies and practices that have led to health, wealth, and schooling inequities for communities of color.

These conversations have included more nuanced dialogue with specific language (e.g., anti-Black racism) and the consideration of people’s intersectionality (e.g., Black women). For many, these conversations are acknowledgements of their worldviews and personal experiences. For others, they offer a new vantage point for seeing the world. As we advance equity in our learning communities, these insights require us to bring into focus the identities, experiences, and needs of our learners in every aspect of their learning—including assessment.

To apply what we’ve learned this past year, we must interrogate our practices alongside colleagues to ensure our digital instruction meets the needs of every learner. We must start questioning how digital learning software can provide a more equitable learning experience by inviting and supporting every student to demonstrate what they know and can do.

Applying an Equity Lens to Assessment Practice

Formative and summative assessments are windows into students’ thinking and make visible their successes and struggles. These insights, also known as evidence of learning, are critical resources for teachers as they plan, facilitate, and reflect on their instruction. Teachers with an intentional assessment practice clarify learning expectations, explain why learners are being assessed, and use evidence of learning as a resource to inform and adjust instruction. As teachers shift toward a more equitable assessment practice, they also ensure that every student can best represent their thinking and use evidence of learning as a resource during instruction. The table below shows an example of shifts toward an equitable assessment practice.

Shifting Toward an Equitable Assessment Practice

Clarify learning expectations: "At the end of the lesson, you will determine the central idea of our text and summarize the key details. These reading skills will allow you to develop a strong understanding of issues you read, listen or watch."

Instead of assessing student learning ... : After each major section of the text, you typically pose two or three questions to the whole class that ask students to detail or summarize aloud key ideas in paragraphs, illustrations, and tables.
... Assess every student’s learning: Recognizing that your whole-class questioning strategy limits the number of responses you hear or consider, you ask students to post their written or audio responses in a collaborative digital space (e.g., Padlet) that immediately makes each student’s voice heard.

In addition to using evidence of student learning to adjust your instruction ... : Based on students’ responses, you either review the text or move on to the next section.
... Also use evidence of student learning as a resource: After students post their responses, ask them to review each other’s answers and discuss the following questions with their partner: Which details, if any, are missing? What would you add or change to make the summary more complete?
Digital learning software facilitates an equitable assessment practice. When coupled with effective instructional design, it opens new windows into students’ ideas, experiences, and learning progress. Digital quizzes (e.g., formative, socrative), interactive video platforms (e.g., PlayPosit, EdPuzzle), and interactive discussion tools (e.g., Flipgrid, Padlet) enable assessment anytime, anywhere. Many of these platforms include varied question formats, such as drawing or audio, that can be embedded within multimedia instructional content and digital work products that can be easily shared as resources for learning.

Over the past two decades, my experiences as a learning designer and instructional coach have taught me that teachers collaborate more effectively when they share a common vision, language, and understanding for teaching and learning. Instructional design frameworks specify learning outcomes, instructional and assessment strategies, and criteria for success.

The following collaborative planning scenario offers a “PEEP” (presence, engagement, evidence, and purpose) into an equitable assessment practice. It is drawn from my LoravoreⓇ Learning EQ framework, an equity-driven instructional design framework that bridges research-based best practices for teaching and learning with technology. As teachers work to advance equity in their learning communities, the framework specifies equitable learning outcomes that empower teachers to envision equity in more nuanced ways.

Loravore® Learning PEEP Index for Participation

Focal Area: Presence
Equitable Learning Outcome: Every student is invited to "show up" live or recorded, in person or as chosen visual representations of themselves.
Focal Area: Engagement
Equitable Learning Outcome: Every student is invited to engage in structured, responsive learning interactions with teachers, peers, digital learning tools, and physical materials.
Focal Area: Evidence
Equitable Learning Outcome: Every student is invited to produce learning artifacts in varied formats that demonstrate what they know and can do.
Focal Area: Purpose
Equitable Learning Outcome: Every student is invited to share their ideas and artifacts as resources for their learning community.

Collaborative Planning Scenario: A PEEP into an Equitable Assessment Practice

Consider this example for improving assessment: A grade-level team collaborates to revise a common annotation assignment into a more equitable assessment experience. Applying the framework mentioned above, teachers consider equity from the perspective of participation: every student is invited and supported to demonstrate what they know and can do. Enacting a role-play protocol, each teacher embodies a PEEP focal area (presence, engagement, evidence, and purpose) that frames their contributions to the planning conversation.

The following chat transcript for this collaborative planning session exemplifies what’s possible when we create supportive professional learning spaces for teachers to pose questions, identify features of digital learning software, and exchange design ideas for digital learning that contribute to specific equitable learning outcomes.

A Collaborative Conversation

Ms. Presence: Currently, my students individually annotate text with digital learning software (e.g., Kami) on their personal devices. I’m wondering how my students “see” and learn with me if we are not in the same physical classroom.

Dr. Engagement: What about a digital whiteboard (e.g., Jamboard)? It provides a digital workspace and editing tools for annotation. Students can share and edit digital whiteboards at the same or different times.
Ms. Presence: My students and I could learn together in these digital whiteboard spaces. I could leave comments or chat with them.

Dr. Engagement: How can I use digital annotation to support students to learn from and with each other?

Mr. Evidence: We can use this instructional strategy called “Collab-o-tation.” Check this image out. It suggests participation structures and instructions for how to facilitate it with your students.
Dr. Engagement: So, student pairs could share a digital whiteboard space and annotate the text together?

Mr. Evidence: Their annotations will tell us how well students understand the text.

Coach Purpose: Yes, we can quickly help students who need it. But how can these collaborative annotations become a resource for student learning during instruction?

Ms. Presence: The second part of this “Collab-o-tation” strategy suggests that we regroup students, so they explain their assigned texts to each other.
Coach Purpose: As they share their annotations and compare texts, they are helping each other build understanding across texts! It's not just the digital learning software that makes instruction more equitable, it's the participation structures and questioning strategies we design with it.

Space to Be Seen

On a cognitive level, learning is the process of connecting new and existing ideas and reorganizing them into emerging understandings and eventual worldviews. On a social level, learning happens through experiences—events, interactions with others, and heartfelt emotions.

We are always learning because our world is always changing. We must acknowledge that our students have personal and collective histories that intersect with the lessons in our classrooms. These experiences shape how students engage with us. To ensure that we meet the needs of every learner, we must ask: Are we using every tool available to us, including equitable assessments, to create spaces in our learning communities where every student has the chance to be seen and share what they know and can do?
End Notes

Tate's ASCD webinar, “A Gift of Digital Learning: Empowering Teachers to Build an Equitable Assessment Practice,” is available to stream online.

Erika D. Tate is the founder of Bluknowledge LLC, a learning firm that advances equity through the design and study of learning experiences for learners and organizations in schools and communities. Dr. Tate has nearly 20 years of experience in designing and delivering K-16 professional development across the country. She specializes in training and instructional coaching for elementary and secondary teachers that center on digital learning and STEM teaching and learning.

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