Table of Contents

Assessment Fairness and Bias

Of the three measurement concepts, classroom-based educators have the greatest opportunity to improve their assessments and directly impact students by increasing the fairness of their classroom assessments. When assessments are not fair, they are biased. “Assessment bias occurs whenever test items offend or unfairly penalize students for reasons related to students’ personal characteristics, such as their race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or socioeconomic status” (Popham 2003).

In his book, Essential Assessment Concepts for Teachers and Administrators (Corwin Press 2000), James H. McMillan expands the concept of fairness to include the following:

  1. Instructional Learning Targets: Communicating clear, specific learning targets to students contributes to making an assessment fair because students know what will and will not be assessed, what method will be used, and how the assessment will be scored. This helps students know what and how to study.
  2. Opportunity to Learn: McMillan states that opportunity to learn means providing all students equally with adequate time and appropriate instruction to enable them to obtain mastery.
  3. Prerequisite Skills and Knowledge: Prerequisite skills and knowledge are necessary to show the targeted learning but are not the learning target itself. For example, writing skills are a prerequisite for responding to a social science essay question; reading comprehension is a prerequisite for answering a math word problem. If the learning targets are NOT related to writing or reading comprehension, it is incumbent to reduce this source of unfairness. Two actions that assessment-literate educators take to reduce this type of unfairness are:
    1. Identify the prerequisite skills and knowledge of the learning target.
    2. Pre-assess their students’ abilities in the prerequisite skills and knowledge, either formally or informally through assignments, observations, or questioning.
Time to Reflect

Consider the concepts outlined above as you respond to the following questions:



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