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This article outlines some of the key considerations in ensuring that the assessments you set are fair and valid for all of your students. 

Why is inclusive assessment important? 

Assessment methods and requirements have the greatest influence on how and what students learn compared to any other factor (Boud 1988), therefore as the greatest driver in learning they need to be accessible and effective for all students. 

What is stopping assessment being inclusive? 

The cultural and experiential capitals of assessors and students may differ and therefore so may their perceptions of assessment: what it is for, how it is done, what is required, and how it should be used. There can be a hidden curriculum, whereby some forms of assessment require prerequisite skills and knowledge which are not taught but are assumed to be present or at least known. 

The type of assessment, the output required, as well as restrictions such as word count and time allowed, may not be relevant to the learning outcome but may affect how the student demonstrates the learning outcomes. 

How can we make assessment more inclusive? 

  • We need to close the gap between assessors’ and students’ expectations, whilst valuing each.   
  • We need to be transparent and ensure there is no hidden curriculum. 
  • We need to share mark schemes with students and explain where the assessment is focussed, e.g. is it weighted more towards skills acquisition or communication? 
  • We need to ensure that students have any prerequisite skills and knowledge and that we only assess the learning outcomes. 
  • We need to ensure students understand what the purpose of the assessment is, how their work will be assessed, and how to use feedback. 
  • We need to consider if the learning outcomes could be demonstrated in alternative ways. 

Best Practice Tips

  • Know and value your students, ensure you are aware of any special requirements such as disabilities which may require assessment material to be produced in different formats, e.g. large text, extra time in exams, amanuensis. 
  • Give informative assignment briefs, ensure that all tasks are aligned to the syllabus and provide additional information where necessary, e.g. key reading, location of data sets to ensure the students have everything they need for the assignment.  
  • Anticipate problems, ensure that assessment tasks are clear so they are understood by all students and be prepared to clarify tasks if necessary. 
  • Offer students the opportunity to prepare for summative assessment through formative assessment tasks to aid their development. 
  • Make expectations transparent, i.e. unambiguous mark schemes; be clear about word count and assessment format. 
  • Offer different formats of assessment to all students, e.g. oral presentation or viva voce instead of written work. 
  • Consider if learning outcomes could be assessed in different formats including type, output, length and time given.  
  • Give feedback that feeds forward for learning and is in a form that is accessible and useful to students.  
  • Create authentic assessments that are valued, relevant and valid. Use realistic or real-world data or scenarios. 
  • Avoid the use of topics or tasks which could be culturally problematic and unnecessarily cause distress or conflict for the students. 
  • Review assessments across a programme to ensure they are diverse and scheduled appropriately. Always consider the importance of assessing the key employability skills across the programme – most students will not be academics, but skills such as critical thinking are vitally important. Share this schedule with students to help them to plan their workload. 
  • Offer different forms of feedback, for example written and verbal, as appropriate. Make all forms of feedback open to all students. 
  • Make sure students have a voice so they can air their concerns with assessment and this can be taken into account, i.e. modify assessment where necessary. 

Resources and Further Reading

Biggs, J. (2003). Aligning Teaching for Constructing Learning. Advance HE.  

Boud, David. Developing student autonomy in learning. Routledge, 2012. 

SPACE toolkit. Inclusive Assessment in Higher Education: A Resource for Change.