6 Ways to Ensure Your Assessment Practices Are Fair and Unbiased

Written by
Linda Suskie

Jun 11, 2020

Jun 11, 2020 • by Linda Suskie

No one wants to use an assessment tool with obvious stereotyping or offensive material, of course. But it's easy to assess in ways that inadvertently favor some students over others. Effective assessment processes yield evidence and conclusions that are meaningful, appropriate, and fair to all relevant subgroups of students (Lane, 2012; Linn, Baker, & Dunbar, 1991). The following tips minimize the possibility of inequities.

1. Don't rush.

Assessments that are thrown together at the last minute invariably include flaws that greatly affect the fairness, accuracy, and usefulness of the resulting evidence.

2. Plan Your Assessments carefully.

Aim not only to access your key learning goals but to do so in a balanced, representative way. If your key learning goals are that students should understand what happened during a certain historical period and evaluate the decisions made by key figures during that period, for example, your test should balance questions on basic conceptual understanding with questions assessing evaluation skills.

3. Aim for Assignments and Questions That Are Crystal clear.

If students find the question difficult to understand, they may answer what they think is the spirit of the question rather than the question itself, which may not match your intent.

4. Guard Against Unintended bias.

A fair and unbiased assessment uses contexts that are equally familiar to all and uses words that have common meanings to all. A test question on quantitative skills that asks students to analyze football statistics might not be fair to women, and using scenarios involving farming may be biased against students from urban areas, unless you are specifically assessing student learning in these contexts.

5. Ask a Variety of People With Diverse Perspectives to Review Assessment tools.

This helps ensure that the tools are clear, that they appear to assess what you want them to, and that they don't favor students of a particular background.

6. Try Out Large-Scale Assessment tools.

If you are planning a large-scale assessment with potentially significant consequences, try out your assessment tool with a small group of students before launching the large-scale implementation. Consider asking some students to think out loud as they answer a test question; their thought processes should match up with the ones you intended. Read students' responses to assignments and open-ended survey questions to make sure their answers make sense, and ask students if anything is unclear or confusing.

Excerpted and adapted from Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide, 3rd Edition by Linda Suskie. Copyright © 2018, Wiley. All rights reserved.