Make assessment inclusive
More than any other aspect of the curriculum, well-designed assessment is the key to engaging students in productive and successful learning. Assessment plays a major role in how students learn, their motivation to learn, and how teachers teach. This topic looks at what makes assessment inclusive and offers suggestions, tips and examples on how to achieve this.
Key ways to make assessment fairer and more inclusive
'Level the playing field': fair and equitable curricula provides a variety of assessment tasks, effective feedback, and competent and empathic teachers who are attuned to the complexities inherent in assessing and teaching diverse learners.
Clear, plain language: write, clarify, and explain assessment tasks and instructions in clear plain English.
Scaffold assessment: acknowledge that commencing students may not possess the academic literacies to successfully complete assessment tasks. Design assessments that progressively build their skills and knowledge using step-by-step learning approaches.
Flexibility and choice: offer a variety of assessment formats that are inclusive of student cultural diversity and learning needs and include opportunities for group, peer and self-assessment.
Learning outcome alignment: align assessment to inclusive learning outcomes and to students' backgrounds and aspirations. These provide students with clear, explicit and unambiguous information about the intended outcomes of their teaching. Explaining learning outcomes will help students understand what is expected of them, gives access to the language of higher education, and allows them to self-assess.
Student involvement: involve students in aspects of assessment design and evaluation.
Authentic: make assessment relevant, authentic (see below) and sustainable.
Feedback: feedback is vital to inclusive curriculum design and should be given regularly (both formal and informal) to students on their work and progress. This will be discussed in detail on the following page Give effective feedback.
Examples: provide supporting examples and resources (e.g. exemplars of good assignments). See UTS Sample Written Assignments for a suite of annotated essays by discipline.
(Adapted from: Offer flexible assessment and delivery (PODF 992KB), RMIT University; Learning to teach inclusively, Flinders University)
Provide well-designed rubrics to clearly inform students of the marking criteria and expected performance levels associated with an assessment task and to enable self-assessment. This also helps ensure that activities and items are evaluated fairly and consistently by one person or by a team of markers.
An inclusive approach to rubrics entails writing in plain and accessible language. Students new to university often find rubrics confusing, particularly those from equity group backgrounds (such as low socioeconomic status, mature-age, and indigenous) who might lack academic preparedness,or international students whose home cultures take a different approach to higher education. Therefore, take time to explain and demonstrate how a rubric works.
Please refer to DLF's cloud module Curriculum Development for Unit Chairs for a comprehensive guide to all aspects of designing and working with rubrics. To access, go to the CloudDeakin home page: click 'More' then 'Self-registration'.
Rubric learning activity
Divide your students into groups and provide them with a rubric and a short piece of work that relates to their next assignment, for example a critical review of a journal article. Ask groups to use each rubric item to assess, give feedback and award a grade. Student groups then share their assessment with the rest of the class and discuss their rationale. This activity also serves as a scaffolding method for student learning.
Design authentic assessment
Authentic assessment provides the opportunity for students to contextualise their learning. Most importantly, it offers a multitude of ways to enhance inclusive learning and teaching through offering choices that align with students' interests, sociocultural and linguistic backgrounds, and learning strengths. For example, students with a disability might choose a topic that relates to community services, or an international student may elect to critically analyse a global humanitarian program.
Here, students experience how theoretical knowledge is mobilised under real-life conditions. This form of assessment facilitates and recruits interest in the practical consolidation of students’ knowledge and skills through actively and constructively engaging in real-world problem-solving.
What is considered an authentic assessment varies between disciplines and contexts. But in general terms, authentic assessment may include:
- role-play or simulation activities of a particular scenario
- a real-life undertaking
- critical analysis and evaluation in a professional workplace context.
(Adapted from Assessing Authentically, University of New South Wales)
Authentic assessment methods: a practical handbook for teaching staff (Parts 1 to 4) , Faculty of Business and Law
Self and peer assessment
The vast majority of assessment and feedback in higher education is provided by teaching staff. However, an inclusive curriculum design that also uses self and peer assessment provides opportunities for students to develop their reflective learning skills, and consider how these experiences influence the way they understand.
The key to promoting inclusion through self and peer assessment effectively is in its design. Refer to Deakin Learning Future's handbook Peer and Self Assessment (PDF 345KB) for practical design strategies and tips.
Offer flexibility and choice
An inclusive approach to assessment using the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) highlights the need for using a range of assessment modes within summative and formative assessment to determine to what extent learning outcomes have been met. Doing so, you are providing students with a range of ways to demonstrate their competence, both to meet their preferences and to encourage flexibility and consolidation of skills. Importantly, it delivers an equitable educational experience by offering options to engage interest and reduce barriers. Offering choice to the whole class 'levels the playing field' and means you don't have to make individual adjustments based on a (dis)ability, which can be potentially stigmatising. The same academic requirements and standards can then be applied to all students.
Without compromising academic standards, you can provide assessments where students can demonstrate their learning and mastery in different ways.
- Offer a choice of at least two to three topics for assignments.
- Use assessment formats that allow for flexibility such as depicted in the following infographic.
30+ Ways to assess students: formative and summative
(Danielle Hitch and Cindy Lim, Deakin University, 2014)
An alternative format is available here: 30+ Ways to assess students (DOC 25KB)
UDL example: assessment options in a mathematics course
Here are some examples to address barriers for mathematics' students:
- Provide open-book quizzes.
- During quizzes and tests completed individually, provide scheduled breaks so students can communicate with each other and their instructor in order to become 'unstuck' while working on complex equations and problem solving. For example, during tests, one mathematics instructor writes some of the complex equations on whiteboards around the room.During a ten-minute break, students have the option to approach a problem and talk through their thinking in order to progress to the next step in the activity if they are stuck.
- Allow for small group work.
- Use a computer program, such as software for creating drawings, to demonstrate lesson goals and objectives.
- Allow students to take a video of themselves solving a problem and talking through their thought processes.
- Provide a choice of mathematical problems for students to complete to demonstrate mastery of a learning objective.
Deakin exemplars of inclusive assessment design
The following five case studies from Deakin teaching staff showcase a range of creative ways in which inclusive assessment can be designed and implemented. The examples illustrate scaffolding, authentic assessment, student involvement, group assessment, self and peer assessment and rubrics. Case studies 4 and 5 include video presentations with downloadable transcripts.
Dr Petra Brown, AIX 160 Introduction to University Study, Faculty of Arts and Education
Online quizzes are an effective scaffolding tool to reinforce important points and concepts in topics. These may or may not be assessable and either scheduled at regular intervals or available for students to complete at their own pace. Quizzes enable teachers to monitor progress and quickly identify struggling students. In AIX160 self-assessment exercises are delivered as weekly quizzes to prepare students for the the unit's formative assignment tasks.
Assessments are scaffolded in the study guide at appropriate intervals with more explicit discussion on key ideas required for assignments. Assessment tasks are supported with either a table to complete in parts or step-by-step processes. Students are encouraged to share plans and drafts of assignments in seminars, via the online discussion board, or off-campus privately with the unit chair, prior to submission. An annotated example assignment 75–85% range is provided for students. Go to Design step-by-step learning to view the Curriculum Map for scaffolding learning and assessment in AIX160.
Ms Teresa Capetola and Dr Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli, HSH313, Contemporary Health Issues, (Faculty of Health)
This unit attracts a large enrolment of approximately 250 students. The assessment task takes an inclusive approach using flexibility, choice, and aligning with students' interests and backgrounds and offers the opportunity of professional experience in a workplace scenario. Students are required to select from two scenarios, choosing a health issue and social context from a wide range of diverse topics (indigenous, gender, drug use, youth suicide, LGBT health, climate change, asylum seekers, and health governance/global health). Such choice seeks to motivate, recruit, and engage students’ interest in: the subject matter and relevant academic literature and theories, as well as the applicability of these in the real world professional environment. Working in a team, students present to a ‘Committee of Management’ in order to demonstrate their ability to articulate academic ideas, theoretical frameworks and critical analyses of the subject matter and media representations (of the chosen issue) to a management ‘audience’. Students not presenting adopt the role of the ‘management audience’ and are tasked to listen carefully to the other groups’ critical discourse analysis presentations and provide constructive and supportive feedback to the group members.
Responding to student feedback
Involving students in the design and development of assessment tasks allows you to identify and resolve any problems your diverse learners may encounter, particularly around access and equity, usability, skills' acquisition, comprehension and meeting learning outcomes. Seeking feedback from students is one way of including them in this process.
Kate Anderson, Disability and Inclusion, Faculty of Health
HDS106 is a first year unit in the Bachelor of Health Science program. It covers the broad topic of disability and social inclusion, across a wide range of ages and life domains. There are many students who choose this unit as third years, to fill up missing credit points. As a result, there are many students with a diverse range of language backgrounds, learning motivations, and academic competencies. Assessment task 2 comprised an Educational Inclusion Scenario essay (1500 words). After feedback from the students the lecturer made changes to the design of the assessment task.
Please download the following document: Reflections on Inclusive Teaching-HDS106 (DOC 73KB). This document outlines the assessment instructions, the issues encountered, and how the lecturer modified the assessment task to make it more inclusive.
Self and peer assessment
The following video presented by Dr Mary Dracup (Faculty of Arts and Education) exemplifies how peer assessment can be used effectively at Deakin. Dr Dracup demonstrates the scaffolded assessment process, the use of rubrics and annotated sample papers, as well as talking with students about their experience of the task.
Dr Mary Dracup, Inclusive curriculum exemplar: formative peer assessment activity
A video transcript may be downloaded here: Formative Peer Assessment (DOC 34KB)
Aligning with Deakin's policies and procedures
Deakin's policies and procedures with which you should become familiar include:
- Diversity and Inclusion Policy (see item 13)
- Higher Education Courses policy (see items 7c, 7d and 28c)1
- Higher Education Courses Approval and Review procedure (see items 5 and 6b)1
- Assessment (Higher Education Courses) Procedure
- Plagiarism and Collusion in Assessment Procedure
- Course Design and Delivery Procedure
- Discrimination, Sexual Harassment, Victimisation and Vilification (Staff) Complaints procedure
- Reasonable Adjustments Procedure
1Compliant with external legislation, including the Higher Education Standards Framework.
Deakin Curriculum Framework
- A new version of the Deakin Curriculum Framework has been approved by the Academic Board meeting 20 Nov 2018 (see 15.3). It can be found in Section 6 of the Higher Education Courses policy.
- The Deakin Curriculum Framework includes new Principles for Premium Learning and Teaching, item 28 (c) of which states:
Waterfield, J & West, B 2006, Inclusive assessment in higher education: a resource for change (PDF 4.42MB), University of Plymouth, Plymouth, retrieved 28 March 2017.
University students’ experiences of assessment adjustments: how can we move to inclusive assessment design? (DOCX 113KB) / (PDF 424KB) is the report of findings from a 2020 Deakin research project.
Deakin Learning Futures staff capacity building cloud modules for unit chairs and sessional staff include many helpful tips, suggestions, examples and resources related to assessment design.
Grading and performance rubrics from Carnegie Mellon University explains the value of rubrics and provides several discipline specific examples.
Top 10 Tips on Inclusive Assessment offers tips with particular emphasis on considering students with a range of disabilities.