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Innovating Assessments with Equity in Mind: A Tale of Five Teams

What do Spotify, Fitbit and Venmo share in common? They were created via a human-centered design¹. Soon to join that list: student assessments; that is, student assessments crafted via an equitable human-centered design. 

In our previous blog, “Designing for Equity: Innovative Assessments in a Post-COVID World,” we identified a reality prevalent for many educators, students and their communities: The pandemic exacerbated a need for high-quality assessments that provide timely and actionable information to educators that inform instruction and help close achievement gaps. Another reality: Divisions over assessments remain. Yet there is one dream coming closer to reality: Quality assessments, designed via an equitable, human-centered design whereby people most proximate to the problem (PPP)—such as students, educators and community members from historically marginalized communities—inform a solution that meets their needs and provides timely data to inform instruction. 

The idea to innovate alongside educators, students and communities through an equitable design lens has come to fruition through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Gates Foundation) and the Walton Family Foundation (WFF). In January 2020, five State Education Agencies (SEA) and Charter Management Organization (CMO) leaders were selected to develop new assessment solutions based on the needs and ideas of educators, families and communities who will implement the solution on the ground, or in this case, classrooms. 

To date, SEA and CMO grantees have prototyped assessment solutions centering on:

As grantees near the end of their prototyping² process, they will assess the best means for garnering executive buy-in to develop a pilot implementation plan to scale their solution within the bounds of their state or charter system and beyond. 

Education First asked teams to reflect and share initial learnings throughout their journey as they implement an equitable design process to innovate on assessments. Their lessons can inspire and inform other efforts in the field to co-design alongside populations farthest from opportunity but closest to the problem: 

1. Want to innovate? Innovate alongside others. People are part of a system, so engage them. Engage people most proximate to the problem to arrive at new ideas and solutions that go beyond traditional assessment constraints. 

In their efforts to create assessments that gather timely student data and create additional opportunities that foster students’ critical thinking skills, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) prototyped an interactive online assessment alongside educators and students. After co-designing with more than 2,000 teachers, students and families to tailor design items, DESE plans to rest the traditional paper and pencil and pick up the stylus through a computer adaptive assessment. Question items will not only assess whether students are progressing academically but will provide students with opportunities to engage in deeper learning and build their academic knowledge. DESE is challenging the belief that education should center on the status quo and is crafting new ways to gather data through a process that benefits both the assessor and the assessment-taker.  

2. Want to center equity in your solutions? Prototype, prototype, prototype. And then prototype again. Prototyping small solutions or ideas, rather than an entire solution, helped teams identify bias, ensure equity and maintain students at the center of solutions.  

Following ideation³ of solutions with PPP, KIPP Public Charter Schools transformed those ideas into prototyped solutions. Afterward, KIPP used the prototypes in multiple feedback rounds with the students, educators and communities resulting in the creation of indicators to measure school climate and culture. Including PPP in conversations as well as in the refining and iteration process of prototyping can ensure designers co-create solutions that meet the needs of end users, but particularly end users of marginalized communities.  

3. Want to engage PPP and honor their time? Be intentional. After all, they are the experts. True, the pandemic has stretched people’s capacity and time, but that should not deter you from collaborating with them. 

The New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) sought the input of PPP throughout the prototyping process. PPP were honored for their input through stipends and PED received the dividends in return of unique feedback that magnified the unique needs of language learners. PED demonstrated how parents and educators are experts of their own experience. Parents and educators are also busy, and even more so due to the pandemic, but since their input and expertise is invaluable, they should be compensated in a valuable way; consider stipends or honorariums in exchange for PPP’s expertise and input. Be mindful of when PPP can engage or not and offer a stipend to value their input and time. Accommodate parents’, educators’ and students’ schedules and seek time to meet after business or during evening hours. For parents with linguistic barriers, offer translation services. For parents who struggle finding time given their duties at home, offer childcare services to ensure dependents are taken care of and parents are free to engage. But don’t forget—paid stipends are a way to honor people’s time and opinions. 

The teams will continue to ideate and create alongside educators, students and communities. Soon, teams will refine their innovative assessment solutions and determine how to best pilot and scale their solution within the context of their systems while garnering the buy-in and support of executives and decisionmakers. However, their lessons and reflections can help you innovate within your system to arrive at solutions that shatter the boundaries of the status quo and provide educators, students and families with a quality learning experience built by many and made for all.


²Prototyping: The process in which individual variables or hypotheses across multiple ideas are combined with other variables or ideas in one test.
³Ideation: The process in which ideas or concepts are formed; in our teams’ case, they brainstormed potential ideas and concepts alongside end users, or people, most proximate to the problem (PPP).

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Aline Matias
Aline Matias

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