People discussing student success and equitable assessments

How Student Success Starts With Equitable Assessments

The past two years of education can be simply defined under one word – uncertainty. A global pandemic, among many other trials and tribulations, completely upended our society and how it has traditionally functioned. With everything from school to work becoming reimagined in terms of how it is administered and accessed, standards have quickly changed.

Driven by a decade of shifting expectations that was only amplified by COVID-19, today’s students want and need an educational experience that offers them flexibility and support in attaining success. Unfortunately, this is not something they have always been granted.

The Current State Of Affairs

A plethora of systemic and socioeconomic problems have long driven inequity within our country’s educational system. Issues such as poverty, lack of investment and ineffective approaches have all contributed to a dysfunctional landscape in which many students are not afforded an equal opportunity to obtain the resources and support they need.

According to data from 2013, a majority 54 percent of children with family incomes below $50,000 did not attend preschool, compared to only 36 percent of their counterparts who came from high-income families. While offered, many of America’s families are simply unable to access the foundational programs that their children need to have a fruitful educational experience.

And governing bodies aren’t making it any easier – investments into the country’s education system have long exacerbated this gap rather than bridged it. Support is often distributed unevenly, creating cases in which the rich get richer in funding while the poorer receive less. This is a particularly serious problem in some states, such as Illinois. According to, high-poverty school districts receive 22 percent less in per-pupil funds than those that are the wealthiest. This disparity in the way state and local dollars are shared have meant that those who were less likely to be provided academic opportunity to begin with are now at a further disadvantage.

Funding defines just how able a school district is to support its learners, and without it, students are left with poorer levels of performance as well as their resulting outcomes. A lack of equity in the educational system as a whole means that less students are given the conditions they need to succeed, and are therefore at a loss of opportunities and prosperity as they move forward in life. This is compounded by the fact that as of now only about 36 percent of all jobs require a high school diploma or less. (

Funding is power, and those familiar with the topic know how pivotal it can be in ensuring student success. In fact, a prominent study found that this spending improves high school graduation rates among low-income students, as well as increases their adulthood earnings by 10 percent.
One of the most prominent barriers in regards to student success is that of assessment inequity. Traditional methods of cognitive assessment used by teachers in the classroom have long been ineffective in providing a comprehensive picture of a student’s actual learning status.

Summative assessments, for example, have historically been inadequate in their ability to deliver educators the timely and consistent feedback they need to identify where their students’ learning gaps are. They just don’t pinpoint where a student is at, nor are they able to create options to build upon. Instead, they work as effective dead ends.

Another traditionally unproductive form of assessment, standardized tests based on strategies such as multiple choice are no better in their ability to discern student comprehension. They’re also inherently inaccessible, and paint only an analog picture of learning progress.

Student Success In An Increasingly Uncertain World

What does it mean to be a successful student? This is a question that has been asked by educators, parents, and students themselves for generations. And while there may not be a single, definitive answer, one thing is certain: student success starts with equity and insight.

Amid all of its issues, there has been a growing emphasis among educators for a reform within the educational system, one that addresses these existing problems and barriers while working to conquer them. Two promising tools in this regard are equitable assessments and small data, each of which can empower educators to better understand and support the students they teach.

The Power Of Equitable Assessments In Bolstering Student Success

Assessments are an essential part of the educational process, providing valuable information about what students know and are able to do. But all too often, assessments are unfair, with some students bearing the brunt of the burden while others sail through unscathed. This is where equitable assessments come in.
Equitable assessments are an extremely advantageous tool that can be used to support student outcomes. It works off of a premise that recognizes existing systemic problems, and reworks educational approaches accordingly.

What’s The Difference Between An Equal And Equitable System?

Many people are familiar with the notion of equality. In the context of education, it means to have an even, non discriminatory way of administering and distributing the processes, strategies and resources used to help students learn. It’s arguable that today’s current educational system is equal – as it takes a rather broad and standardized approach to teaching and assessing students.

Comparatively, equity means to organize things so that the amount, action, or extent is appropriate for the people, circumstances, context, and conditions at hand. It’s an approach that’s cognizant of everyone’s situation, and addresses them accordingly.

In education, equity is a promising tool in mitigating the many gaps that exist in supporting student outcomes. It centers around assessing the system’s current state of affairs and offering support that enable everyone to be on an equal level of opportunity. Equity recognizes that not all students may have the same access to resources. It considers the fact that some communities and families may have less access to things like affordable housing, health care and healthy foods. It sees how these disparities can make learners vulnerable, and works to rectify them with the appropriate consideration and approach.

This system, which takes a much more individualized approach to instruction and assessment, is one of the best ways our educational system can begin to level the playing field for all students – regardless of circumstance.

Why Are Current Educational Assessments Inequitable?

There are many factors that contribute to assessment inequity, but one of the most glaring is the fact that assessments have largely been used as high-stakes tools. That is, they’ve been tied to things like college admissions, graduation requirements and job placement.

In other words, they’ve been used as a way to sort and rank students – rather than support them. This has had disastrous effects, particularly for low-income students and students of colour who have been disproportionately affected by high-stakes testing. These groups have routinely scored lower on standardized tests, and as a result, have been subjected to lower levels of educational opportunity.

The Potential Equitable Assessments Bring To Student Experiences And Outcomes

Equitable assessments work to combat the various issues that have made summative and standardized tests so ineffective in the past. They provide educators with a real-time understanding of where each student is at academically, as well as what specific areas they may need help in. This information is critical in being able to properly support and scaffold learning for students, as it can be used to create customized and targeted instructional plans. But beyond just being informative, equitable assessments are also highly engaging for students. They’re often interactive and personalized, making them far more enjoyable than traditional tests which tend to be dry and uninspiring. This not only helps keep students invested in their learning, but can also serve as a valuable tool in boosting student morale and confidence. The power of equitable assessments lies in their ability to provide educators with actionable information while also engaging and inspiring students. When used correctly, they have the potential to completely transform the way we assess learning and support student success.

How Can Equitable Assessments Be Administered?

There are a number of different ways that equitable assessments can be administered, but it’s important to keep in mind that they should always be aligned with specific learning goals. That is, they should be used as a way to measure student progress towards specific objectives – rather than as a general gauge of intelligence or aptitude. They should also be administered in a way that better quantifies levels of student comprehension, obtaining a holistic view of progress that is actionable.

Low-stakes assessments throughout the term for example, rather than a major exam at the end of the semester, can assist students in determining what topics they are and aren’t comfortable with early on. This allows them to take charge of their learning, and get help in the areas they need it most.

Other ways of administering equitable assessments include providing students with choice in how they show what they know, as well as offering multiple modalities for demonstrating understanding. This could involve everything from traditional written exams to oral presentations and performances. The key is to ensure that there are a variety of options available, so that students can choose the assessment method that best suits their individual strengths and preferences.

The Role Of Small Data In Unleashing Student Potential

To truly have an understanding of student progress, educators need data that’s timely, specific and actionable. This is where small data comes in. While large data sets are useful for broad analyses, they don’t always offer the level of detail needed to make informed decisions about individual students. Small data, on the other hand, provides a more intimate look at student progress and can be used to inform everything from instructional planning to behaviour interventions.

What Is Small Data?

Small data is defined as “high-quality information that is timely, specific and actionable.” In other words, it’s data that can be used to make decisions that will have a direct impact. In the context of student success, small data can be used to level the playing field, ensuring that all students have an equal opportunity to succeed.

Some of the most popular small data sources include daily tracking sheets, anecdotal records and learning logs. These tools help educators track student progress in real-time, and can be used to identify both strengths and areas of need. Small data sources are also highly versatile, and can be used in a variety of different settings – from the traditional classroom to more innovative learning environments like makerspaces and Fab Labs.

The true power of small data lies in its ability to help educators personalize learning for students. By understanding where each student is at academically, emotionally and behaviourally, educators can begin to create customized instructional plans that are specifically tailored to meet the needs of each individual learner. In other words, small data has the potential to unlock the unique potential in every student – something that’s impossible to do with large data sets alone.

What Can Small Data Measure?

Small data can be helpful in understanding a range of factors within the learning process. All of these factors are critical in understanding student success. By tracking the following and others on a regular basis, educators can identify areas of need and adjust their instruction accordingly.

Performance: How well is the student doing academically? This can be measured in a variety of ways, including grades, test scores and progress on specific goals.

Engagement: Is the student engaged in their learning? This can be measured through things like attendance, participation in class, involvement in extracurricular activities and overall attitudes towards learning.

Perceptions of value: Does the student see the value in their education? This can be measured through surveys, interviews and other response systems to gauge whether material resonates with students.

How Small Data Can Be Leveraged To Improve Student Outcomes

There are a number of different ways that small data can be used to improve student outcomes. Perhaps the most important is its ability to inform instructional planning. When educators have a clear understanding of where each student is at academically, they can begin to create targeted and differentiated instructional plans that meet the needs of every learner. Small data can also be used to inform behaviour interventions. By tracking student behaviours over time, educators can identify patterns and trends that may be indicative of larger issues. This information can then be used to create targeted behaviour plans that address the root causes of the problem. Finally, small data can also be used to monitor student progress and identify areas of need. By tracking student progress on a regular basis, educators can quickly identify when students are struggling and provide the necessary support to ensure that they stay on track.

The Future Of Assessment

As we move forward, it’s important that we continue to develop assessment tools that are valid, reliable and fair. But beyond just being technically sound, assessments must also be engaging, inspiring and informative. They should be used as a way to support and scaffold learning, rather than simply measure it. And above all, they should be designed with the needs of every learner in mind. With the right strategy in place, we can ensure that every student has the opportunity to succeed. This is the future of assessment – one that’s focused on equity, engagement and excellence.

What does it mean to be a successful student? This is a question that has been asked by educators, parents, and students themselves for generations. And while there may not be a single, definitive answer, one thing is certain: student success starts with equity and insight.

Tools and approaches such as small data and equitable assessments are the mitigatory strategies today’s educational system needs in better understanding, identifying and preventing existing gaps. They’re a way for educators to administer their teachings effectively, by being cognizant of the many barriers and pitfalls students can encounter within the learning process. By leveraging small data and equitable assessments, we can help create a more level playing field for all students.

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