NWEA Increases Advocacy For Creating Equitable Assessments

With a deeper focus on fairness and inclusion to advance educational opportunity

Portland, Ore., November 23, 2021 —  Given that the COVID-19-related disruptions to learning have disproportionately impacted students of color and also students experiencing poverty, ensuring the tools, such as assessments, used to measure such impact and inform instructional practices as well as systemic decisions are designed and implemented through an equity lens is critical. To meet this need, NWEA — the not-for-profit, research and educational services provider serving K-12 students — announced today a new brief that highlights the organization’s ongoing commitment to creating equitable assessments.

“There’s no finish line when it comes to creating equitable assessments. There will always be ways to do better and to adjust as the needs shift,” said Karen Barton, EVP of State Solution Design and Development at NWEA. “Assessments that reflect students’ experiences through inclusive, high-quality content support equal opportunity for all students to show what they know. We can also design assessments to produce results that help educators engage all students in challenging content. We are committed to continuing — and growing — our ongoing efforts to make assessments more accessible, fair, and useful so that data can be used to promote the success of each and every student.”

The new brief identifies key components and best practices that NWEA is both focused on and fully advocates for in order to develop more equitable assessments, including:

Design and Development: Beyond assessments being fair, valid, and reliable, NWEA states that a principled approach to design must be in place that identifies which stakeholders will be using the assessments, what decisions they will use the data for, and what outcomes they hope to achieve. User experience research with a focus on diverse representation and innovative design that challenges “what has always been done,” are also key elements driving NWEA’s approach to test design. A final element that grounds this effort is professional learning. Regardless of how fair or valid an assessment, it will not play a role in fostering equity if results are not used appropriately to inform stakeholder action.

Content: Alignment to each state’s expectations for grade-level performance is key but so is creating test items that engage students because if students are not engaged, their opportunity to show what they know is compromised. Local context also matters, as does preventing bias toward any group. NWEA employs various processes to ensure this sensitivity and the prevention of bias. This includes maintaining a content equity team that is composed of content experts that continually audit and refine NWEA content and its development. As part of this, the team is using a human-centered design approach and has established a panel of diverse teachers to support a multitude of perspectives and lenses in content development.

Accessibility: How students interact with an assessment is just as important as the content presented, and this is especially critical to students with unique learning needs. For NWEA, evolving assessments, tools and accommodations to support an equitable testing experience includes designing test aids, item aids and interfaces that maximize the validity of our assessments for the greatest number of students. It means making images accessible for all students and being device agnostic. It includes increasing access to web content and access to accessibility accommodations like screen readers, keyboard navigation and refreshable braille. It also means providing alternative assessments for students with significant cognitive disabilities.

View the full “Creating Equitable Assessments” brief at https://www.nwea.org/resource-center/fact-sheet/36563/Equity-in-assessments_NWEA_fact-sheet.pdf/

About NWEA

NWEA® (formerly known as Northwest Evaluation Association) is a mission-driven, not-for-profit organization that supports students and educators in more than 146 countries through research, assessment solutions, policy and advocacy services, professional learning and school improvement services that fight for equity, drive classroom impact and push for systemic change in our educational communities. Visit NWEA.org to learn more about how we’re partnering with educators to help all kids learn.

Contact: Simona Beattie, Sr. Manager, Public Relations, simona.beattie@nwea.org or 971.361.9526