Key Takeaway: A number of factors affect the perception of key stakeholders in relation to the fairness of assessment practices for students with learning differences. Elements such as student disability, existing assessment processes, the socio-emotional environment, stakeholders’ conceptions of fairness, and contextual facilitators and barriers to inclusive practices interact to influence the overall fairness factor of classroom assessment. Having an awareness of this multidimensional conceptualization of fairness is helpful in evaluating whether assessment practices are offering equal opportunities to demonstrate learning, and also scaffolds students’ ability to self-advocate for their needs. -Akane Yoshida

“Creating inclusive classrooms has been a justice movement in education,” say Rasooli et. al., and in this paper they seek to fill the void they find in current literature regarding fairness in assessment practices by adding the voices of students with learning differences, their parents, and their teachers to the mix. 

Their paper contributes a framework for fairness in assessment as “a multidimensional concept that is negotiated and navigated in the cyclical and dynamic interactions with classroom teaching and interactions.” According to the authors, this conceptualization is “closely tied with the sociocultural theories of assessment that recognise the social, cultural and economic milieu within which teachers and students interpret and enact fairness in assessment.”

The study methodology describes a process by which data was pulled from open-ended surveys submitted by teachers, students, and their parents from 19 secondary schools across Australia. The questionnaires included such queries as “How was the assessment adjusted for you?” for the student survey, “Do you think this adjustment better allowed [your child] to demonstrate what [they] knew or could do?” for the parent survey, and “Do you think you would adjust assessment differently in the future for this student? If yes, please comment on what changes you would make.” for the teacher survey. Inductive and thematic coding was used by the researchers to identify themes in the responses. Through this analysis, four larger themes emerged: “conceptions of fairness, fair classroom assessment practices, fair socio-emotional environment and contextual barriers and facilitators of fair practices.”

Summarized below are the findings in relation to each theme:

  1. Overall conceptions of fairness: Participants expressed equal accessibility for all students as being the greatest determinant of fairness in assessment. Adjustments to assessment practices were thought to be fair when they offered students with learning differences optimal opportunity for success in line with mainstream expectations.
  1. Fair classroom practices: Three sub-themes emerged from the responses as factors that can support or hinder fairness in assessment:
  • Differentiation of the assessment preparation process and design (accessibility of the mode of assessment, clarity in the task format and expectations, as well as the opportunity to prepare for the assessment)
  • Differentiation of assessment settings and environment (provision of a quiet space, additional time and breaks) 
  • Differentiation of assessment scheduling (ensuring that multiple assessments do not occur within a short period of time)
  1. Fair socio-emotional environment: Three sub-themes emerged here as well:
  • Student self-concept 
  • Impact of the learning difference on the socio-emotional environment
  • Relationships with teachers and peers
  1. Contextual barriers and facilitators of fair practices: Participants identified school and national-level policies, teacher experience, availability of paraprofessionals and other human resources, class size and parent influence as being the most influential factors in fair assessment.

While the study drew upon participants from a variety of grade levels and learning differences, it concedes that future research involving a larger sample size from a wider range of educational systems would be necessary in order to lend greater credibility to its conclusions. 

Summarized Article:

Rasooli, A., Razmjoee, M., Cumming, J., Dickson, E., & Webster, A. (2021). Conceptualising a Fairness Framework for Assessment Adjusted Practices for Students with Disability: An Empirical Study. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 1-21.

Summary by: Akane Yoshida—Akane believes that developing supportive and nurturing relationships with students is key to helping them to attain their personal benchmarks for success. She loves how the MARIO Framework operationalizes this process and utilizes systematic measurement of student learning and teacher effectiveness to guide interventions.

Key Takeaway:  This article highlights the importance of teaching skills to learners in sequences to allow for practice and reflection, consequently leading to mastery. Moreover, direct and explicit instruction allows educators to react and adapt to the individual learner’s needs as they progress through their learning journey. —Frankie Garbutt

Summary: “All teachers are evaluated using the same tool, regardless of the teacher’s role, suggesting that the instructional approach supported by one tool would meet the needs of all students,” say Hannah Morris- Matthews, Kristabel Stark and Nathan Jones (Boston University), Mary Brownell ( University of Florida) and Courtney Bell (Educational Testing Service, Princeton) in this Journal of Learning Disabilities article. The authors investigated whether Danielson’s Framework for Teaching (FFT) is a tool which encourages instruction that adequately responds to the needs of students with learning disabilities. The use of observation tools, to evaluate teacher practices and identify professional development needs, can be “agnostic and universal,” thus creating the assumption that one instructional approach benefits all learners. The academics rooted their research in the Load Reduction Theory (LRI) because previous studies suggest that students with learning disabilities benefit from direct and explicit instruction. LRI practices “avoid overburdening the working memory, and facilitate productive interaction between long-term and working memory.” This is achieved through using the pillars of LRI teaching practices (intensive, explicit, systematic and individualized instruction) in order to support learners with cognitive disabilities.

The study addressed two questions: 

1. What assumptions about instructional quality are present in Danielson’s FFT? 

2. To what extent does Danielson’ FFT make practices associated with LRI visible?

The methodology of the study looked at the language of the observation tool due to its role in “defining, evaluating and developing good teaching.” Their analysis found that practices that reduce cognitive load are rare and instead favour practices which are student-driven and focused on making sense of complex content. They concluded that “observers using FFT would direct these teachers to practices that would likely serve as barriers to equitable and efficient learning opportunities.”

Nonetheless, the limitations of this study were acknowledged as it had not investigated “how FFT might operate in practice” because the analysis “does not provide insight into the ways that raters make use of the tool.” Moreover, the focus “foregrounds the needs of students whose disability influences cognitive processing,” and thus, “does not explicitly speak to the needs of all students with disabilities.” Consequently, it was suggested that further research is required into how the framework is used as a whole and not just segments of the tool. The authors suggest that future researchers “query how observers use and make sense of the rubrics to better understand the processes through which they arrive at ratings and determine directions for professional development.”

The conclusion was that FFT as an instrument “may not be an appropriate mechanism through which to support a continuum of effective instruction for students with learning disabilities and other struggling learners.” The researchers proposed to root observation tools in the cognitive load theory, recognising the need for a diverse tool box with practices that can respond to learners’ needs.

Article Summarized:

Morris-Mathews, H., Stark, K. R., Jones, N. D., Brownell, M. T., & Bell, C. A. (2020). Danielson’s Framework for Teaching: Convergence and Divergence With Conceptions of Effectiveness in Special Education. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 54(1), 66–78. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022219420941804

Summary By: Frankie Garbutt- Frankie believes that the MARIO Framework encourages students to become reflective, independent learners who progress at their own rate.