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6 December 2021

How inclusive education can lead to better assessment design

‘Students can, with difficulty, escape from the effects of poor teaching, they cannot (by definition, if they want to graduate) escape the effects of poor assessment.’ (Boud 1995, p35) Deakin’s Dr Joanna Tai and Professor Margaret Bearman offered this provocative quote to introduce the landscape of inclusive assessment in a panel discussion: ‘Designing inclusive assessment with neurodiversity in mind’. 

As educators, we have much to gain by recognising different ways of knowing and doing as we reimagine education and its outcomes. It is a misconception that designing inclusive assessment only benefits a few, when in fact, it impacts more learners than we imagine. The panel discussion, presented as an Inclusive Education Community of Practice event, began by outlining that inclusive assessment supports all students to show their capabilities, regardless of personal circumstances or background characteristics. 

The discussion also explored approaches to inclusive assessment design through recent research in the area of Indigenous Knowledges, and the concept of neurodiversity, to explore this emerging landscape. 

Dr Jessamy Gleeson explained, ‘part of the design of all of our units involves moving from western models of teaching and learning to models that incorporate Indigenous Knowledges.’ She challenged participants to consider how we might position ourselves differently to the demonstration of capabilities through assessment using this lens. 

Jessamy identified approaches adopted at The National Indigenous Knowledges Education Research Innovation (NIKERI) Institute. Assessment tasks emphasise the importance of Indigenous voices and knowledge, draw on concepts like reflexivity and locatedness, and move beyond written tasks to use oral presentations, group work, and reflections. 

Beth Radulski, autism and neurodiversity activist and researcher at La Trobe University, explained neurodiversity is not something a person ‘has’ or ‘is’ but rather something society as a whole is. There is no list of conditions that are ‘neurodiverse’. She frames it as a spectrum of all human brains and includes all neurotypes – even those we consider ‘the norm’ (i.e. the neurotypical brain). 

Beth advocates an approach where students work towards developing their strengths rather than simply managing their limitations. In assessment, grading based on subject learning outcomes and key strengths should apply to all students, not upon cultural norms that privilege and marginalise different groups. All presenters acknowledged that including students in the design of assessment materials is also a powerful step forward in this area. 

Further exploration of how assessment affects student learning in unexpected ways is needed. The more people we listen to with expertise in different equity groups, the more robust the principles and practices of assessment will become. 

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