Equity-minded Learning Assessment

Last Updated: 12 March 2024.

This page provides a broad introduction to the topic of equity-minded assessment of student learning. As you read, please keep in mind this is still a new and evolving concept. The information and resources contained here serve only as a primers to the exciting and diverse perspectives in the field today, and are continually updated to reflect shared understandings of equity-minded theory and practice in learning assessment.

Note: We use “equity-minded” here as an umbrella term that includes frameworks and approaches such as: antiracist pedagogy/assessment; bias-free assessment; critical assessment; culturally responsive assessment/pedagogy; decolonized and indigenous assessment/pedagogy; equity-centered assessment; socially just assessment.

Table of Contents:

The Importance of Equity-minded Assessment

Because the evaluation of student performance is a substantial influence on the student experience,1 a fair, equitable evaluation of student learning is crucial. Taking a proactive stance by employing equity-minded assessment and equity-focused teaching is imperative, particularly given the well-documented historical biases in testing and evaluating student performance. Historically in Hawai‘i, the State of Hawai‘i “educational policy promoted U.S. beliefs and negative stereotypes of Native Hawaiians, thereby leading Hawaiians to believe that what was Hawaiian was not good”; one recommended path forward that can break negative stereotypes is an equity-focused approach that includes faculty development “on issues and behavior of indigenous people, and develop skills in culturally appropriate curriculum and teaching methods.” 2

Continuing the status quo in teaching and assessing–that is, faculty make no changes–typically perpetuates inequitable practices because traditional learning assessment methods and pedagogies too often disadvantage some students.

The goals of equity-minded learning assessment include the following:

  • Eliminate deficit-based interpretations of assessment results that blame poor performance on student characteristics such as age, ethnicity, income, etc. 3
  • Ensure that no student is unfairly disadvantaged because of factors unrelated to their actual learning
  • Mitigate potential biases in test questions, assignments, instructions, grading
  • Tailor assessment practices to be culturally responsive to students
  • Identify disparities in learning achievement and make appropriate changes in teaching and assessment practices, policies, accommodations
  • Address our kuleana and contribute to the University’s efforts to become a Native Hawaiian Place of Learning (visit the Native Hawaiian Place of Learning Advancement Office for additional information and resources; read the UH Mānoa Strategic Plan and the University of Hawai‘i System Strategic Plan)

The diversity of students in higher education is great: students differ in many ways, belong to different groups, and have intersecting identities (e.g., a student who is Native Hawaiian and female; a student who is blind and an older adult). When we talk about diversity and not unfairly disadvantaging any student group, we have these dimensions in mind:

Primary dimensions of diversity 4

  • Age
  • Ethnicity and race
  • Gender
  • Physical abilities/qualities
  • Sexual/affectional orientation

Secondary dimensions of diversity

  • Educational background
  • Geographic location
  • Income
  • Marital status
  • Military experience
  • Parental status
  • Religious beliefs
  • Work experience

Ways to Do Equity-minded Assessment

Faculty who are new to equity-minded assessment may feel trepidation or feel overwhelmed. To help you overcome this, we have outlined ten recommendations below that can serve as starting points toward equity-minded assessment practice.

We suggest starting with one of the recommendations below; then, over time, continuing to add other equity-minded principles in assessment and teaching. We believe strongly that every faculty member, across all subject areas and at all education levels, can apply the principles of equity.

Recommendations 5

Scholarship that informed our recommendations can be found under footnote 5 at the bottom of this page. Please also note that the “assessment tools and processes” referred to in our recommendations include: program student learning outcomes [SLOs], curriculum map, rubrics, assignments, and assessment results and actions.

  1. Ensure transparency by making assessment tools and processes public, transparent, explicit, and accessible.
  2. Use student-focused and culturally responsive language to clearly explain assessment tools and processes. Ensure students understand expectations, purposes, and intentions.
  3. Engage multiple perspectives, especially students, in the development, review, and revision of assessment tools and processes. Ensure diverse perspectives are heard and valued.
  4. Engage faculty in critical reflection on our own assumptions, biases, and positionality, their impact on assessment, and ways to mitigate bias and promote equity.
  5. Include program student learning outcomes that aim to foster students’ knowledge, skills, and values related to equity, diversity, inclusion, and cultural/intercultural competency.
  6. Use culturally responsive and inclusive language and assessment tasks that harness students’ strengths, honor diverse ways of knowing, and are meaningful to students with different academic and cultural backgrounds.
  7. Allow students multiple options and opportunities to demonstrate learning. Use a variety of assessment methods to collect data accurately, fairly, and justly.
  8. Collect information on student characteristics of interest to ensure data can be meaningfully disaggregated to investigate equity gaps.
  9. Eliminate deficit-based interpretations of assessment results that blame poor performance on student characteristics such as age, ethnicity, and income.
  10. Use assessment results to advance cultural-responsiveness, equity, and inclusiveness in teaching. Ensure assignments and course materials reflect the cultures and lived experiences of historically marginalized groups and heighten students’ awareness of equity issues.

We are providing a set of updated how-to articles on the topics below:

We are learning too. We welcome feedback and ideas. Together, the campus community–faculty, staff, students, administrators–can intentionally create an equitable learning environment and assessment systems. Email us any time to provide your thoughts at airo@hawaii.edu.

Resources: A Brief List

Practical strategies and techniques for equity-focused teaching and assessment

A sampling of resources with an emphasis on equity and Native Hawaiian culture/worldview

  • E Lauhoe Mai Nä Wa‘a: Toward a Hawaiian Indigenous Education Teaching Framework by S. M. Kana‘iaupuni and K. K. C. Kawai‘ae‘a. In Hūlili: Multidisciplinary Research on Hawaiian Well-Being, (2008),  67-90.
  • Access and Success for Students from Indigenous Populations: The Case of Native Hawaiians and Higher Education, by Thomas, S. L., Kana‘iaupuni, S. M., Balutski, B. J. N., & Freitas, A. K. (2012). In Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research (pp. 335–367). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-2950-6_7. Book available at Hamilton Library.
  • Culture-Based Education and Its Relationship to Student Outcomes by Shawn Kana‘iaupuni, Brandon Ledward, ‘Umi Jensen (2010). Kamehameha Schools Research & Evaluation Division.
  • Infusing Traditional Knowledge and Ways of Knowing Into Science Communication Courses at the University of Hawai‘i (2014) by Judith D. Lemus, Kanesa Duncan Seraphin, Ann Coopersmith & Carly K. V. Correa. Journal of Geoscience Education, 62(1), 5-10. https://doi.org/10.5408/12-416.1 Available via Hamilton Library (login required).
  • Ma ka hana ka ʻike: Implementing Culturally Responsive Educational Practices by Taira, B. W., & Maunakea, S. P. (2023). Behavior and Social Issues, 32(1), 234–248. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42822-023-00127-4 Available via Hamilton Library (login required).
  • Understand the current and past efforts by the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s to be responsive to the Native Hawaiian community and to become a Native Hawaiian Place of Learning: Native Hawaiian Advancement Office. This site also lists activities open to all faculty, staff, and students such as Aloha ʻĀina Fridays though which participants can build relationships within and across communities and the ‘āina.

Resources with examples of definitions of terms such as equity


  1. See the following: 
    — Boud, D., R. Cohen, & J. Sampson. (1999). Peer learning and assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 24(4): 413–426. https://doi.org/10.1080/0260293990240405 
    — Broadfoot, P. & Black, P. (2004). Redefining assessment? The first ten years of assessment in education, Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 11(1), 7-26, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/0969594042000208976 
    — MacLellan, E. (2001). Assessment for learning: The differing perceptions of tutors and students. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 26(4), 307–318. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602930120063466  ↩︎
  2. Ah Nee-Benham, M. K. P. & Heck, R. H. (1998). Culture and educational policy in Hawai’i: The silencing of native voices. L. Erlbaum Associates. P. 231. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315045290  ↩︎
  3. See also 
    — Valencia, R.R. (Ed.). (1997). The evolution of deficit thinking: Educational thought and practice (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203046586   
    — Valencia, R. R. (2010). Dismantling contemporary deficit thinking: Educational thought and practice. Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203853214 ↩︎
  4. These dimensions of diversity were adapted from Loden, M., & Rosener, J. B. (1991). Workforce America!: Managing employee diversity as a vital resource. Business One Irwin. ↩︎
  5. Recommendations were established based on key scholarship in the field. See the following:
    — Heiser, C., Schnelle, T., & Tullier, S. (2023). Defining and Operationalizing Equity-Centered Assessment. Journal of Student Affairs Inquiry, Improvement, and Impact, 6, 4–17. https://doi.org/10.18060/27921
    — McNair, T. B., Bensimon, E. M., Malcom-Piqueux, L., & Pasquerella, L. (2020). Building Capacity for Equity-Mindedness among First-Generation Equity Practitioners (pp. 101–117). John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119428725.ch5
    — Montenegro, E. & Jankowski, N. A. (2017). Equity and Assessment: Moving Towards Culturally Responsive Assessment. Occasional Paper No. 29. National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment. https://www.learningoutcomesassessment.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/OccasionalPaper29.pdf
    — Montenegro, E. & Jankowski, N. A. (2020). A New Decade for Assessment: Embedding Equity into Assessment Praxis. Occasional Paper No. 42. National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment. https://www.learningoutcomesassessment.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/A-New-Decade-for-Assessment.pdf
    — Slee, J. (2010). A Systemic Approach to Culturally Responsive Assessment Practices and Evaluation. Higher Education Quarterly, 64(3), 246–260. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2273.2010.00464.x ↩︎

Contributors: Monica Stitt-Bergh, Ph.D., TJ Buckley, Yao Z. Hill Ph.D.