Waterfield and West (2010) have suggested that ‘because the term “inclusive assessment’ has acquired a rather taken-for-granted meaning, interchangeable for the purposes of referring to the inclusion of disabled students, and more generally referring to the inclusion of the full breadth of the equalities agenda, it exists rather more as a concept than a definition available through coherent actions”. They provide a set of statements to help clarify what is meant when the term ‘inclusive assessment’ is used, as follows:

  • A fair way of assessing for learning that achieves the objective of measuring the learning outcomes of a course and awarding grades, while recognising student diversity and different learning styles.
  • A means of maintaining academic standards while offering flexibility and assessment choice as a complementary element of taking a flexible approach to delivering teaching and learning.
  • A means of promoting the responsiveness of academic staff to the diverse student population, using inclusive assessment as a tool to aid student retention and progression by helping to inculcate a sense of student engagement.

This can be achieved through the following:

  • Ensuring the assessments used targets all students and are not confused with the requirement to make ‘reasonable adjustments’, through modified assessment provision and alternative assessments, that are exclusively targeting disabled students.
  • Highlighting the need for academic staff to:
    • Clarify the learning outcomes being assessed.
    • Clearly articulate the ways in which students can be assessed.
    • Support students to choose suitable assessment methods to reflect their learning style.
    • Acknowledge inclusive assessment practice needs to be considered at the policy, course design and planning, approval, review, and evaluation levels.
    • Consider the resource implications of modifying assessment provision for individual students.

Routes to Inclusive Assessment

Good practice from across the Higher Education sector advocates the following approaches as means of making assessment more inclusive for students.

  • Induction activities.
  • Building inclusivity into course design and review.
    • Learning activities to support the development of the skills and understanding needed for assessment.
    • Providing clear assessment briefs and criteria.
    • Providing a diverse mix of assessment methods.
    • Offering students a choice of assessment methods.

Start-of-Year activities

Consider introducing the types of assessment activity students will experience through the academic year during your Hallam Welcome activities and induction/transition points for levels 5 and 6. Use these activities to outline your expectations of the commitment students will need to make to their assessed work, the skills they will need to develop/master, and direct them to sources of support and information to develop these skills, e.g., academic skills centre. Introduce the range of assessment types they will encounter during the academic year and how they need to engage with their formative feedback and apply it to subsequent (identified) assessments.

Explore with students how their assessments are designed by the module team to ensure their validity (i.e., they are an appropriate means of assessing the learning outcomes of the module) and subsequently verified internally and externally to ensure they are valid and are appropriate for the academic level being assessed. Describe the marking and calibration processes used by the module teams to ensure the reliability of marking. Similarly, explore how internal and external moderation is used to test the reliability of marking; and the role of external examiners in assuring the grading of students’ work equates with national benchmarks (academic standards).

Building inclusivity into course design and review

The mapping and challenging the assessment diet students will experience as they progress through the course needs to be a key part of the course design process. Clearly, ensuring the assessment methods selected can effectively assess the module’s learning outcomes is fundamental. Consideration is needed to ensure the learning outcomes and assessment modes identified do not present barriers to disabled students. Thought is also required to ensure the range, types, modes and level of choice in assessment reflects the needs of the students who will be potentially recruited to the course.

There is a need to recognise that some students join courses better prepared than others for the types of assessments they encounter on the course. This depends on their previous educational experiences, i.e., the assessment diet they experience on their previous programme(s) of study. Thought needs to be given as to how deliberate steps are made to alleviate these differences in students’ assessment-readiness.

Consideration needs to be given to the range of assessment modes (spoken and written, group and individual) and methods (essays, presentations, reports, exams, etc.) used across the course. A balanced range ensures the assessments offered will suit most students and thereby minimise the need for modified or alternative assessments for individual students. It also provides the means to assess a broad range of generic skills and graduate/employability attributes. The use of authentic assessment methods also provide means for developing and assessing graduate / employability attributes.

The need to map assessments to allow for challenge between levels and appropriate opportunities to identify feed forward for students is important. It also allows for the scaffolding of assessment practices and the incremental development of the skills students’ needs to engage with more complex and challenging assessments as they progress through the levels. It also supports them to develop their technical skills.

You should also build in formative assessments/activities as part of your inclusive curriculum design at both course and module level. For example, consider designing year-long modules at level 4, with limited summative assessment in the first semester. You should also consider how you can integrate formative activities into the curriculum to actively engage and develop students’ understanding of assessment literacy, i.e., developing students’ understanding of what a ‘good’ assessment looks like using exemplars in ‘in class’ activities.

It is good practice to consider providing students with a choice of assessment methods through which they can demonstrate that they have met the learning outcomes of a module. This practice is particularly beneficial if a course is likely to recruit a diverse student population and may reduce the need for alternative assessments or adaptations to assessments.