Join us for a webinar on this topic. Equitable Measures: The Role of Assessments in Education

Do your assessment methods help or hinder students from historically underserved communities?

Join us for a pivotal hour-long webinar, “Equitable Measures: The Role of Assessments in Education,” where we navigate the complex terrain of educational assessments and their far-reaching impact on equitable access to educational opportunities and resources. Featuring insights from Bruce Johnson, Senior Associate, and Carlos Anguiano, Managing Associate, from Community Science and special guest Ereka Williams, Vice President of Education at Dogwood Health Trust, we will delve into how current assessment methodologies shape the educational experiences of students of color and those from low-income backgrounds. We will discuss the historical and systemic barriers for accessing education resources and opportunities and explore strategies that could redefine education assessments to be more supportive of advancing education equity.

May 8th, 1 pm EDT

Imagine a parent, deeply committed to their child’s educational success, facing daily battles with an ostensibly unsupportive school system. This parent, navigating the tangled web of IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings, argues passionately for accommodations that recognize their child’s unique learning needs while positioning them to maintain regular social and academic interactions with their peers who may not have the same challenges. The parent recounts stories of countless meetings where pleas for understanding are met with bureaucratic indifference, and where the promise of support dissipates into the air of overcrowded classrooms, overextended staff, and a collection of instructional strategies void of clearly defined goals. The child is left stranded in a sea of standardized assessments that fail to chart their true capabilities.

Reflecting on this journey, it is clear that the intersection of a child’s unique educational needs with a system ill-prepared to meet them creates profound challenges. The pain points are glaring: lack of individualized attention, standardized assessments that miss the mark, the Herculean efforts required of parents to advocate for their children, and the resources and other supports needed to mobilize and organize parents to take collective action. How many families find themselves in this precarious position, fighting for their child’s right to an education that truly accommodates them? How many families feel inadequately equipped with the know-how, time, or courage to fight this fight? And even more important, how many communities continue to struggle with conditions that are not favorable for their children’s success and outcomes?

My personal experiences and observations have shown that within the public education system, the intersection of racial equity issues and special education advocacy presents unique challenges for parents, especially those from historically disadvantaged communities. These parents often face systemic barriers not only in accessing resources, but also in navigating a system that may not recognize or adequately address the cultural and contextual nuances of their children’s needs. This disadvantage is compounded for children who require special education services, as they may not receive the necessary supports to thrive academically and socially. For many parents — particularly those juggling multiple jobs, those with limited English proficiency, or those unfamiliar with the intricacies of the education system — advocating for their child’s special education needs can feel like navigating an unbeatable labyrinth. The lack of collective action and advocacy often results in children missing out on critical educational supports and resources, widening the gap between their potential and their performance.

Research dating back to 1978 identifies the presence of bias and discrepancies related to standardized tests and students with exceptional learning needs (Jenkins & Pany, 1978). And even more recently, scholars have documented the disparities in the identification and service provision for students of color (Voulgarides, 2022). These findings underscore the critical need for mobilizing, organizing, and equipping parents with knowledge and resources to advocate effectively for their children, suggesting that bridging this gap is essential for fostering educational equity. A failure to do so not only undermines students’ academic trajectories, but also perpetuates systemic failures that diminish chances for those same students to become more economically mobile.

To overcome the challenges of inequity in education assessments, especially for students requiring special education services, several strategies could prove effective.

  • A community organizing strategy to strengthen collective action and advocacy capacity among parents can help parents and their allies navigate and transform the education system more effectively. This unified approach not only equips them with the necessary tools and knowledge to champion their children’s educational rights, but also fosters collective resilience. With the right support, parents’ voices can be amplified when demanding systemic changes, ensuring that their children’s potential is not overlooked due to inequitable practices.
  • Policy reforms that take aim at making assessments fairer and more just by incorporating measures that account for intellectual, cultural, and linguistic diversity. This consideration not only validates the diverse backgrounds of students, but also ensures that assessments truly reflect and respect the myriad of ways students understand and engage with content. The U.S. educational system should embrace approaches that enhance the fairness and accuracy of evaluations by promoting inclusive environments where all student’s achievements are recognized and celebrated in a fair way, and with respect and dignity.
  • Financial support from business, industry, and philanthropic sources can further enable the implementation of these reforms, ensuring that all students have fair access to educational opportunities. This move should not be characterized as only a charitable act, but as a strategic investment in the future workforce and healthier and stronger communities. Businesses will directly contribute to creating a more skilled and diverse employee pool by funding efforts to make educational assessments more equitable. This investment yields immediate benefits by enhancing the performance and productivity of the current workforce and positioning those same companies to benefit from a more prepared pool of talent in the years to come.

There is no time like the present to act. We at Community Science aspire to engage actively in advocating for fairer educational assessments, especially in the realm of students with special learning needs, to support families navigating these challenges and to strengthen community capacity to effect change in the education system. We believe we can contribute to creating a more equitable educational landscape for all students by applying our research, evaluation, and capacity building approaches that center equity and justice.

Watch your inbox for an invitation to join me, alongside my colleague Carlos Anguiano, Ph.D., in an upcoming webinar that dives deeper into the issues surrounding educational assessments, equity, and how we can collectively mobilize for change. This webinar promises to be an enlightening conversation about strategies for advocacy and reform, inviting you to learn how your involvement can make a significant difference. Stay tuned for details on how to participate in this crucial discussion.

Jenkins, J., & Pany, D. (1978). Standardized Achievement Tests: How Useful for Special Education?. Exceptional Children, 44(6), 448-453.

Voulgarides, C. (2022). The promises and pitfalls of mandating racial equity in special education. Phi Delta Kappan, 103(6), 14-20.

About The Author

Bruce A. Johnson, Ed.D., Senior Associate, brings a wealth of experience in racial equity, project management, and higher education evaluation as a result of over two decades of leadership within the North Carolina Community College System. His expertise is in developing and implementing strategies to enhance the capacity of organizations and communities regarding racial equity, STEM education, and higher education credential attainment.