ERIC Identifier: ED391982 Publication Date: 1995-00-00
Author: Lam, Tony C. M. Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.
Fairness in Performance Assessment. ERIC Digest.
Performance assessment is the type of educational assessment in which
judgments are made about student knowledge and skills based on observation of
student behavior or inspection of student products (see the digest by Stiggins
in this series). Education reformers have hailed policy that pushes performance
assessment as manna (miraculous food) from above, feeding teachers and students
"wandering in a desert of mediocrity" (Madaus, 1993, p.10). They claim that by
replacing selection response tests such as multiple-choice tests with
performance assessment, our schools will improve, and all ailments in student
assessment, including the affliction of unfairness, will be cured.
Unfortunately, although the pedagogical advantages of performance assessment in
supporting instruction that focuses on higher order thinking skills are obvious,
research has consistently indicated unresolved logistic and psychometric
problems, especially with score generalizability (Linn, 1993). In addition,
there is no evidence suggesting that assessment bias vanishes with performance
assessment (Linn, Baker, & Dunbar, 1991).
BIAS & FAIRNESS
Consonant with the unified conceptualization of validity (Messick, 1989),
assessment bias is regarded as differential construct validity that is addressed
by the question: To what extent is the assessment task measuring the same
construct and hence has similar meaning for different populations? The presence
of bias invalidates score inferences about target constructs because of
irrelevant, non-target constructs that affect student performance differently
across groups. These irrelevant constructs are related to characteristics, such
as gender, ethnicity, race, linguistic background, socioeconomic status (SES),
or handicapping conditions, that define the groups. For example, ability to read
and understand written problems is a biasing factor in measuring mathematics
skills because it is irrelevant to mathematics skills and it affects Limited
English Proficient (LEP) and native English speaking students' performance
differently on a mathematics test.
Assessment for its intended purpose is unfair if 1) students are not provided
with equal opportunity to demonstrate what they know (e.g., some students were
not adequately prepared to perform a type of assessment task) and thus the
assessments are biased; 2) these biased assessments are used to judge student
capabilities and needs; and 3) these distorted views of the students are used to
make educational decisions that ultimately lead to limitations of educational
opportunities for them. Despite a common definition of assessment fairness in
reference to assessment bias, the approach and methods used to assure fairness
are nevertheless determined by one's choice of either one of two antithetical
views of fairness: equality and equity.
The equality argument for fairness in assessment
advocates assessing all students in a standardized manner using identical
assessment method and content, and same administration, scoring, and
interpretation procedures. With this approach to assuring fairness, if different
groups of test takers differ on some irrelevant knowledge or skills that can
affect assessment performance, bias will exist.
Traditional tests with selection response items have been criticized as
unfair to minority students because these students typically perform less well
on this type of test than majority students. However, no evidence is yet
available to substantiate the claim that performance assessment can in fact
diminish differential performance between groups (Linn et. al., 1991). Although
the use of performance assessment can eliminate some sources of bias, such as
testwiseness in selecting answers that are associated with traditional tests, it
fails to eliminate others, such as language proficiency, prior knowledge and
experience, and it introduces new potential sources of bias: 1) ability to
handle complex problems and tasks that demand higher order thinking skills
(Baker & O'Neil, 1993); 2) metacognitive skills in conducting
self-evaluation, monitoring thinking, and preparing and presenting work with
respect to evaluation criteria; 3) culturally influenced processes in solving
problems (Hambleton & Murphy, 1992); 4) culturally enriched authentic tasks;
5) low social skills and introverted personality; 6) added communication skills
to present, discuss, argue, debate, and verbalize thoughts; 7) inadequate or
undue assistance from parents, peers, and teachers; 8) lack of resources inside
and outside of schools; 9) incompatibility in language and culture between
assessors and students; and 10) subjectivity in rating and informal
observations. (A strategy for reducing the influence of extraneous factors in
rating that also supports integration of curricula is to employ multiple scales
for different attributes embedded in the performance. For example, essays on
social studies can be rated on subject matter knowledge, writing quality, and
With equality as the view of fairness, the strategy for reducing bias is to
employ judgmental review and statistical analysis to detect and eliminate biased
items or tasks. Recognizing the technical difficulties in statistical
investigation of bias in performance assessment, Linn et. al. (1991) asserted
that "greater reliance on judgmental reviews of performance tasks is inevitable"
Fair assessment that is equitable is tailored to the
individual student's instruction context and special background such as prior
knowledge, cultural experience, language proficiency, cognitive style, and
interests. Individualization of assessment can be implemented at different
levels in the assessment process, ranging from choice of assessment approach
(e.g., a project instead of a test), content (e.g., selecting a topic to write
an essay on, allowing translation), administration (e.g., flexible time,
allowing a dictionary), scoring (e.g., differential weighting), and
interpretation (e.g., using a sliding grading scale).
By assessing students using methods and administration procedures most
appropriate to them, bias is minimized because construct-irrelevant factors that
can inhibit student performance are taken into consideration in the assessment
design. For example, in place of a paper-and-pencil word problem test in math to
be administered to the class, a teacher could give the test orally to a LEP
student, rephrasing the questions and using the student's native language if
necessary. When assessment content is customized, congruence between assessment
and instruction for all students is enhanced. And, by adjusting scoring and
grading procedures individually based on student background and prior
achievement, fairness is directly addressed.
Performance assessment, with its ability to provide students with rich,
contextualized, and engaging tasks, can allow students to choose or design tasks
or questions that are meaningful and interesting to them, can make adjustments
based on student experiences and skills, and can test student individually "to
insure that the student is fully examined" (Wiggins, 1989, p.708). These
characteristics of performance assessment are indeed the major thrusts of
equitable assessment. However, it is the individualization strategy and not the
performance task, that produces bias-free scores. If multiple versions of a
multiple-choice test were written for students with varying learning experiences
and backgrounds, and the test administered individually with opportunities for
students to defend and explain their answers, similar results could be achieved.
The persistent gap between majority and minority student performance on
accountability tests, even after the introduction of performance-based sections,
may be attributable partially to the fact that these tests are standardized.
The major difficulty in individualized performance assessment is assuring
comparability of results. Student performance is not consistent across different
contexts and topics in writing assessment, and across different experiments and
assessment methods in science (see Miller & Legg, 1993). Attempts to develop
tasks that are functionally equivalent have been scarce and unsuccessful. For
example, it is difficult to construct comparable tasks of equal difficulty in
writing assessment (Miller & Legg, 1993); methods of translating a test into
another language and establishing the equivalence of scores are not well known
and are used sporadically (Hambleton & Kanjee, 1993); and for constructed
response exams that allow students to choose a subset of questions, it is not
common in tryouts to have representative examinees answering all combinations of
the questions (Wainer, Wang, & Thissen, 1994). Procedures for equating
scores from disparate assessments are just as problematic. As noted by Linn
& Baker (1993), "some desired types of linking for substantially different
assessments are simply impossible" (p.2).
Other pitfalls in assuring equity in performance assessment through
individualization strategies can also be noted. If students are delegated the
responsibility of determining how they should be assessed, such as choosing an
essay topic, picking out best work, or assigning points, individual differences
in this metacognitive ability can become a source of bias. Furthermore, for any
form of assessment, differential scoring and interpretation (such as the use of
differential standards) encourage low expectations for the coddled students, and
ultimately lessen their competitive edge when entering the workforce.
SUMMARY & CONCLUSION
In dealing with the issue of fairness in performance assessment, we are
confronted with some dilemmas. On the one hand, assuring equality in performance
assessment through standardization enables comparisons of student performance
and simplifies administration processes; however, it loses task meaningfulness
and creates difficulty in avoiding bias. On the other hand, assuring equity
effectively reduces bias and enables rich, meaningful assessment, but it
introduces difficulty in administration and in comparing student performance,
causes a potential side effect of poorly equipping students for the real world,
and can be unfair to students with low awareness of their own abilities and
quality of performance. Although standardized assessment is encouraged because
it is a requirement for reliability, which is a necessary condition for
validity, the hermeneutic approach to score interpretation supports
contextualized and non-standardized assessment, and argues that validity can be
achieved without reliability (Moss, 1994).
There is currently little research devoted to examining and promoting
fairness in performance assessment. However, the urgency to build this knowledge
base should not surpass the much needed research on, and efforts to develop,
sound and practical performance assessments. When dealing with the issue of
fairness in assessment, validity must be considered concurrently. How much
better off are we with assessments that are equally invalid for all groups (fair
but invalid) than assessments that are invalid for some groups (valid but
Baker, E. L. & O'Neil H. F. (1993).
Performance assessment and equity. In Evaluating Education Reform: Assessment of
Student Performance. Washington, D.C.: Pelavin Associates.
Hambleton R. K. & Kanjee A. (1993). Enhancing the validity of
cross-cultural studies: Improvements in instrument translation methods. Paper
presented at the annual American Educational Research Association Conference,
Hambleton R.K. & Murphy E. (1992). A psychometric perspective on
authentic measurement. Applied Measurement in Education, 5(1), 1-16.
Linn, R. L. (1993). Educational assessment: Expanded expectations and
challenge. CSE Technical Report 351, CA: CRESST.
Linn, R. L. & Baker, E. L. (1993). Comparing results from disparate
assessments. The CRESST Line, CA.: National Center for Research on Evaluation,
Standards, & Student Testing, 1-3.
Linn, R., E., Baker, E. L. & Dunbar, S. B. (1991). Complex,
performance-based assessment: Expectations and validation criteria. Educational
Researcher, 20(8), 15-21.
Madaus, G. (1993). A national testing system: Manna from above? An
historical/technological perspective. Educational Assessment, 1(1), 9-26.
Messick S. (1989). Validity. In Linn R. (Ed.), Educational Measurement, New
York: Macmillan Publishing Company, p.221-262.
Miller M. D. & Legg S. M. (1993). Alternative assessment in a high-stakes
environment. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 12(2), 9-15.
Moss P. A. (1994). Can there be validity without reliability? Educational
Researcher, 32(2), 5-12.
Stiggins, KR.J. (1994). Performance assessment. ERIC/CASS Digest Series on
Assessment in Counseling Therapy.
Wainer H., Wang X., & Thissen D. (1994). How well can we compare scores
on test forms that are constructed by examinees' choice? Journal of Educational
Measurement, 31(3), 183-199.
Wiggins (1989, May). A true test: Toward more authentic and equitable
assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 70(9), 703-713.
Tony C. M. Lam is Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, University of
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