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Office of Academic Assessment

Information on equity-minded assessment of student learning at Emerson, including resources, programming, and reports.

What is Assessment?

We're working on a video introduction to our office and to academic assessment at Emerson, check back soon!

Defining Assessment

Academic assessment can be an incredibly powerful tool for understanding what our students have learned. Many faculty and administrators find the mere mention of "assessment" off-putting though, because we frequently conflate it with evaluation. Academic assessment is not an evaluation of the quality of faculty's teaching or a program's curriculum. Rather, according to Tom Angelo: "Assessment is an ongoing process aimed at understanding and improving student learning. It involves making our expectations explicit and public; setting appropriate criteria and high standards for learning quality; systematically gathering, analyzing, and interpreting evidence to determine how well performance matches those expectations and standards; and using the resulting information to document, explain, and improve performance. When it is embedded effectively within larger institutional systems, assessment can help us focus our collective attention, examine our assumptions, and create a shared academic culture dedicated to assuring and improving the quality of higher education." Source: AAHE Bulletin, November 1995, p. 7.


Put more simply, assessment helps us gauge if students are actually learning what we're trying to teach. Both informal and formal assessments within online or in-person environments enable us to see students' progress and identify potential opportunity gaps. 


Our central question is: as an Emerson alum, what skills and/or content knowledge should our students demonstrate and how are we ensuring they can do so?

Equity-Minded Assessment

More specifically, the Office of Academic Assessment is committed to implementing equity-minded assessment practices across Emerson College.  

What is equity mindedness?

"The Center for Urban Education coined the term equity-mindedness to refer to the mode of thinking exhibited by practitioners who are willing to assess their own racialized assumptions, to acknowledge their lack of knowledge in the history of race and racism, to take responsibility for the success of historically underserved and minoritized student groups, and to critically assess racialization in their own practices as educators and/or administrators." From Equity Talk to Equity Walk, 2020, p. 20.

What is equity-minded assessment?

Practicing equity-minded assessment means avoiding a deficit-mindset that assumes students' poor performance is due to underpreparation, lack of academic study skills, first language, academic background, and/or other identity categories. Deficit-minded thinking views "shortcomings [as] a 'natural' outcome of...students' backgrounds," and assumes that "addressing attendant inequities requires compensatory programs that 'fix' students and teach them how to assimilate into the dominant college culture." From Equity Talk to Equity Walk, 2020, p. 46.

In contrast, equity-minded assessment looks at opportunity gaps; practitioners examine how assessments are created and how data is gathered and analyzed in order to identify systems and spaces where students do not have equal opportunities to be successful.  

Elements of equity-minded assessment

Equity-minded assessment entails the following actions:

  1. Check biases and ask reflective questions throughout the assessment process to address assumptions and positions of privilege.
  2. Use multiple sources of evidence appropriate for the students being assessed and assessment effort.
  3. Include student perspectives and take action based on perspectives.
  4. Increase transparency in assessment results and actions taken.
  5. Ensure collected data can be meaningfully disaggregated and interrogated.
  6. Make evidence-based changes that address issues of equity that are context-specific.


The Who and How of Academic Assessment

Course vs. Program Assessment

When should I assess student learning?

Always and often! Assessing student learning doesn't just mean grading student work; that isn't sustainable and doesn't encourage the growth mindset we want for our students. Rather, assessing student learning can take place in myriad informal and formal moments throughout a course or program. The value in academic assessment comes from regularly evaluating student learning to identify both positive and negative trends and make changes accordingly.

See our IDEAS guide for more resources

Many of the resources included below are also available on our "IDEAS Course Design Cycle" guide, along with additional materials for both individual faculty and departments. The IDEAS guide moves from background reading through to course design, delivery, and assessment; through its home page and the IDEAS guide, the Office of Academic Assessment intends to provide faculty and departments with resources to further our campus engagement in equity-minded course design, assessment, and classroom practices. The IDEAS guide is a collaboration between Academic Assessment, the Iwasaki Library, the Information Technology group, and the Director for Faculty Development & Diversity.