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Limiting Bias In Assessment

Ethical standards in assessment and evaluation include maintaining objectivity, limiting bias, avoiding conflicts of interest, maintaining confidentiality, determining political risks of data, and being aware of the impact of data on stakeholders (American College Personnel Association, 2007; Association for Institutional Research, 2013). A critical framework challenges the ability of practitioners to be neutral and unbiased because the practice of assessment is inextricably linked to the identities held by the practitioner such that, “as individual leaders, we practice within norms, assumptions, values, beliefs, and behaviors originating in our multiple identities...In addition, identity influences experiences and perceptions of power or lack thereof and affects how we think about and practice within power structures of colleges and universities”. (Chávez & Sanlo, 2013, p. 9) (Heiser, Prince & Levy, 2011, The Journal of Student Affairs Inquiry).

Attention to our identities and experiences is imperative because “our positionalities - how we see ourselves, how we are perceived by others, and our experiences- influence how we approach knowledge, what we know, and what we believe to know” (Bettez, 2015, p. 934-935). In order to address the influence of one’s subjectivity on their work, a critical practitioner continually engages in self-reflexivity by interrogating “how [their] experiences, knowledge, and social positions might impact each aspect and moment” (Bettez, 2015, p.940) of the assessment cycle. (Heiser, Prince & Levy, 2011, The Journal of Student Affairs Inquiry).

Practitioners operating from primarily dominant identities may further amplify instances lacking perspective. Critical inquiry encourages evaluators to account for implicit biases pertaining to one’s identities. Implicit bias is “a descriptive term encompassing thoughts and feelings that occur independently of conscious intention, awareness, or control” (Nosek & Riskind, 2012, p. 115). Thus, our exposure to societal messages and our experiences may subconsciously influence our associations both about groups to which we belong and those we do not. For example, when career coaches evaluate resumes they may subconsciously associate either positively or negatively with student name, perceived race/ethnicity, education background, experience, or geographical location; but a rubric may mitigate the effects these associations could have on review and feedback. (Heiser, Prince & Levy, 2011, The Journal of Student Affairs Inquiry).

When utilizing rubrics, recommended practices of calibration and norming activities help ensure reliability and work to minimize the subjectivity of the evaluator. Having a well-designed rubric and conducting calibration activities can norm evaluators with content and scoring, ultimately aiming to account for existing subjectivity or implicit biases. Beyond assisting the practitioner, rubrics support students by clearly communicating examined content and how scores are determined. Sharing rubrics with students ahead of an intervention as in the example of reviewing a resume provides transparency, while also enabling students to set themselves up for success and familiarizes them with the process prior to interacting with a career coach. Critical approaches such as this work to navigate positionality and subjectivity, while improving traditional approaches to assessment, by empowering students and honoring their agency as subjects in the assessment effort. (Heiser, Prince & Levy, 2011, The Journal of Student Affairs Inquiry).

IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self, as well as developing an understanding of students’ and parents’ values; having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown that it is linked to better well-being, less stress, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed.

Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally sustaining practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic youth-centered environment that honors the unique values of your students and parents, visit our website at, or contact us at or 1800-507-2502.

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