Culturally Sensitive, Relevant, Responsive, and Sustaining Assessment (2023)

Are There Limits to Making Large-Scale Standardized Testing Culturally Responsive?

“Assessment practices do far more than provide information; they shape people’s understanding about what is important to learn, what learning is, and who learners are” (Moss, 2008, p. 254).

Over the last few years, I started to hear the words “culturally responsive assessment” in conversations with educators in states such as New Mexico and Hawai’i. I wondered what makes assessment culturally responsive. In what ways and under what conditions can a classroom assessment or large-scale standardized test represent culturally responsive educational values?

I also started to hear different terms beyond culturally responsive, including culturally sensitive, culturally relevant, culturally sustaining. I wondered: What’s the difference among these terms and how should/can culture affect the ways in which we think about teaching, learning, and assessment?

Getting Clear on the Meaning of Terms

Many terms are used to describe the relationship among culture, curriculum, instruction, and assessment. As my colleague Jeri Thomspon addressed in a previouspost, these terms have evolved over several decades and will likely continue to evolve. For example, I recently just heard “culturally revitalizing”. These terms: culturally sensitive, relevant, responsive, and sustaining are related yet distinct. I pulled from many sources to create the illustration below, which summarizes the various terms.

Culturally Sensitive, Relevant, Responsive, and Sustaining Assessment (1)

The icons included in the illustration are intended to illuminate the differences among these terms. Notice that the terms are represented in a step ladder fashion. Instruction and assessment cannot be culturally sustaining without first being culturally sensitive, relevant, and responsive.

(Video) Culturally Responsive Assessment: Goals, Challenges, and Implications

  • Culturally sensitive:The eye is meant to represent awareness—awareness that cultural differences and similarities between people exist without assigning value to them.
  • Culturally relevant:The chain link represents intentional linkages between students’ heritage and community cultural practices and the learning that takes place in schools. Teachers link students’ cultural identities with their academic identities when they act as cultural bridge builders and translators between students’ everyday lived cultural experiences and the intended learning targets.
  • Culturally responsive:The toggle image represents adaptation. Schools adapt to students. Students have many assets that can be leveraged, and schooling can be adapted to the students who walk through the classroom doors.
  • Culturally sustaining:The addition sign represents extension where students’ heritage and community cultural practices are resources to honor, explore, and extend.

Recent conversationsin the educational measurement field have raised questions about the extent to which large-scale standardized tests (e.g., state annual achievement tests, commercially available interim assessments) can be or even should be designed and implemented in ways that are more culturally sensitive, let alone culturally relevant, responsive, or sustaining.

The Challenge Issued to Large-Scale Standardized Testing

The challenge to make large-scale testing more culturally responsive has focused on

  1. whatknowledge, understandings, and skills are privileged and therefore define the measurement constructs assessed on large-scale assessments; and
  2. howtests and test items can be designed with more attention to students’ cultural identities (see, for example:Randall, 2021andLyons, 2021).

The What:Can an assessment be culturally responsive if the standards to which it is aligned represent dominant culture values and funds of knowledge? Redefining constructs assessed requires reviewing states’ adopted content standards and paying more attention to what cultures are privileged in those identifications of what is important to learn at each grade level.

The Office of Hawaiian Education (OHE) provides a clear example of this type of standards re-definition in their Hawaiian language immersion schools (i.e., Kaiapuni schools). In a recentREL Pacific webinar, Kau’i Sang explained how OHE started by creating new standards—Hawaiian language arts standards in lieu of English language arts standards—and different science standards that reflected the cultures and communities in Hawaii. These new or revised standards are then used as the basis for theKaiapuni Assessment of Education Outcomes(KA’EO) assessment administered in all Kaiapuni schools for school accountability purposes.

The How:Under current best practices, large-scale test items are often scrubbed of any cultural context in an effort to be ‘culturally sensitive and not biased’. Jennifer Randall argues in a recent article, however, “[w]e know students—especiallymarginalized students—do not experience the world including schooling in ways that are context-free, so the question becomes why do we insist that they experience assessments in this way?” (p. 1).

(Video) TrillEDU: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy... | Jeffrey Dessources | TEDxNewJerseyCityUniversity

Dr. Randall provides a sixth-grade math example that she argues would likely be removed from a state test during a sensitivity and bias review because of the context. The context is a person, Marcellus, who is “cooking hot meals to hand out to a small group of twelve Black Lives Matter protesters demonstrating against separating families held at the U.S./Mexico border” (p. 2).

The questions Dr. Randall invites us to consider include: For whom is the assessment context/scenario controversial? Is cultural neutrality a myth and actually racist because it defaults to the dominant culture?

The Challenges Ahead for Large-Scale Standardized Assessments

The challenges we face in making large-scale standardized testing culturally responsive are directly related to what ‘standardized’ means and to the intended purpose and use large-scale tests are designed to serve. Assessments are standardized when the test design, construction, assembly, administration, and scoring procedures and protocols are intended to be the same across students so that inferences from student test scores can be directly compared.

In other words, standardization means that variations in test design, administration, and scoring are eliminated as much as possible. And more standardization is usually required when test scores are intended to be used for high-stakes purposes such as school accountability.

Of course, standardization is the opposite of individualization. And without individualization, which considers the cultural identities of the students taking the test, how can a test represent culturally responsive educational values?

While it seems possible that state or off-the-shelf commercial interim standardized tests could become moreculturally sensitiveover time as industry practices change, it is unclear to me the extent to which large-scale standardized tests could be designed and implemented in ways that areculturally relevant, responsive, or sustaining.

(Video) Supporting Schoolwide Culturally Responsive Practice

Culturally relevant assessment requireslinkagesbetween each student’s everyday lived cultural experiences and the test items or stimulus materials. Culturally responsive assessment would require tests thatadaptto each student’s cultural identities. Culturally sustaining assessment would require tests thatextendyouth culture.

Given that what is culturally relevant, responsive, or sustaining for one is not culturally relevant, responsive, or sustaining for all, it seems there is a significant challenge ahead for large-scale standardized tests as the level of individualization needed is in direct opposition to the way these tests are designed and the intended uses of these tests within state or district accountability systems.

Is the solution then to stop worrying about standardization?

If it were possible to create domain sampling approaches or apply other methods to link or adapt a large-scale standardized test to the student, do we want there to be a Latinx test, a White test, or a Black test? Doesn’t this approach run the risk of simply reducing individuals to one identity—and likely a highly stereotyped monolithic and flattened identity— that does not fully represent a student’s heritage and community cultural practices?

Identifying the source(s) of the problem (e.g., state content standards, standardized test design, accountability systems) and solutions that address those problems are not simple. My former colleague, Charlie DePascale, recently wrote in ablog postabout how a goal of ‘engaging and culturally relevant large-scale testing’ is tricky because we have traditionally wanted ‘students to be able to apply their knowledge and skills beyond contexts that are engaging and culturally relevant.’ And yet we know that continuing to operate under the current system, which places a disproportionate emphasis on large-scale standardized testing, supports dominant cultural values about what is important to learn and how that learning will be quantified (see Pamela Moss’s quote from the beginning of this post).

Conclusion: The Solution Requires Balance

Classroom systems are obviously affected by state content standards and accountability pressures, but teachers can (and do already) adapt their curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices to their students. Think of the way teaching and learning practices differ across grade spans and content areas, as two simple examples. Why couldn’t cultural and linguistic identities be woven into the fabric of classroom instructional and assessment systems by design to support all learners? Dr. Llosa’s recent keynote address at the2021 NCME Classroom Assessment conferenceis a great example of cultural responsiveness by design. Otherstudent-centered approachesto teaching and learning also exemplify the ways in which classrooms can foster and support students’ cultural and other identities.

(Video) Cultural Relevance Versus Construct Relevance: How do we Create Culturally Responsive Assessments?

One way to promote culturally relevant, responsive, and sustaining assessment is to refocus our attention on classroom curriculum, instruction, and assessment, while not ignoring changes around cultural sensitivity that can occur with large-scale standardized tests.

Culturally relevant, responsive, and sustaining assessment practices should occur and are completely appropriate for classroom instruction and assessment. It is for this reason that prioritizing classroom assessment systems, particularly those that support culturally responsive and sustaining mindsets, is critical.

To learn more about a Culturally Responsive Classroom Assessment Framework that could potentially support such mindset and practice shifts, see myprevious blog post.


How can assessment be categorized as culturally relevant responsive? ›

Culturally responsive pedagogies can allow educators to design and select assessments that promote student equity as part of a balanced system of assessments. For assessments to be culturally responsive or culturally sustaining, they must be able to account for differences in students' cultural identities.

What are some culturally sensitive considerations in assessment? ›

unfamiliarity with marking systems and the assessment culture. different expectations of required skills, based on different experiences with assessment. different pedagogic paradigms, leading to different understandings of assessment. lack of clarity about the target of the course and the intended learning outcomes.

How do you demonstrate yourself as a culturally responsive teacher? ›

7 Culturally Responsive Teaching Strategies
  1. Activate students' prior knowledge. ...
  2. Make learning contextual. ...
  3. Consider your classroom setup. ...
  4. Form relationships. ...
  5. Discuss social and political issues. ...
  6. Tap into students' cultural capital. ...
  7. Incorporate popular culture.
19 Nov 2020

What is an example of culturally responsive teaching? ›

Teachers should encourage students to draw on their prior knowledge in order to contribute to group discussions, which provides an anchor to learning. Taking a different approach to the literature that's taught in classrooms is one example of this.

What are the challenges of culturally responsive assessment? ›

The challenges for culturally responsive leadership

Bias, fear, lack of cultural awareness, the absence of professional strategies and adequate support structures impede the ability of some educators to develop culturally responsive learning environments.

How do we encourage teachers to develop culturally relevant and responsive curriculum for learners? ›

using students' cultural experiences in daily instruction. embracing native language and students' families as assets. creating a classroom environment that represents and respects all students. communicating clear high expectations for everyone.

What is an example of a culturally sensitive question? ›

2. What country are you originally from, and why did you move to the U.S.? By showing counselors how and why the individual celebrates, this questions helps them learn more about cultural traditions.

What are some examples of cultural sensitivity? ›

➢Example: People who seamlessly interact with others from different cultures by following the norms of that culture. They feel that they can respect their own values while adapting to the values of other cultures they interact with. They use empathy effectively.

How do you demonstrate cultural sensitivity? ›

Use these tips from the American Psychological Association to be more culturally aware:
  1. Think beyond race and ethnicity. A person's culture is shaped by more than the color of their skin or the way that they dress. ...
  2. Learn by asking. ...
  3. Make local connections. ...
  4. Pay attention to non-verbal behaviors. ...
  5. Exchange stories.
22 Jul 2019

What does it mean to be culturally responsive as a teacher? ›

Culturally responsive teaching is a research-based approach to teaching. It connects students' cultures, languages, and life experiences with what they learn in school. These connections help students access rigorous curriculum and develop higher-level academic skills.

How can a teacher be responsive to learners needs? ›

Teachers may:

openly discuss classroom decision-making with children. provide opportunities for children to engage in learning experiences that they have initiated. provide a program that balances opportunities for structure and spontaneity. promote co-construction of the learning environment with children.

How is culturally responsive teaching used in the classroom? ›

culturally responsive teaching: a pedagogy that uses students' customs, characteristics, experiences, and perspectives as tools for better classroom instruction. Students of color see themselves and their communities as belonging in academic spaces.

Why is culturally responsive teaching important for teachers? ›

Since CRT focuses on inclusive curriculums, it helps teachers and students understand different perspectives, appreciate each other's strengths, and build empathy. It also helps teachers to introspect how their own identity and experiences impact their attitudes and teaching practices.

What are the 8 competencies for Culturally Responsive Teaching? ›

Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching
  • Reflect on one's cultural lens. ...
  • Recognize and redress bias in the system. ...
  • Draw on students' culture to shape curriculum and instruction. ...
  • Bring real-world issues into the classroom. ...
  • Model high expectations for all students. ...
  • Promote respect for student differences.
11 Feb 2022

Why is culturally responsive practice important? ›

Culturally responsive teaching promotes the success of all students equally—something that traditional education methods often fall short on. When students' cultural backgrounds aren't thoughtfully considered, classrooms suffer from issues like language barriers, systemic discrimination, and lack of representation.

What is a culturally responsive strategy? ›

Culturally responsive teaching is an approach that “empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes” (Ladson-Billings, 2014).

How does culture affect assessment? ›

Cultural bias occurs in testing materials when test items assess knowledge or experiences that are specific to a certain culture. In comparison, cultural bias in the examiner comes from expectations based on his or her experiences and background rather than that of the culture of the child.

How can teachers work effectively with students from different cultures? ›

Express interest in the ethnic background of your students. Encourage your students to research and share information about their ethnic background as a means of fostering a trusting relationship with fellow classmates. Analyze and celebrate differences in traditions, beliefs, and social behaviors.

How do you ensure that your learning activities are relevant to the topic? ›

Three straightforward practices can help faculty establish the relevance of course content and activities: faculty should 1) regularly share and discuss the learning outcomes of the course; 2) clearly tie those learning outcomes to the required activities and assignments; and 3) orient students at the beginning of each ...

What are four reasons why teachers should support a culturally conscious curriculum? ›

Why is it Important to Teach Culture in the Classroom?
  • Students Become More Empathetic. ...
  • Students Gain a Better Understanding of Lessons and People. ...
  • Students Become More Open-Minded. ...
  • Students Feel More Confident and Safe. ...
  • Students Are Better Prepared for a Diverse Workplace.

How do you answer a work culture question? ›

How to answer "Describe your ideal company culture."
  1. Prepare your answer in advance. Before your interview, think about what you feel contributes to a positive work environment. ...
  2. Research the company. ...
  3. Focus on two to three important traits in your answer. ...
  4. Be honest. ...
  5. Explain how you can contribute to the company culture.

Why is it important to be culturally sensitive when communicating? ›

Embracing cultural sensitivity and awareness helps us understand how cultural differences may affect and influence individuals when forming their unique personalities, perceptions, and their interactions with others. This will help prevent cultural problems in the workplace.

Why is it important to be culturally sensitive in the workplace? ›

Maintaining cultural sensitivity in the workplace helps to incorporate more viewpoints and spread awareness of different cultural values and identities. A well-established sense of cultural awareness and sensitivity helps to minimize bias in hiring, promotion, termination and decision making.

What is cultural sensitivity in your own words? ›

Cultural sensitivity is being aware that cultural differences and similarities between people exist without assigning them a value – positive or negative, better or worse, right or wrong.

How do you complete a cultural assessment? ›

Here's how to conduct a cultural assessment in five steps:
  • Choose a cultural assessment model. ...
  • Perform the assessment impartially. ...
  • Examine the results of the assessment. ...
  • Draw conclusions about the assessment's results. ...
  • Draft a plan for implementing cultural changes.
17 May 2021

How do you ensure cultural sensitivity in the workplace? ›

  1. Get training for global citizenship. ...
  2. Bridge the culture gap with good communication skills. ...
  3. Practice good manners. ...
  4. Celebrate traditional holidays, festivals, and food. ...
  5. Observe and listen to foreign customers and colleagues.
22 Sept 2017

What are 3 work practices that can be considered to be culturally appropriate? ›

Workplace practices that are culturally appropriate and demonstrate inclusiveness include celebrating different cultural holidays, sharing food from other cultures and appreciating art and literature from around the world.

How do you communicate in a culturally sensitive manner? ›

Published by: LifeWorks, 1st April 2021
  1. Use clear language. When you are communicating with a culturally diverse audience, keep your language clear, concise, and straightforward. ...
  2. Understand differences in body language. ...
  3. Practise reflective listening or paraphrasing. ...
  4. Be open and inclusive of other cultures.
1 Apr 2021

What are the characteristics of a culturally sensitive person? ›

Being open to learning about the traditions and beliefs of other cultures. Being aware of your own culture and how it has influenced you. Examining your own biases and prejudices. Seeking knowledge about other cultures, especially those that you encounter often.

What is culturally appropriate assessment? ›

Culturally competent assessment includes culture-specific styles of service delivery, use of the client's first language, and an evaluation of the client as a cultural being prior to test administration using cultural orientation categories.

What is responsive assessment in education? ›

Responsive assessment is an approach to academic. assessment that shifts the focus away from routine application of standardized assessment measures and toward understanding the im- mediate educational needs of learners.

How does culture affect assessment? ›

Cultural bias occurs in testing materials when test items assess knowledge or experiences that are specific to a certain culture. In comparison, cultural bias in the examiner comes from expectations based on his or her experiences and background rather than that of the culture of the child.

How do you assess cultural needs? ›

In a brief cultural assessment, you should ask about ethnic background, religious preference, family patterns, food preferences, eating patterns, and health practices. Before the assessment, know the key topics to address and know how to address them without offending the patient and family.

Why is it important for assessments to be culturally competent? ›

The Importance of Cultural Competence in Evaluation

Because culture is influenced by many characteristics (i.e., race, ethnicity, language, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, education, and experience), it is important that we stop and reflect on our own culture before embarking on an evaluation.

Why cultural assessment is important? ›

A culture assessment survey helps an organization to not only understand what its culture is but also measure it. The right set of survey questions is extremely helpful when it comes to collecting information from within your organization. Every employee contributes to the culture of an organization.

What are examples of cultural needs? ›

The term 'culture' can include 'way of life', customs, leisure activity, language and beliefs, all of which are relevant to a consideration of cultural needs. Cultural expression can include the arts but it call also include other forms of expression including gardening, sport, language, dress, and much more.

What are examples of assessment activities? ›

A Collection Of Simple Assessment Strategies You Can Use Every Day
  • An open-ended question that gets them writing/talking. ...
  • Ask students to reflect. ...
  • Use quizzes. ...
  • Ask students to summarize. ...
  • Hand signals. ...
  • Response cards. ...
  • Four corners. ...
  • Think-pair-share.

Why should assessments be responsive? ›

Responsive Assessment offers a way of rethinking academic assessment that can remove the barriers to learning--including those blocking a learner's sense of dignity as a person who has knowledge and is capable of learning--and serve to truly support people who learn.

What is culturally responsive teaching framework? ›

The Culturally Responsive-Sustaining (CR-S) Education Framework is intended to help education stakeholders create student-centered learning environments that affirm cultural identities; foster positive academic outcomes; develop students' abilities to connect across lines of difference; elevate historically ...

What role does culture play in the assessment of personality? ›

Culture plays a significant role in the construction of self-concept and self-image, the egocentric/sociocentric dichotomy, and the determination of biases in the clinical study of PDs. Cultural contextualization is, therefore, crucial in the demarcation between normal and abnormal personalities.

How can culture affect a person in terms of conducting a health assessment? ›

The influence of culture on health is vast. It affects perceptions of health, illness and death, beliefs about causes of disease, approaches to health promotion, how illness and pain are experienced and expressed, where patients seek help, and the types of treatment patients prefer.

What is a culturally informed assessment? ›

Culturally informed assessment is a process—a way of thinking critically about the role of culture in human behavior. Teaching a responsible cultural perspective can take many forms. My strategy is to establish a firm conceptual base and to engage students in key ideas through exercises and illustrations.

What is an example of a culturally sensitive question? ›

2. What country are you originally from, and why did you move to the U.S.? By showing counselors how and why the individual celebrates, this questions helps them learn more about cultural traditions.

What is an example of cultural sensitivity? ›

➢Example: People who seamlessly interact with others from different cultures by following the norms of that culture. They feel that they can respect their own values while adapting to the values of other cultures they interact with.


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