“Education got us into this mess, education will get us out of it.” – Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, December 2015
Higher education is embarking on a journey of Indigenization, decolonization and reconciliation (IDR). Location will impact understanding of how to accomplish IDR and who will be involved in actualizing the initiative. One thing will be consistent, how we define assessment. Merriam-Webster’s definition is “the action or an instance of making a judgment about something.” This definition highlights the challenge when educators work to Indigenize assessment actions that may be subjective. In a world where people of First Nation, Inuit, and Métis identities face bias of personal and systemic nature, subjective assessment can contain those biases. Perso and Hayward (2020) expanded the assessment definition for Indigenous students in Teaching Indigenous Students: Cultural awareness and classroom strategies for improving learning outcomes saying “an ongoing process of gathering evidence to determine what students know, understand and can do” (p. 167). This definition, partnered with understanding how culture and assessment are related, supports higher education on the path to Indigenization.
Using these three questions can help guide the process of making space for Inuit, Métis, and First Nation learners in assessment:
- What is the purpose of the assessment I have created?
- Will this assessment be impacted by Indigenous life experiences that differ from non-Indigenous students?
- Is this assessment best administered as formative or summative?
Use formative assessment
Traditional assessments sort students based on recall of knowledge gained. Successful Indigenization of assessment will increase practice learning opportunities as connects to Indigenous pedagogy. This practice can increase opportunities for success with Métis, First Nation, and Inuit learners. Increased formative assessment can lead learners to greater responsibility for learning and connections to the learning process. An informed understanding of the life experiences of Inuit, Métis, and First Nation learners will help educators recognize the potential impact of traditional assessment practices. Educator, learner and USask Access and Equity Services (when needed) can work together to support the learning journey.
How to make space for learning from practice
- Engaging students with opportunities to practice with targeted feedback reduces the element of surprise and supports preparation. Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing involve learners observing and practicing to learn.
- Recognize that summative assessment is for reporting and advancement purposes, and formative assessment is the vehicle that will best serve First Nation, Inuit, and Métis learners to succeed on summative assessments. Including ladder assignments and early small tasks with no grades gives time for practicing to learn.
- Have more small assessments and fewer large ones. Multiple assessments with low-risk outcomes can provide timely feedback for Métis, First Nation, and Inuit learners.
Engage learners in their own assessment through shared relationships
Relationship with learners can provide an opportunity to redefine educator/learner responsibility. A shift from the transmission of information to a shared learning approach can foster cultural relevance and respect for Indigenous Knowledge systems. Dimitrov and Haque (2016) recognize the benefit of shared learning in their Intercultural Teaching Competence model. Facilitation competency number nine addresses the need to be aware of barriers students may face participating in class. Historical and contemporary injustices experienced by Inuit, Métis, and First Nation learners are relevant in instruction today.
Add relationship to assessment
- Conversations between partners about the types of evidence accepted allow the Indigenous experience to be recognized.
- Providing learners with a choice of evaluation instruments increases the opportunity to show competence. Varied forms of expression of knowledge and understanding increase the likelihood of success and affirm Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing.
- Ask yourself if a learner could reflect or self-assess as good evidence of learning. It is an excellent way make space for a student’s identity and worldview in the course, and can build relationship between a student and educator.
Indigenization of assessment practices is one step toward addressing justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education. Shifting practice will invite Inuit, Métis, and First Nation learners into a world that has not traditionally welcomed them. Employing strategies that increase the chances of success for First Nation, Inuit, and Métis learners will also benefit non-Indigenous learners. Affirming Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing will reduce stereotypes and contribute to decolonization. Engaging in this work will address the Stewardship and Renewal commitments articulated in the ohpahotân I oohpaahotaan Indigenous Strategy for the University of Saskatchewan.