Conducting Assessment with Vulnerable Populations

 INTRODUCTORY

“You should look at this section if you have only a limited idea of the issues involved in assessing students from vulnerable populations.”

Many students are part of vulnerable populations. This includes migrants and refugees; internally displaced people; persecuted groups; ethnic and/or religious minorities; those with physical or mental illnesses; prisoners; victims of trauma; those who are homeless or live in a slum; orphans; and those who live in regions in crisis (for example due to violent conflict or environmental disaster).

In conducting assessment with such students, great care must be taken to consider their needs. This includes ensuring that assessment materials provide students with an opportunity to demonstrate their skills and knowledge. In much assessment, assessment materials focus only on where students should be in their learning. For example, students in grade 5 are assessed on the learning outcomes that the education system has defined as expected for students in grade 5.

For students from vulnerable populations, however, this approach is not appropriate. Due to gaps in their education the performance of grade 5 aged students may be at grade 3 or grade 2 level, for example, or even at grade 1 level. Giving them an assessment that is far above their achievement level will mean that it is impossible to capture any data on the skills and knowledge that they do possess. Moreover, it will brand them as ‘failures’, potentially significantly adding to the trauma they already experience.

Instead assessment should be targeted at where students actually are, for example using a scaffolded approach to assessment in which an assessment instrument includes items from grade 1, grade 2, grade 3, grade 4, grade 5 and grade 6 level. The assessment instrument may also be provided in the language that a student is most comfortable in.

Alternatively, assessment may use an entirely different approach, moving away from paper and pen to conducting assessment through conversation or activities. The overarching goal is to find a way to measure the skills and knowledge that vulnerable students possess in away that is as least harmful to them as possible.

Some may argue that students from vulnerable populations should not be assessed at all, but in fact a lack of evidence of their educational achievement can make the problems that these students face even worse, and significantly limit their future prospects. It is there for every important to ensure that students from vulnerable populations have the opportunity to certify their learning, while equally ensuring that the assessment process itself does not cause them damage.

The assessment of students from vulnerable populations remains a very much under-researched and under-studied area and there are few resources to draw on. The work done by Dr Jackie Kirk is an exception, with one of her publications able to be accessed from: https://toolkit.ineesite.org/resources/ineecms/uploads/1089/Certification_Counts.pdf

To find out more about approaches to assessing students from vulnerable populations, go to #Intermediate.

 INTERMEDIATE

“You should look at this section if you already know something about approaches to assessing students from vulnerable populations and would like to know more.”

All countries have students who are regarded as coming from vulnerable populations. Definitions certainly vary from one country to another, but they tend to have many categories in common. These include students who are migrants and refugees; internally displaced people; persecuted groups; ethnic and/or religious minorities; those with physical or mental illnesses; prisoners; victims of trauma; those who are homeless or live in a slum; orphans; and those who live in regions in crisis (for example due to violent conflict or environmental disaster).

While there is understanding of the need to adapt assessments to meet the needs of students from vulnerable populations, there is little certainty on how this can be done. The fundamental rule of thumb is that assessment should be targeted to meet the needs of students and also to minimise the risk of causing any harm.

Key considerations include:

  • Designing assessment instruments that enable students–however limited their skills and knowledge–to demonstrate what they do know and can do;
  • Adapting existing assessment instruments to make them more accessible for students, such as translating them into a language that the student is more comfortable with;
  • Determining a mode of assessment that suits their needs, possibly oral implementation or activity based assessment;
  • Selecting and training field operators who are likely to be familiar with students’ contexts and that students are likely to feel comfortable with (for example from the same ethnic group);
  • Ensuring that field operations minimise the potential for any harm or distress, for example by keeping the duration of testing short or breaking it up into small sections; and
  • Collating information about student circumstances and characteristics in contextual instruments and using this to interpret and nuance analysis and reporting.

One of the key considerations in the assessment of students from vulnerable populations is that it is very important for them to be assessed. They may experience a very disjointed education, moving between schools or being unable to attend at all. Even if they attend school, they may face discrimination and a language of instruction that they do not understand. In these situations, learning is very challenging indeed.

Nevertheless, students may have gained some skills and knowledge and it is essential that they are able to demonstrate these and have them certified. Certification means that a student’s achievement is publicly endorsed, such as through the provision of a recognised certificate. This is very important in enabling students to transfer schools and to seek employment opportunities.

The assessment of vulnerable students remains a very much under-researched and under-studied area and there are few resources to draw on. The work done by Dr Jackie Kirk is an exception, with one of her publications able to be accessed from: https://toolkit.ineesite.org/resources/ineecms/uploads/1089/Certification_Counts.pdf

To find out more about approaches to assessing students from vulnerable populations, go to #Advanced.

  ADVANCED

“You should look at this section if you are already familiar with approaches to the assessment of students from vulnerable populations and would like to extend your knowledge.”

The goal of assessment is to collect information on the skills and knowledge of students in order to inform improvements in education policy and practice. When students from vulnerable populations are assessed, this implies that a very careful and well thought-out approach to assessment should be used.

Students from vulnerable populations may have a combination of trauma, physical and mental limitations and inadequate living conditions that together combine to ensuring that they require a nuanced approach to assessment. Moreover, it is likely that a combination of movement from one school to another, as well as periods of time with no schooling at all, means that they may not be able to perform at the level expected for their age group.

This means that a very careful planning, design and implementation is required to make sure that any assessment used is suitable for them, measuring not only their limitations but also being able to attest to what they do know and are able to do.The goal is to certify their performance. Certification means that a student’s achievement is publicly endorsed, such as through the provision of a recognised certificate. This is very important in enabling students from vulnerable populations to transfer schools and to seek employment opportunities.

The assessment of vulnerable students remains a very much under-researched and under-studied area and there are few resources to draw on. The work done by the late Dr Jackie Kirk is an exception, with one of her publications able to be accessed from: https://toolkit.ineesite.org/resources/ineecms/uploads/1089/Certification_Counts.pdf

Kirk and her colleagues identify the many administrative and bureaucratic barriers that are in place and which make certification for students from vulnerable populations very challenging. For example, if a student has achieved grade 5 level in one location and then moves to a new region where the curriculum and/or language of instruction is different, how can their equivalent level of achievement in the new region be interpreted?

Nevertheless, they do identify some ways in which education (including assessment) for students from vulnerable populations can be made more appropriate, including:

  • Engaging vulnerable communities in the design of education and assessment programmes;
  • Providing additional support to students to understand new syllabi when they move;
    Ensuring that teachers understand the background of students from vulnerable populations and the appropriate techniques to use with them; and
  • Full cooperation among all education stakeholders to facilitate recognition of achievement.
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