Assessment training: Is assessment fair?

Speakers: Stuart Shaw, Principal Research Officer at Cambridge Assessment International Education
Date: 18 Nov 2020 Venue: Cambridge Assessment The Triangle Building, Shaftesbury Road Cambridge CB2 8EA
Time: 09:30 - 12:30
Type: Training workshop Fee: £90.00

“It’s not fair” is a charge familiar to organisations and individuals who provide assessments which matter to those who take them. Influential statements about educational assessment have increasingly emphasised fairness, to the extent that some commentators (Worrell, 2016, p. 284) have seen the cornerstones of assessment theory as moving from the “big two” (Validity and Reliability) to the “big three”. But what, exactly, do we mean by fairness and how does (un)fairness relate to, and impact upon, educational assessment? This workshop is designed to explore such questions.

Workshop outline

  • Introduces fairness as a value-laden, culturally-bounded concept
  • Discusses questions relating to fairness to what? And to whom?
  • Distinguishes eight senses of “fair” through which educational assessment can be interpreted
  • Links to two root concepts: equality and desert
  • Provides a brief historical overview of fairness in terms of assessment (and assessment reform)
  • Explores the relationship between reliability, validity, comparability and fairness
  • Critiques statistical/psychometric approaches to identifying differential item functioning
  • Introduces concepts such as Accessibility and Universal Design
  • Examines (and questions) the established consensus on assessment fairness
  • Suggests ways of improving assessment fairness through modifications/ accommodations

Key learning outcomes

  • An understanding of the theory and research underpinning fairness
  • Appreciation of the various senses in which “fair” is understood
  • Awareness about how fairness is understood and applied in different international contexts
  • Appreciation of how fairness links to disciplines beyond educational assessment such as law, social justice and philosophy

I enjoyed the discussion activities and the calm way in which the slides were explained with relevant examples."

Intended audience

This session is aimed at practitioners in education and people working in educational and vocational assessment. This includes teachers, anyone who is directly involved in curriculum planning and materials development, key practitioners in assessment and examination bodies and those with an academic interest in assessment.

Related/useful resources

Stuart Shaw & Helen Imam (2013) Assessment of International Students Through the Medium of English: Ensuring Validity and Fairness in Content-Based Examinations, Language Assessment Quarterly, 10:4, 452-475, DOI: 10.1080/15434303.2013.866117.


Worrell, F. (2016). Commentary on “Perspectives on Fair Assessment”, in Dorans & Cook (Eds) Fairness in Educational Assessment and Measurement. Routledge.

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Course trainer

Stuart Shaw specialist trainingStuart Shaw began his career as an engineer, and holds an honours degree in Physics, a diploma in Applied Physics and a research degree in Metallurgy. His early experience, gained with an international plc, covered a range of engineering specialisms. Following his time in industry, he entered the TEFL world (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), gaining a certificate and diploma in TESOL and a Master degree in Applied Linguistics. He had several years of experience as an EFL teacher and Director of Studies. Stuart also holds a postgraduate degree in Theology. Stuart has worked for Cambridge Assessment since January 2001 where he is particularly interested in demonstrating how Cambridge Assessment seeks to meet the demands of validity in its assessments. Before leading a research team in the area of mainstream international examinations, Stuart worked on a range of Cambridge English products with specific skill responsibilities for assessing writing. He is an experienced presenter and has lectured for the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics (University of Cambridge). He also lectures at the Institute of Education, University of London.

He has a wide range of publications in English second language assessment and educational research journals. Recent assessment books include: Examining Writing: Research and practice in assessing second language writing (Shaw & Weir, 2007); The IELTS Writing Assessment Revision Project: towards a revised rating scale (Shaw & Falvey, 2008); Validity in Educational and Psychological Assessment (Newton & Shaw, 2014); and Language Rich: Insights from Multilingual Schools (Shaw, Imam & Hughes, 2015). He is currently co-authoring a book entitled Is Assessment Fair? (to be published by SAGE in 2020). He has contributed to several international debates on validity (e.g. through Special Issue of Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 2016). He is a Fellow of the Association for Educational Assessment in Europe (AEA-Europe) and Chair of the Scientific Programme Committee. He is also a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors (CIEA).

The Triangle Building, Shaftesbury Road Cambridge CB2 8EA
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