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Camosun College faculty spur creation of decolonized English assessments

National interest in new tool that will better suit prospective Indigenous students
Camosun College faculty have spurred the creation of a tool that will provide English assessments that better suit Indigenous students. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)

An initiative that looks to decolonize English assessments for Camosun College’s prospective Indigenous students has turned into a national endeavour.

The school’s faculty members and a 15-member committee have crafted a vision for an assessment process that offers a tool for placing people at the appropriate level of post-secondary English.

Assessments provide a snapshot of a potential student’s English skills and can be used to determine whether they’re ready to enter a certain program or if they need to upgrade their skills. However, Camosun faculty members realized the existing assessment process didn’t apply to Indigenous life experiences.

A new tool would reflect Indigenous worldviews and cultures, and will aim to provide more inclusive, culturally appropriate and equitable assessments for those students.

“Assessment is the first point of contact for many Indigenous students,” Wendy McDonald, an Indigenous advisor at Camosun, said in a news release. “If we don’t get it right, there is the potential for Indigenous students to internalize the failure of being in the wrong placement, believing it’s their fault and they can’t do it. If we lose them here, it then takes them a long time to try again.”

McDonald added that the goal is for students to feel successful from the start and it’s important assessments are accurate and supportive to ensure students don’t feel responsible for the system’s shortcomings.

Maureen Niwa saw Indigenous students receiving low scores on assessments despite their work, such as essays, showing profound wisdom, reflection and insights. It was then that Niwa realized schools were using the wrong tool.

“The current tool is American-based, contains language that may trigger trauma, and overlooks common Indigenous cultural practices such as storytelling, community-based experiences, land-based issues and values placed on family,” Niwa, a Camosun English instructor, said in the release.

McDonald started working on the project years ago after noticing Camosun had specially designed assessments for some groups, like those who speak English as an additional language or students with disabilities, but had nothing for Indigenous pupils.

A committee that began by gathering input from around Camosun has grown into a national Indigenizing English Placement Assessment (IEPA) steering committee. After that team develops a plan for the new tool, it will work with developers to create software that allows for a fully Indigenized assessment process – one that integrates video and other storytelling technology.

Eight other Canadian institutions are currently supporting tool’s development, Camosun said.

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Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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