Review of Assessment, Equity, and Opportunity to Learn

By Anicca Cox, Michigan State University and Virginia M. Schwarz, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Moss, P. A., Pullin, D. C., Gee, J. P., Haertel, E. H., & Young, L. J. (Eds.). (2008). Assessment, equity, and opportunity to learn. Cambridge University Press.

Assessment, Equity, and Opportunity to Learn (Moss, Pullin, Gee, Haertel, & Young, 2008) is a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort to reframe learning during an era of high-stakes testing and accountability that persists today. Authors describe opportunity to learn (OTL) as access to the resources and environments that make learning possible. This means testing of any sort should be used for improvement, rather than ranking. Supported by the Spencer Foundation, this collection sought to broaden “traditional” psychometric conceptions of assessment that fail to account for the sociocultural and local factors of learning environments. Specifically, Moss and colleagues attempted to shift national conversations about assessment from individual student performance to issues of access and equity. To do so, contributors present historical and contemporary assessment approaches that explore context-specific questions, considerations, and affordances and constraints. Consequently, this collection works as an introductory resource for policy makers, educators, parents, and other stakeholders in understanding the complex processes of teaching and learning in K-12 contexts.

The book is organized into twelve chapters conceptually arranged first via histories of OTL schemas, both sociological and sociocultural; next, by examining particular themes—disabilities, cultural practices, community-centered, and gaming—and finally, retrieving earlier assessment models and considering instances of practical application in large and local scale assessments. Its final chapter articulates a set of principles for understanding OTL and reiterates the need for assessment to illuminate the “relationships, interactions, and contexts” of schooling environments to enhance those opportunities (pp. 11, 335).

Assessment, Equity, and Opportunity to Learn prefigures much of the work those of us who started teaching writing in the last 10 years are exposed to, consider, and incorporate into our classrooms. In what we might call the “assessment” turn in writing studies, our pedagogy and training has necessarily had to consider effective and, we hope, equitable ways to assess writing at the classroom, programmatic, and institutional level. We are accustomed to critical issues of inequity in assessment measures like standardized testing that disproportionately disadvantage learners with less access to dominant discourse structures. This last consideration finds voice in an overwhelming amount of literature from early works on developmental writers, to critical pedagogy, and through more recent, assessment-specific work like Race and Writing Assessment (Inoue & Poe, 2012) and the Journal of Writing Assessment’s special issue on “A Theory of Ethics for Writing Assessment” (Kelly-Riley, D., & Whithaus, 2016).

However, 10 years on, the “culture of evidence” (vii) climate this volume was responding to has, in many ways, failed to listen to the information on the ground from educators about teaching and learning. National and institutional performance-driven assessment mechanisms have continued to march forward with initiatives like the Common Core, and its paradigm has increasingly progressed into higher education. So, we find ourselves as teachers and writing studies professionals obligated now, more than ever, to guard students from top-down measures that do not adequately reflect their abilities and provide them with equitable opportunities to learn.

As an edited collection, Assessment, Equity, and Opportunity to Learn continues to provide writing studies with foundational ways to understand learning itself, specifically from sociocultural and psychometric frames that advocate for locally responsive, formative, and pragmatic assessments, over summative, performance-driven metrics. Moss et al. offer examples of classroom and programmatic strategies to assess learning effectively for students and teachers, not just for institutions and administrators. Community college faculty, in particular, and those working in academic success and pathways programs, might find this book valuable for understanding the uneven distribution of educational opportunities and the need for institutions to be flexible and responsive to the diverse body of students they serve. In other words, OTL can be leveraged to push back against deficit thinking (Delpit, 2012) and needs-based discourse (Crowley, 1998). From this perspective, poor classroom or test performance indicates a failure not on the part of individual students but because of ineffective educational design and assessment practices. Consequently, as the various authors illustrate via articles mapping their own institutional projects, assessment should inform institutional revision and change. Finally, for writing studies scholars and professionals who also wish to engage in institutional research, this collection provides an accessible way into frameworks such as sociology and anthropology that have become vital to cross-disciplinary collaborations and continue to influence many domains of educational research today.


Crowley, S. (1998). Composition in the university: Historical and polemical essays. University of Pittsburgh Press.

Delpit, L. D. (2012). “Multiplication is for white people”: Raising expectations for other people’s children. The New Press.

Inoue, A. B., & Poe, M. (Eds.). (2012). Race and writing assessment. Studies in composition and rhetoric (Vol. 7). Peter Lang.

Kelly-Riley, D., & Whithaus, C. (Eds.). (2016). A theory of ethics for writing assessment [Special issue]. Journal of Writing Assessment, 9(1). Retrieved from

Moss, P. A., Pullin, D. C., Gee, J. P., Haertel, E. H., & Young, L. J. (Eds.). (2008). Assessment, equity, and opportunity to learn. Cambridge University Press.