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Rethinking the role of reading assessments for real learning

Chantal Francois (Instructional Leadership and Professional Development, Towson University College of Education, Towson, Maryland, USA)
Mia Hood (Independent Researcher and Literacy Consultant, New York City, New York, USA)

Journal for Multicultural Education

ISSN: 2053-535X

Article publication date: 16 August 2021

Issue publication date: 11 October 2021




Scholars who advocate for equity-oriented educational practices have argued that the accountability era in the USA, now in place for two decades, has failed in its intended goal to improve student performance for traditionally marginalized student populations. This study aims to use a sociocultural lens to trace how a century-old conceptualization of reading – that discrete skills comprise comprehension and that multiple-choice questions can measure mastery of those skills – predominates today’s standardized reading tests.


This essay draws on the authors’ collective experiences as literacy educators, school leaders and researchers.


The authors critique two beliefs rooted in Eurocentric thinking borne from a long-held conceptualization of reading – that logical reasoning and the right background knowledge can promote achievement on standardized tests. The authors link the critique to their lived experiences and situate test design features in the broader sociopolitical educational landscape. Then, by presenting examples from an urban public high school, the authors encourage educational leaders to revisit the potential of authentic assessments as complex and meaningful activities that foster the critical thinking necessary for participating in democracy.

Practical implications

Committing to authentic assessments takes the work characteristic of transformative school leadership, especially serving diverse student populations: A clear and ambitious vision that centers social justice and cultural relevance, frequent, shared opportunities for professional growth and shared norms for instructional practice and student growth.


This essay encourages educational leaders, researchers and policymakers to revisit the potential of authentic assessments as tasks that can surpass external measures in informing teachers about how students’ develop their literacy in school.



The authors would like to thank the editor, Dr Sherry Deckman, and the anonymous reviewers for their feedback on this manuscript.


Francois, C. and Hood, M. (2021), "Rethinking the role of reading assessments for real learning", Journal for Multicultural Education, Vol. 15 No. 3, pp. 299-312.



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