Key Terms & Definitions

*Some of these are borrowed (with thanks) from the NEA Center for Social Justice. Some are taken from journal articles with attribution. Others are original.


The work of actively opposing racism by advocating for changes in political, economic, and social life. Anti-racism tends to be an individualized approach, and set up in opposition to individual racist behaviors and impacts.

Antiracist assessment

An antiracist framework for assessment must always critically question the structures and assumptions that make up the judgment of all assessment developers. It is explicit about its politics and its intent to reconstruct hierarchical racial power arrangements that have been historically (re)produced via assessments. With antiracist approaches to assessment, we acknowledge both the current and historical role of race and racism in our own assessment practices. Specifically, antiracist assessments:

  • Explicitly disrupt conventional negative stereotypes, as they relate to any marginalized group
  • Highlight oppressive sociopolitical inequities and injustices while empowering students to enact change
  • Provide complete and accurate contemporary and historical perspectives that go beyond celebrating and/or protecting whiteness
  • Allow for multiple ways of knowing/understanding and performing the content

Assessment justice

A justice-oriented approach to assessment design and development: (a) acknowledges the historical
structures of oppression (such as racism, sexism, and colonialism) deeply embedded within our current
assessment processes, (b) actively seeks to understand their ongoing consequences on marginalized
populations; and (c) intentionally seeks to disrupt these negative processes and outcomes by centering
the needs of these populations. Justice-oriented approaches to assessment do not seek to serve the
greater good of the many and powerful to the exclusion/erasure of the few and minoritized, but rather
aggressively prioritize/center the most marginalized populations.

A commitment to justice is not represented by a mere commitment to equity, as equity approaches to
assessment seek merely to provide scaffolds that compensate for historical and contemporary barriers.
Justice approaches, on the other hand, actively seek to remove those barriers and also make amends for
the barriers ever having existed.

Assessments vs. Measurement vs. Evaluation

Assessment refers to the process of gathering information about what students know and are able to do (e.g., a test, quiz, writing assignment, having them raise their hands to answer questions). Measurement is technically the assignment of a number or a score (e.g., MCAS score of 350 or SAT score of 1200) based on a set of rules. Then evaluation is the judgment of that score (e.g., 350 is proficient or 1200 is good enough for admission or 8 out 10 is a B).


A term used to describe the act or practice of disregarding or ignoring racial characteristics, or being uninfluenced by racial prejudice. The concept of color neutrality is often promoted by those who dismiss the importance of race in order to proclaim the end of racism. It presents challenges when discussing diversity, which requires being racially aware, and equity that is focused on fairness for people of all races.

Critical scholarship

“Critical scholarship … is a way of thinking about research as a form of resistance. While resistance is usually associated with the politics of the day, with tangible forms of oppression or with nuanced forms of manipulation, we believe that we must balance the production of the orthodoxy with resistance to system-preserving truths. … [Critical scholarship] is a way of approaching knowledge that is inherently not certain, always fluid, rooted in the lived experiences of people with multiplicity of life-contexts and informed by dialogue, relationship, and connection with those who have a stake in the knowledge being generated. Critical research is not out to create truth; it aims to consider the moment and looks forward to a way of seeing that moment in ways we could not have imagined. Finally, it invites into the research process an active identification of and engagement with power, with the social systems and structures, ideologies and paradigms that uphold the status quo.” (Gharabaghi & Anderson-Nathe, 2017). Gharabaghi, K., & Anderson-Nathe, B. (2017). The need for critical scholarship. Child & Youth Services, 38(2), 95-97.

Culturally sustaining assessment

Culturally sustaining assessment (CSA) seeks to use assessment as a tool to sustain, rather than to erase or to assimilate, the lifeways of historically marginalized communities. In an CS approach to assessment, the sociocultural identities of BIPOC students are deliberately integrated (not simply valued) in every planning/development phase of the assessment. Culturally sustaining approaches to assessment (a) draw on BIPOC students’ “funds of knowledge” (b) are connected to the lives of these students, (c) allow them to demonstrate their competence in a variety of ways through “community cultural wealth,” and (d) are embedded within a culturally sustaining curriculum (Paris & Alim, 2014). While culturally sustaining and antiracist assessments are related, not all CSAs are antiracist, and not all antiracist assessments actively seek to sustain a culture.

Culturally responsive assessments

Montenegro and Jankowski (2017) defined culturally responsive assessment as assessment that is “mindful of the student populations the institution serves, using language that is appropriate for all students when developing learning outcomes, acknowledging students’ differences in the planning phases of an assessment effort, developing and/or using assessment tools that are appropriate for different students, and being intentional in using assessment results to improve learning for all students (p.10).”

Implicit bias/unconscious bias

Attitudes that unconsciously affect our decisions and actions. People often think of bias as intentional, i.e. someone wanted to say something racist. However, brain science has shown that people are often unaware of their bias, and the concept of implicit bias helps describe a lot of contemporary racist acts that may not be overt or intentional. Implicit bias is just as harmful, so it is important to talk about race explicitly and to take steps to address it. Institutions are composed of individuals whose biases are replicated, and then produce systemic inequities. It is possible to interrupt implicit bias by adding steps to decision-making processes that thoughtfully consider and address racial impacts.


A term used to describe a time in which racial prejudice and discrimination no longer exist. Deep racial disparities and divisions exist across our society, and some are even widening. Much like the notion of “color neutrality,” the idea of a “post-racial” society does not acknowledge that racism and inequity sit at the core of many of our nation’s deepest challenges. See “Color-neutral.”


While often assumed to be a biological classification, based on physical and genetic variation, racial categories do not have a scientific basis. However, the consequences of racial categorization are real, as the ideology of race has become embedded in our identities, institutions, and culture, and is used as a basis for discrimination and racial profiling. How one is racialized is a major determinant of one’s socioeconomic status and life opportunities. See “Racial & ethnic categories.”

Racial & ethnic categories 

System of organizing people into groups based on their identified race and ethnicity, with categories that may change over time. Data is derived from self-identification questions; however, people often do not get to select the categories from which they must choose, making most methods of categorizing and counting highly political and often problematic.

Racial hierarchy

Ranking of different races/ethnic groups, based on physical and perceived characteristics. Racial hierarchy is not a binary of white vs. non-white, rather a complex system where groups occupy different rungs of political, economic and cultural power. Racist ideology relies on maintaining hierarchies, even among racial groups.

Racial justice

The systematic fair treatment of people of all races, resulting in equitable opportunities and outcomes for all. Racial justice — or racial equity — goes beyond “anti-racism.” It is not just the absence of discrimination and inequities, but also the presence of deliberate systems and supports to achieve and sustain racial equity through proactive and preventative measures.


Historically rooted system of power hierarchies based on race — infused in our institutions, policies and culture — that benefits white people and hurts people of color. Racism isn’t limited to individual acts of prejudice, either deliberate or accidental. Rather, the most damaging racism is built into systems and institutions that shape our lives. Most coverage of race and racism is not “systemically aware,” meaning that it either focuses on racism at the level of an individuals’ speech or actions, individual-level racism, dismisses systemic racism, or refers to racism in the past tense.

Systemic analysis

A comprehensive examination of the root causes and mechanisms at play that result in patterns. It involves looking beyond individual speech, acts, and practices to the larger structures — organizations, institutions, traditions, and systems of knowledge.