Culturally Valid Assessment for Indigenous Learners

Culturally valid assessment requires teachers to be aware of hidden codes, teachers’ cultural self-identities, and implicit assumptions in test items or assignment directions for both formative and summative assessments (Solano-Flores & Nelson-Barber, 2001).1

Consider, for instance, the simple question, “How far is it between Regina and Saskatoon.” A mathematics teacher would say, “About 260 km.” An Indigenous learner raised in a fairly traditional family would likely answer, “Two and a half hours.” The worldviews of mainstream Canadian culture can often differ from Indigenous worldviews; in this case, seeing the world with different space-time lenses.

On the one hand, Western mathematics provides an intellectual understanding. On the other hand, Indigenous mathematizing provides an intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual understanding. In other words, mathematics follows a knowledge tradition of understanding the world, while Indigenous Elders teach a wisdom tradition of understanding it.

Many, but not all, Indigenous learners may expect Western mathematics to convey a wisdom tradition of understanding, and then evaluate its knowledge tradition as being superficial compared to their expectations; therefore, unworthy of their concentrated effort. As a result, something as fundamental as “What does ‘understanding mathematics’ mean?” is a cultural issue open to conflicting interpretations. Major culture clashes occur when teachers assume a knowledge tradition while their learners expect a wisdom tradition to be taught.

However, conflicting interpretations is an issue with non-Indigenous learners as well. Degrees of culture clash exist between:

  • many learners’ cultural self-identities (who they are, where they have been, where they are going, who they want to become, and the non-formal languages they speak), (Boaler & Selling, 2017, p. 82)2 and
  • learners’ views of school math, or their views of a person who thinks, talks, and believes like a mathematician.

Culturally invalid assessment occurs when culture clashes of learners are ignored; rather than being recognized and attempts made to ameliorate the clashes.

1Solano-Flores, G., & Nelson-Barber, S. (2001). On the cultural validity of science assessments. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 38, 553-573.

2Boaler, J., & Selling, S. (2017). Psychological imprisonment or intellectual freedom? A longitudinal study of contrasting school mathematics approaches and their impact on adults’ lives. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 48(1), 78-105. Can be downloaded at: