This cartoon raises a few interesting questions. For one, what was the unit objective? Was it “learning how to climb a tree”? If so, what was the criteria for assessment? Was it speed? Safety? Height? Is this an individual test, or a group effort? In any case, it’s easy to predict the outcome: the monkey is going to excel, the fish is going to be seen as a failure, the penguin and the seal will be labeled inattentive, and the dog and elephant will be regarded as clumsy and disruptive. The bird will remain unchallenged, and therefore distracted. All of them would rather be elsewhere, doing other things.
How do we test relevant skills authentically? Perhaps an elephant should be accommodated with a ramp, and tested on patience and balance rather than toe-grip and speed. The fish could benefit from an assessment that values depth as a criteria, rather than height. But the even bigger question here is: “what is the importance of tree climbing”? Is this a relevant skill for an elephant or a fish? The instructor would do well to realize that his students are a diverse animal community, and put more emphasis on how to collaborate by defining students’ personal strengths to benefit the group and the actual world in which they live. But, given the narrow skill set that he is assessing in this case, it is fair to accommodate the elephant by providing a ramp, the penguin, graduated stairs, the fish, a tree under water. Is this “fair” to the monkey? I think this cartoon is great because it illustrates how irrelevant “fair” is in the context of differentiated assessment.