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Insight newsletter

Insight issue #53   ·  28 November 2014

Quality assessments: practice and perspectives

The quality and rigour of assessments are key concerns in vocational education and training (VET). The issue of quality in assessments has implications for both the credibility of qualifications and the competence of graduates who hold them. How do VET practitioners fare in their knowledge and practical application of assessment?

Josie Misko and fellow researchers from NCVER investigated the quality of assessments by speaking with practitioners and students from registered training organisations (RTOs) in both the public and private sectors delivering certificate III qualifications for the Aged Care and Electrical industries, and certificates III and IV in Business Administration.

Key elements of quality assessments

Trainers and assessors can identify the widely accepted criteria for effective and quality assessments. They understand the need for validity, fairness, and consistency in making judgements about performance. They also know they need to gather sufficient evidence of practical skill and underpinning knowledge to establish competency against established performance criteria in training packages.

The terms validation and moderation, however provide some confusion. Some identify validation, as practices that are clearly accepted approaches to moderation, and vice versa. Practitioners seem more concerned with validation processes to ensure the relevance, clarity and user-friendliness of assessment instruments, than about moderating the results. The general view is the use of rigorous up-front validation minimises the need for moderation.

It is not always easy to involve employers

Employers should be involved in the validation of assessments as ultimately they’re aimed at determining whether the student is competent to perform the work. Involving employers in validation of assessments or as external assessors is not always easy though. Some providers have more success, especially those with good networks, and those that deliver qualifications requiring workplace assignments. Employer time constraints, and inadequate experience or expertise in specific areas works against close employer involvement. However employers are involved in assessing practical performance on work-placements.

Teachers are challenged by practical implementation

For teachers the more difficult challenges are ensuring judgments are reliable and valid, especially in the case of non-competent performance. Others include:

  • customising and pitching assessment items to the right level
  • achieving consistency among assessors
  • keeping up with training packages
  • addressing regulatory changes.

Teachers also report that assessment difficulties arise when students are not motivated; have insufficient content knowledge; inadequate language; limited literacy and numeracy skills; or did not submit assignments on time.

So what does this mean for vocational education and training?

In short, VET practitioners require more professional development in improving practical understanding and implementation of moderation and validation practice. The good news is that most students are satisfied with their experience, and believe their assessment is a fair test of skills, and a good test of what has been taught.

For more information:

Quality assessments: performance and perspective by Josie Misko, Sian Halliday-Wynes, John Stanwick & Sinan Gemici www.ncver.edu.au/publications/2709.html.

This work was produced by NCVER on behalf of the Australian Government and state and territory governments. 

Image: Getty Images/Thinkstock