Integrated assessment : new assessment methods literature review

Crisp, B. and Green Lister, Pam and Dutton, K. (2004) Integrated assessment : new assessment methods literature review. Scottish Institute for Excellence in Social Work Education, Dundee.

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The assessment of students in higher education performs a number of functions, some of which may not always be compatible with each other. Traditionally, the role of the assessor has involved determining the level of competence displayed in undertaking the task, and ideally, offering feedback on future learning needs (Rowntree, 1987). Assessment also provides grading for students’ work, allowing comparison of performance across a class, and across the curriculum for individual students. The subsequent gaining of a degree or professional qualification depends on students successfully completing a set of specified assessment tasks across the prescribed curriculum. As such, there may be stakeholders beyond the higher education institution, such as employers, regulatory bodies or clients, who believe the assessment process as being akin to certification or professional gatekeeping (Younes,1998). In professional courses such as social work, passing certain assessment tasks may be associated with notions such as fitness to practice and eligibility for professional registration as a social worker with the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) or similar bodies in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, and beyond the United Kingdom. In terms of gatekeeping, assessment tasks may not only restrict who gains certification on exiting an educational programme, but also who is admitted in the first place. For example, requirements by registration authorities that students admitted to social work programmes have achieved specified levels of literacy and numeracy will require appropriate assessment tasks to determine equivalence for those entrants who have not achieved formal qualifications in these areas. Entry point assessments may also be used to determine whether credit should be granted on the basis of prior learning or experience (Slater, 2000) or to identify areas in which additional training may be required (Shera, 2001) In addition to gatekeeping, assessment clearly has a vital role to play in the ongoing development of learning and teaching strategies. It can be crucial in determining what, why and how students learn (Brown, Bull and Pendlebury, 1997) and there is increasing recognition of the necessity to align learning and assessment tasks, so that learning and assessment become aligned rather than being somewhat independent of each other (Biggs, 2003). Furthermore, in an era when evaluation of teaching is often reduced to student satisfaction surveys, critical reflection on work submitted for assessment can serve as an alternative method of evaluating the success of teaching. The nature of assessment has changed considerably since the 1970s, and is ongoing. The key changes have included moves from written examinations to coursework assignments and more emphasis on student participation in assessment (self and peer assessments), processes rather than products, and on competencies rather than content (Brown et al., 1997). Even the more traditional forms of assessment such as essays and examinations have undergone considerable innovations. Yet, in practice these seemingly radical changes may be more a wish list than a statement of fact. In actuality, some new forms of assessment, such as self and peer assessment may simply have been added onto rather than replaced more traditional modes of assessment (Cree, 2000). Changes to assessment in social work tend to reflect changes in higher education more widely such as the emergence of competency based and modular approaches to learning, as well more proceduralised assessment processes necessary to cope with higher numbers of students (Cree, 2000). There is considerable divergence of opinion amongst the social work education community in the United Kingdom as to whether such changes actually benefit social work students and their learning (eg Clark, 1997; Ford and Hayes, 1996; O’Hagan, 1997; Shardlow and Doel, 1996). There have also been concerns expressed as to whether some new forms of assessment are actually capable of achieving the learning they claim to facilitate Boud, 1999; Entwistle, 1990; Taylor, 1993). This report was commissioned by the Scottish Institute for Excellence in Social Work Education (SIESWE) as a resource on assessment for the development of the new social work degree in Scotland and provides an overview of the current literature on assessment methods being utilised in social work education both in the United Kingdom and beyond. This report begins by reviewing the various methods of assessment in social work education which were found in the literature. We then go on to explore the developing literature on the involvement of persons other than social work academics, such as students and service users, in the assessment process. Finally, we consider the importance of developing and assessment strategy which might incorporate these various different forms of assessment