Develop good VET Assessments

Assessing in VET

I’ve been d2-Developoing some reading over the summer break. As well as a couple of novels, I looked over some of my favourite books on adult education.

One of them is Design for How People Learn by Julie Dirksen. Chapter 7 is on Design for Skills and starts with the following;

Teaching skills is not for the easily daunted.  It takes time and effort and practice both for you and for your learner.

So developing assessments that truly assess skills is also not for the easily daunted.  Yet too often it’s taken for granted that it can be done:

  • quickly and as part of a trainers normal duties
  • by trainers who have had no training themselves in developing assessments (the CIV hasn’t provided this in the past)
  • using multiple choice questions
  • using the performance criteria as the marking guide
  • without information to assessors and often without clear information to students
  • without giving assessment developers enough time to do it properly
  • by people without the subject matter expertise and little idea of what competent looks like in the workplace

And unfortunately RTOs often avoid the task of writing their own assessments by buying in commercial assessments that rarely meet the principles of assessment and rules of evidence.

This is evidenced by the fact that the most common and significant non compliance’s ASQA find at audits are poor assessments.

But here’s the thing.  RTOs that invest in building their capacity to develop assessments don’t look back.  If done properly, they have a point of difference from their competitors, own their assessments, have staff with advanced skills in VET assessment, improve their student outcomes and reduce costs long term from not licensing resources or paying external resource developers.

So if your RTO is interested in investing in developing your own assessments here are some tips:

1. Have a good assessment system in place for staff to follow.

A good assessment system includes:

  • An assessment development process
  • An assessment validation process
  • An industry consultation process
  • Assessment Tool Templates that guides staff in the information that assessment tasks must include – both for students and assessor

Your assessment development process should read as a how to guide that staff can follow to help them create consistent and appropriate assessment tools.  The process should relate to the templates you supply them to write their assessment tasks.

Include information about who is responsible for assigning assessment development tasks and the time provided to develop assessments. This was discussed in my earlier blog on Planning for Good Assessments.

I recommend you have assessment task templates that include a student version and an assessor version. The assessor version is the master copy.  Use this version to develop the assessments and make sure it goes through an approval process before creating the student version.

As a minimum, the assessor version contains:

  • Unit/qualification/student details
  • Task instructions (include the what, when, where and how of assessment)
  • Equipment/resources provided by the RTO and those to be provided by students
  • Assessment conditions (e.g. open book, no support allowed from assessor/other students, no. times they can repeat the assessment to get a satisfactory result etc.)
  • Appropriate marking guide (e.g. an observation checklist for practical tasks that detail what actions the assessor should observe the student do and to what standard while completing the task from start to finish; questions with model answers for assessing knowledge requirements)
  • Instructions to assessors (on how to set up and implement assessment so it is conducted consistently for all students and assessors)

The student version contains all of the same sections as above minus:

  • Any model answers provided to questions in the assessor version
  • Instructions to assessors

And if you don’t have an assessment system in place or it needs updating then have a look at the assessment system package I’ve put together after working with so many RTOs that had nothing in place.

2. Organise just in time in house and contextualised professional development.

Once you have a sound and workable assessment system in place, then organise customised in house workshops on developing assessments using your processes and templates.  Ideally, target those who are currently assigned to develop assessments and use the workshop as both time to help them with the task as well as providing them the ability and confidence to do it well.

RTOs must ensure their staff are staying current in VET teaching and assessment (Standard 1.16) .  In addition, one of the 3 strategic focus areas for ASQA in 2016/17 is the capability of trainers and assessors especially around assessment.  So it makes good sense to prioritise professional development in this area.

In my experience, the best outcomes and long term changes come when assessment development workshops are spaced over 2 – 3 sessions over 2 – 3 weeks.  This allows time for staff to practice and apply the skills learned to develop assessments for one unit of competency, get feedback on it and then use this as a benchmark to develop future assessments.  It also builds a professional network of staff who continue to work together on improving their skills and knowledge in assessment. They have a common understanding, language and confidence to discuss and challenge assessment practices.

The time and money spent on this type of targeted professional learning program will be well worth it and provide sustained improvements for the RTO.  It can help change the culture by demonstrating a commitment by management to the quality of training and assessment and to those who have the biggest impact on student outcomes – the trainers.

If you’d like someone to come in and run contextualised assessment development workshops with your staff, then I’d love to hear from you as these are my favourite professional development sessions to run because I know they have long lasting effects.

3. Maintain your focus on having quality assessments

Once you’ve gone to the effort of putting a good assessment system in place and supported your staff to gain assessment development skills, make sure you don’t drop the ball.  Make sure all assessments have gone through a centralised approval process, are stored in a central location and can’t be changed without permission.  Make sure staff know they must use approved assessments only, but build into your system the ability for staff to request changes as needed.

Have someone responsible for ensuring you have an assessment validation schedule in place and that validation happens according to the schedule. It’s easy having a schedule but harder to actually stick to it.

Involve all teaching staff in validation at least once a year, it’s a great way to help maintain their skills in assessment. Yes, this includes your casual teachers.

And make sure people are assigned the responsibility for monitoring the outcomes of validation and any improvements are made.  This is where a lot of RTOs fall down, where improvements or issues are identified but are not acted on.