Assessing professional competence: from methods to programmes

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Impact on learning

The impact of assessment on learning has also been termed “consequential validity”, which 4. is incorporated in the formal definition of validity by the American Educational Research Association 32. . We prefer to use it as a separate criterion, simply because of its importance in any balanced utility appraisal. This brings us to two somewhat paradoxical observations.

The first observation is that the notion of the impact of assessment on learning is gaining more and more general acceptance. Many publications have acknowledged the powerful relationship between assessment and learning. Recognition of the concept that assessment is the driving force behind learning is increasingly being regarded as one of the principles of good practice in assessment 33. . Unfortunately, this does not mean that changes are easy to achieve in practice or that changes in assessment will no longer be the last item on the agenda of curriculum renewal 34. .

The second observation is that there is a paucity of publications which shed light on the relationship between assessment and learning 35. . From our daily experience in educational practice we are familiar with some of the crucial issues in this respect: how to achieve congruence between educational objectives and assessment, how to provide and increase feedback from assessment, how to sustain formative feedback, how to combine and balance formative and summative assessment, how much assessment is enough, how to spread assessment over time, et cetera. Unfortunately, published information that can further our thinking and progress in this area is hard to come by.

An explanation of this scarcity may be that it is almost impossible to study the impact of assessment on learning without knowing about the context of the assessment. For example, a recent paper showed that students' performance on an OSCE station had a much stronger relationship with the students' momentary context (the rotation they were in) than with their past experience with the subject 36. . The concept that a characteristic of an assessment method is not inherent in the method but depends on how and in what context assessment takes place is even more applicable in the case of its impact on learning than for any of the other characteristics in the utility equation. Similar methods may lead to widely differing educational effects, depending on their use and place in the overall assessment programme. This means that we are badly in need of more studies to address the issues mentioned above, research that will inevitably require more specification of the assessment context.

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