Review Sessions and Results: Competency Testing in the Capstone Business Class

By Parente, Diane H.; Brown, Randy C. et al. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, September 2005 | Go to article overview

Review Sessions and Results: Competency Testing in the Capstone Business Class


Parente, Diane H., Brown, Randy C., Warner, Alfred G., Journal of Instructional Psychology


Capstone is defined in the dictionary as "putting the final stone in place". Business Policy or Strategic Management is typically the capstone class in a business management degree program. As such, there are prerequisite requirements in terms of courses and specific knowledge. We have implemented a competency test for the capstone class and tested various methods of administration. We used logistic regression to test the various methods for first-time pass and ultimate pass rates of students. Our results indicate that while there was a difference in first time pass with and without review sessions, there was no difference in the ultimate pass rate when review sessions were held. We also found that infinite opportunities for taking the exam made no significant difference in the ultimate pass rate.

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Bloom's learning for mastery (1968; 1974) was introduced in the 1960's and early 70's and formed the foundation for educational research in the area of learning. Bloom's research was built on earlier work by Carroll (1963). In the 1990's, several papers in a stream by JR Gentile (Gentile, Voelkl, Pleasant, & Monaco, 1995; Livingston & Gentile, 1996) refined some of the earlier ideas by Bloom and later enhanced by Block (1974; 1987) into a practical approach to mastery learning that included competency grading.

The idea of mastery learning is quite common in primary and secondary education. Mastery learning focuses more on process than on content and is founded on the idea that students learn at different rates, but still master the subject matter. Thus, all students will achieve the same level of competency, given enough time and the opportunity to learn (Carroll, 1963). Mastery learning is defined as "defining an objective, teaching that objective, testing specifically what was taught, and finally, enriching that objective and/or re-teaching it if mastery wasn't accomplished" (Walker, 1998, p. 15). By extrapolation, competency testing is the assessment component noted in the definition. Thus, students must demonstrate "competency" on a test in order to have achieved mastery of the topic.

While mastery learning theory and competency testing are routinely applied in a variety of areas such as criminology (Kessler & Swatt, 2001), science (Camacho, 1995; Lazarowitz, Baird, & Bowlden, 1996; Lazarowitz, Hertzlazarowitz, & Baird, 1994; Walker, 1998), health care (Decker, 1990; Goodwin, 1997), and licensing situations or other areas in which content is cumulative (Kessler & Swart, 2001), it does not appear to have gained popularity in the teaching of business administration. However, there are some recent citations on the use of comprehensive testing in the information systems arena (Corbett & Anderson, 1992; Montazemi & Wang, 1995; Mukherjee & Cox, 1998).

While the cumulative nature of learning in a business curriculum is obvious, what is not obvious is that the cumulative building process needs to occur between and among the sub-disciplines of business (e.g., accounting, marketing, operations). In addition, many business programs routinely place the onus of integration and synthesis on the capstone class (strategic management or business policy). However, it may not be until well into the capstone class that we find out that, for some students, the foundation is weak.

The term "capstone" describes the final stone or finishing touch, just as the capstone was the final stone put in place before a tomb was closed in ancient Egypt. The capstone was placed after the foundation was solid. In a business program, the fundamental functional areas are mastered first before moving to the capstone course (Stephan, Parente, & Brown, 2002). Thus, what better place to test student competency of the foundation course material than at the beginning of the capstone class?

Two of the authors began using competency testing in the capstone course nearly eight years ago, while the third began more recently. …

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