Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Standards-Referenced Assessment for Vocational Education and Training in Schools

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Standards-Referenced Assessment for Vocational Education and Training in Schools

Article excerpt

This study examined a model of assessment that could be applied nationally for Year Twelve Vocational Education and Training (VET) subjects and which could yield both a differentiating score and recognition of competence. More than fifty colleges across all states and territories of Australia field-tested the approach over one school year. Results showed that the model allowed for a standards-referenced model to be used: that the approach was compatible with the diverse range of senior secondary assessment systems in use throughout Australia and that there were considerable cost benefits to be had in adopting the logic of item response modelling for the development of rubrics for scoring performances on units of competence from National Training Packages. A change in the logic of competency assessment was proposed, in that the performance indicators were not rated using a dichotomy but with a series of quality ordered criteria to indicate how well students performed specified tasks in the workplace or its simulation. The study validated the method of assessment development, demonstrated the method's consistency, and showed how the method could address the issue of consistency across states. The study also proposed a set of principles for a joint assessment of both quality and competence.

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The introduction of competency-based education to Australia in 1992 was intended to increase the skill level of the Australian workforce. Its introduction was accompanied by a debate about how the competencies should be assessed and other issues (such as grades) that were more related to reporting than assessment. The discussions were hampered by a lack of clarity of the terminology, shifting definitions of basic concepts and inconsistent use of language to describe the process (Stanley, 1993).

The debate surrounding the nature of competency-based assessment centred on two issues: first, whether grading was a suitable approach to use with competency assessment; and second, whether criteria for assessment can be generic or specific.

Discussion of both issues tends to have been confused by imprecise use of terminology and appears to have ignored the considerable body of literature available on each topic. The lack of rigorous research and theoretical models has been detrimental to the development of the field.

One of the few comprehensive studies into this field (McCurry, 2003) has shown that generic criteria cannot be applied effectively to competence assessments, and therefore that debate will not be extended here. Rather, this article focuses on the application of specific criteria in the development of assessment procedures to provide a differentiating score for students who chose to study vocational subjects in their last year of secondary school and who, under the regime of the dichotomy between the existence or absence of competency, were at a disadvantage to those students studying subjects graded on levels of quality when university selection procedures were implemented.

Griffin, Gillis, Keating and Fennessy (2001) examined the use of standards--referenced assessments in vocational education and Griffin and Gillis (2001; 2002) outlined possible procedures that could be used to examine the efficacy of a differentiated scoring system for VET in schools. Their research has shown how current approaches to competency-based assessment could be used to yield a differentiated score in addition to the recognition of competence, without altering the fundamentals of the entrenched competency-based approach but instead focusing on a customisation of record-keeping and reporting frameworks. This article reports on how those approaches were tested and the model of assessment for competency-based education that emerged.

Competency assessment and standards-referenced assessment

A major purpose of competency assessment has been to provide for the recognition of competence. …

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