Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Pharmacy Students' Test-Taking Motivation-Effort on a Low-Stakes Standardized Test

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Pharmacy Students' Test-Taking Motivation-Effort on a Low-Stakes Standardized Test

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Postsecondary professional programs use standardized tests to measure students' knowledge of curriculum content. Standardized tests usually have consequences for the test taker in that they often affect grades, progression in an educational program, and/or licensure. In such cases, the tests are referred to as "consequential" or "high-stakes" tests. Conversely, tests that have minimal or no consequences for the test taker are referred to as "non-consequential" or "low-stakes" tests.

Performance scores on high-stakes tests are meant to be valid measures of students' ability. The importance of achieving a positive outcome on the test implies that the student will take a high-stakes test seriously and will be motivated to do well. This is not necessarily the case with low-stakes tests. Although some students give their best effort regardless of the consequences, under low-stakes testing situations, some students are not motivated to give their best effort. (1,2) When students do not give their best effort, the resulting scores will not adequately represent what they know. (3) Because of this phenomenon, the validity of low-stakes test results, and thus their use as a measure of content knowledge, is threatened. (1,3-5)

When colleges and schools of pharmacy changed their curricula to meet the demands of the doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree, they struggled to find reliable methods to assess curricular and student learning outcomes. The lack of standardized assessment methods led programs to develop "homegrown" assessment tools for progression and outcomes assessment. Some believed that standardized instruments would lessen the burden on individual programs, be more cost effective, and provide a means for sharing and comparing data among institutions. (6) Others cautioned that standardized, high-stakes progress examinations could inhibit creativity in curricular development at a time when this was desirable. (7)

The PCOA is a national standardized assessment tool developed by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) in cooperation with the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) and the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP). Its purpose is to provide colleges and schools of pharmacy with data to assess critical factors in the curriculum and identify individual student's strengths and limitations in content knowledge. Pilot tested in 2008, the PCOA is administered as a norm-referenced standardized curricular assessment tool. Although the need for reliable methods to assess curricular and student learning outcomes remains high, less than 20% of colleges and schools of pharmacy administer the PCOA.

The PCOA is a 3-hour, multiple-choice, 220-item, examination. The test items are scored and collapsed into the content knowledge areas outlined by ACPE: basic biomedical sciences, pharmaceutical sciences, social/behavioral/administrative sciences, and clinical sciences. This alignment with the accreditation requirements for pharmacy curricula allows for a more focused analysis of strengths and limitations at the program level, as well as for individual students. Wilkes University uses the PCOA as a low-stakes test administered in the third year (P3) of the PharmD program solely for the purpose of providing feedback to students about their strengths and limitations in content knowledge prior to entering advanced pharmacy practice experiences. The test also is used to inform the school's curriculum committee regarding potential areas for concern. However, because Wilkes has chosen to administer the PCOA as a low-stakes test, students' motivation for doing well and, thus, the validity of the data to inform students and the curriculum comes into question.

In studies conducted to identify and evaluate factors that influence students' performance in low-stakes testing situations, student motivation consistently emerges as a major issue. …

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