Academic journal article Field Educator

Engaging Field Instructors to Develop Measurements of Student Learning Outcomes in School Social Work Settings

Academic journal article Field Educator

Engaging Field Instructors to Develop Measurements of Student Learning Outcomes in School Social Work Settings

Article excerpt


The mission of social work educators is to help students develop the knowledge, values, and skills to become competent professional social workers. In that endeavor we have collectively decided to pursue an outcome oriented approach. This approach has largely been determined by the Council on Social Work Education's (CSWE) 2008 Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS). EPAS has identified a set of 10 competencies with 41 associated practice behaviors that may be used to operationalize the curriculum and assessment methods. Specifically, in order to assess whether a student is competent to become a professional social worker, educators have been tasked with identifying measurable social work practice behaviors associated with a set of competencies that apply to working with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities (CSWE, 2008).

It is clear that social work educators have an ethical duty to ensure that students become competent social workers. In a profession that is dedicated to serving the most disempowered people in our society, we have a moral obligation to set high standards and hold ourselves accountable to achieving them, starting with our professional preparation. Yaffe (2003) takes this duty one step further stating, "social work education, like any other social work practice, has an ethical duty toward evidence-based social work education" (p. 525). To this end, Yaffe (2003) advocates for objectively measuring skill-based outcomes with rigorous experimental designs and systematically mapping the evidence base for social work education.

This is a laudable endeavor, but there is a substantial challenge to identifying and measuring skills across the wide range of competencies and levels of practice described in the EPAS. Suggested practice behaviors range from the deceptively simple "help clients resolve problems" (CSWE, 2008, 2.1.10c) to the advanced "provide leadership in promoting sustainable changes in service delivery and practice to improve the quality of social services" (CSWE, 2008, 2.1.9) to that which should extend beyond the student's academic career "engage in life-long learning" (CSWE, 2008, 2.1.1). While these are practice behaviors relevant to social work, many are not very specific and thus are difficult to measure. However, given the stakes of maintaining accreditation, most social work education programs will comply with the demand that we measure them in some way. The questions that remain then are what, specifically, are we to measure and how should we measure it? Also, of critical importance, who should be doing the measuring?

The simplest approach to measurability, in terms of compliance with the CSWE accreditation standards, is to adopt the suggested list of practice behaviors, attach a rating scale to each of them and ask classroom and/or field educators to rate each student whose work they have observed. For course instructors who may be addressing only a few of the competencies and, for the most part, can focus their assessments on acquisition of knowledge, this may be as easy as translating a course or assignment grade into the relevant practice behavior rating scale. But the field of practice presents a wider array of challenges and expected roles than what is normally encountered in a typical classroom. Bogo (2010) suggests, "It seems reasonable to assume that the most valid evaluation of practice ability is observation of students as they carry out social work practice roles and functions. Such evaluation occurs in the field practicum, where field instructors have the front-line primary responsibility for evaluation" (p. 176).

Field educators observe students' skills and knowledge across a wide range of the competencies. This frequently involves observing the student's performance and/or incorporating feedback from others with whom the student has worked. However, having field instructors fill out a rating scale with a set of practice behaviors identified by a distant accrediting body may not be the best way to objectively observe the acquisition of skills that may or may not be relevant to students' internships. …

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