Vignette-Based Skills Assessment in Social Work Field Education: Evaluating Students’ Achievement of Professional Competency

By Fisher, Catherine; Setterlund, Kimberly | Field Educator, Spring 2018 | Go to article overview

Vignette-Based Skills Assessment in Social Work Field Education: Evaluating Students’ Achievement of Professional Competency


Fisher, Catherine, Setterlund, Kimberly, Field Educator


Introduction

In social work education, professional competencies are measured in both the classroom and in field practicum settings. With the revision of the Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS) in 2015, there is an emphasis on multidimensional assessment of holistic competencies, moving away from linear methods, as well as increased accountability for the competency-based evaluation of student learning in program outcomes. According to Poulin and Matis (2015), the nine social work competencies established by CSWE represent interrelated, linked parts of social work practice, of which the connections are neither linear nor ranked. Field education, also referred to as field practicum, is considered the “signature pedagogy” of social work education because it is in the field experience that students integrate their classroom learning by applying knowledge, values, and skills, along with cognitive and affective processes, in supervised practicum settings to demonstrate competence (CSWE, 2015). In both the foundation and specialization years, students accrue a minimum aggregate of 900 field practicum hours, in accordance with CSWE standards. During these hours, students establish competence, applying skills in their work with individuals, families, and groups (CSWE, 2015).

Literature Review

The methodologies for evaluating student learning and social work field education outcomes have included a variety of evaluation tools, including field instructor skills assessments, field portfolios, simulated client cases, student satisfaction scores, client satisfaction ratings, and self-efficacy scales (Cederbaum et al., 2014; Drisko, 2014; Regehr, Bogo, Regehr, & Power, 2007; Ringstad, 2013). Other studies have explored the efficacy of classroom-based assessments, including standardized assessments and examinations administered to students (Crisp, Anderson, Orme, & Lister, 2006). Of these methods, the most commonly utilized is the student field evaluation completed by the agency field instructor, which employs a progressive scale to identify skill level and overall student performance along groupings of practice behaviors (Drisko, 2014). Practice behaviors are typically rated using a Likert scale using labels such as “novice,” “beginner,” and “advanced” to indicate skill attainment (McCarthy, 2006). Examples of these types of measurements include the Comprehensive Skills Evaluation (Southern California Field Directors, 2009) and the more recent Field Placement/Practicum Assessment Instrument (FPPAI) (Christenson et al., 2015). Researchers suggest that these evaluation methods yield varying degrees of effectiveness for measuring student progress in the field placement, along with little known levels of validity and reliability for competency-based evaluations (Drisko, 2014; Regehr et al., 2007; Ringstad, 2013).

More specifically, field evaluations apply a reductionist, rather than a holistic, approach by asking supervisors to provide ratings on a set of practice behaviors. Overreliance on the field instructor evaluation of student skill development has been found to be problematic due to concerns of rating inflation and bias attributed to the supervisor-supervisee relationship (Bogo et. al, 2004; Vinton & Wilke, 2011). Field instructors also vary from site to site and there is inherent difficulty in comparing student learning across different agency settings (Christenson et al., 2015).

Bogo et al. (2012) developed and piloted the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) to address the need for better methods of evaluating student competency development in the field placement. The OSCE involves using a live, simulated client trained to give standardized responses to students during the assessment, and observers then rate the student’s performance (Bogo et al., 2012). Since the inception of the OSCE, use of client-practitioner simulation in assessment of student skills has been replicated in other studies and shown to be a valid and objective method of evaluation (Bogo & Rawlings, 2016). …

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