How to write a great assessment

5 practical tips for ensuring great assessment design

Getting assessment right is one of an RTO’s largest compliance challenges, judging by previous reports from ASQA which stated that a large percentage of RTOs audited were non-compliant for clause 1.8. This is also certainly evident when we go into help RTOs with their compliance or conduct an internal audit – we usually always find issues with the design of their assessments.

Getting assessment wrong is a huge risk to an RTO as the rectification required if you are found to be non-compliant for assessments you’ve already conducted and completed, would be a huge undertaking and may require re-assessment of large numbers of students – a costly and logistical nightmare.

So here are our five tips about how to ensure your assessment tools are robust and get assessment right from the start.

1. Look at the unit holistically

It is common for assessments to be written using an element-by-element approach, but try building tasks around the intended outcomes. Start by looking at the performance evidence requirements – this will give you a picture of the types of tasks students need to do to demonstrate competence. This can help you form a sense of the most appropriate methods assessment to be used. Once you have this worked out, look over the performance criteria and knowledge requirements and build this in around the initial task ideas. In most cases, performance evidence requirements need to be seen or demonstrated – aim to have practical tasks that will meet these requirements. Granted, this won’t always be applicable or required depending on the unit (some units can be highly theoretical in nature!), but its best to build this in where possible.

2. Write clear and specific instructions to students

One of the principles of assessment – fairness. We’ve all heard it a million times before, but what does fairness really mean when it comes to designing assessment tools? In order to assess using the principle of fairness, you need to make sure that students can clearly understand what they have to do and know what you’re expecting to see in order to achieve a satisfactory outcome for each task.

Make sure your assessment instructions clearly outline:

  • What the student needs to do – outline the goal and the steps they need to take to achieve it
  • The assessment criteria – what is the assessor looking for in this task?
  • The context of the task – when and where should the task be completed and under what conditions?
  • What does the student need to use or access to complete the task (consider resources, equipment, materials and personnel)?
  • What happens if the student gets the answer wrong or if the answer is not detailed enough?
  • Whether the assessor will be asking any additional verbal questions – such as might be used with a practical demonstration, observation or role play.

If you’re looking for something in the student’s response that you haven’t told them, the assessment doesn’t meet the principle of fairness.

3. Provide clear guidance to the assessor

Just as you need to provide students with detailed information about what they need to do, you need to provide detailed guidance to the assessor about what they need to look for.
When we design assessments at Eduworks Resources, we like to provide additional information to the assessor about the purpose of the task and any key additional information they may require in order to conduct the assessment appropriately.

  • For role plays: If your task is a role play, your guidance should include a script or prompts for running the role play, and details about the expected responses from the student.
  • For observations: If your task is an observation, you will need to guide the assessor on whether the student is going to be observed participating in normal day-to-day workplace duties, if they need to be observed completing a specific task, and whether it should be at a particular time of the day (in some areas this is important, as the assessor may need to see specific daily activities being undertaken, such as a meal, an outing, a personal care activity, a meeting etc).

For all assessment tasks, you must provide guidance on what the student’s response must include to achieve a satisfactory outcome, and provide example answers where practicable. If you would like the assessor to ask students verbal questions during an observation (a great way to confirm knowledge and get students to consider what-ifs and contingencies), these must be documented in the guidance to assessor, with benchmark responses provided.

4. Create checklists that ensure required levels of performance are met

A hot topic for ASQA and a running catchphrase in recent audit reports is that assessment tools often ‘don’t clearly state the required levels of performance required to achieve a satisfactory outcome’.
A way to meet this expectation is to create checklists for each task for the assessor to complete for each student. This checklist is where the assessor marks off all the items that need to be seen, the level of performance required and any observable skills. Where verbal questions are asked, make sure there is a space for the student’s responses to be recorded, and a space for assessors to write down any further questions they were compelled to ask based on the student’s performance, as well as the student’s answers.

Far from a ‘tick-and-flick’ approach, these checklists provide an extra quality measure for the assessor to make sure they don’t miss anything.

Creating detailed checklists for each task that address the skills and knowledge that need to be seen in each assessment task and to what level, creates a robust system where the assessment decision process is documented and can later be relied upon during moderation, validation, assessment appeals, and quality review processes.

5. Mapping, mapping, mapping

While mapping is not a documented compliance requirement, it has certainly become a standard expectation within the industry and with good reason. Mapping is crucial in making sure you have all your i’s dotted and t’s crossed, so to speak. Mapping should be created during the design phase – it will help cross off unit requirements as you design your tasks.

Mapping should also be centre stage of a quality review process. It is important to make sure that the right question or task has been mapped in the right place, and that the unit requirement being mapped to, really does cover the unit requirement.
For example, if a unit requirement says, ‘planned and coordinated’, make sure both planning and coordinating is covered. Where unit requirements have more than one step or task to them (as per ‘planned and coordinated’), you can cover the planning in one task and the coordination in another – just because it is referred to in the same unit requirement does not mean that it has to be covered in the same task (you may like to cover it in the same task, but in different parts). A review of the elements and performance criteria will more than likely show that planning is one element, and coordinating is another.

We often see mapping where all the tasks indicated don’t fully cover the unit requirement or mapping is not clear or specific (that is, a task has five parts or subpoints, but the mapping doesn’t indicate which part of the task covers the unit requirement). This makes it hard to check the tasks.

So, the key takeaways are:

  • Make sure your mapping is drafted, checked and checked again
  • In order to simplify the quality review/checking process, ensure your mapping is specific to the task and parts or subpoints of a task
  • Make sure that, for each unit requirement, the mapped tasks do collectively cover all parts of the unit requirement – it is often easy to miss something, especially when a piece of performance criteria has multiple parts to it!

To summarise

Getting assessment right in your RTO is crucial to avoid risk to your business and to protect the quality of the vocational education and training system in Australia.

Next time you’re developing or reviewing your assessment tools, make sure you:

  • Look at the unit holistically and write tasks that are relevant to the unit requirement that needs to be assessed
  • Consider all the principles of assessment and rules of evidence, and in particular fairness – make sure the student can easily understand what you’re expecting of them
  • Provide clear guidance to the assessor – give them detailed information to make sure each assessor knows what they’re looking for, and the task can be conducted the same no matter which assessor assesses the student. This adds to reliability of your assessment decisions.
  • Create checklists for each task that allows the assessor to document their assessment decision process and outline the observable skills and levels of performance that need to be seen
  • Create detailed mapping that shows how each of the unit requirements have been met and have your mapping checked and double checked before you finalise the assessment design process.

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