Developing Assessment for Unit Standards

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A unit standard specifies the outcome to be achieved:

  • the title is the main outcome
  • the outcome statements describe the more detailed outcomes that learners' knowledge and skills are assessed against.

Everything else in a unit standard is intended to assist the assessor in making a quality judgment about whether a person achieves the outcome to the required standard (“Achieve”) or not.

The use of unit standards as mere learning outcomes has had a tendency to produce a narrow and inflexible range of assessment focus and activities and practices.  There should be a distinction between what is to be taught and what is to be assessed.  Users of core skill unit standards should be able to use their own judgment about what they need to teach, based on the needs of their learners, and not rely on the unit standard as a guide to what they should teach.  The emphasis in a unit standard is on what is required to make a valid assessment judgment rather than what is required to be learnt, or how work must be done in detail.

The assessment focus is on the unit standard outcomes as the primary indicator of competence or achievement.  A decision on competence should be made from the wholeness of performance against the outcome:  an assessor needs to check whether, overall, the person has met the requirements of the outcome, and needs to be confident that the person has achieved the outcome(s) as specified in the unit standard.

Performance criteria specify the critical evidence required to meet outcomes.  Collectively, performance criteria provide the standards against which outcomes are assessed.

The level of a unit standard helps set the standard as well.  The levels descriptors can inform an assessment judgment by helping establish the general standard of performance required.  The levels descriptors can be accessed on the NZQA website.

Guidance notes can also help make quality assessment judgments, and should be considered.

The unit standard outcome/s, rather than the performance criteria, drive the assessment judgments.  Assessment activities related to performance criteria are then used as a support to the judgments at outcome level.

Some assessment methods have at times not been appropriate.  For example:  inappropriate role plays and simulation that have no contextual relevance to learners;  large amounts of theory and written exercises when learner competency can be affirmed through oral questioning and attestation; checklists with no specific detail of what has been seen or heard;  written tasks when the standard requires a practical performance.  It is clear that one assessment method, role-playing for example, is not relevant to all unit standards.

The task of an assessment designer/writer is to design an assessment that efficiently provides the evidence needed to attest to competence.  The material that follows is intended to assist this, and encourages the use, where possible, of naturally occurring evidence.  It is sometimes possible to design an assessment to be one complete task relevant to the person being assessed, which allows assessment of several outcomes at the same time (integrated assessment).  The environment/context for assessments should be the person's real environment/context where possible, or a simulated one that very closely relates to the real one.

Assessors wishing to develop their skills should consider a programme of learning leading the award of these unit standards:

4098 Use standards to assess learner performance
11552 Design and evaluate assessment materials
18203 Verify evidence for assessment
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