Spotlight on assessment and moderation of workplace learning
Both the South African Qualifications Authority Act, 1995, and the Skills Development Act, 1998, requires that education and training programmes and practices are based on Unit Standards registered on the NQF, and where appropriate (e.g. in the case of learnerships) result in national qualifications on the NQF.
Both Acts also require that education and training practices have internal and external assessment practices built into a quality assurance system. The purpose of quality assurance is to ensure that the highest levels of competence and excellence will be achieved for every Rand collected in the form of the skills development levy and for every Rand of this income that is invested in all the practices relating to education and training.
This month’s article seeks to elaborate on the most fundamental cornerstone of any training and development process - the assessment and quality control of learner competence against recognised industry standards.
The tone, and style of this article is factual, and is presented in point form as ‘notes’ for busy line managers and Skill Development Forum/Committee members to get to grips with the basics of these two functions and roles.
# What is assessment?
Assessment is basically a case of learners demonstrating that they can perform the outcomes, which have been decided on for the particular competence they are being trained in. That is why setting accurate standards is so important. The Standards will determine what the assessment must test for.
# Who is responsible for assessing training?
Assessors are appointed and trained to undertake the assessment process. An assessor can be internal to the organisation that does the training, or external. If they are internally appointed, they must be qualified at, or above the level of training that they will be assessing, and they must be registered with their ETQA as an Assessor. Subject matter experts (SME’s) make ideal assessors as they either knows the job being assessed well, or have been involved in the design of these jobs. Where practical, contact retired (old timers) who know the job and the company well and invite them to become part-time assessors for both skill, and learnership programmes.
# What are an assessor's tasks?
The following is a list of the critical functions of an assessor:
1. Get to know the standard being measured as defined by the Standards Generating Board (SGB) for your industry, and understand how these link to the various levels of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF).
2. Plan and design assessment for the various standard in conjunction with training providers who may be the company’s internal training and development function, or external vendors.
3. Collect reliable evidence about the learner's performance, and evaluate, and judge that evidence to decide whether the learner is competent, or not yet competent.
4. Regularly review the assessment process and make changes to it when necessary.
5. Comply with all moderation requirements that the ETQA function in the relevant SETA for your industry may decide on from time to time. We strongly recommend that assessors make an appointment to meet the ETQA Manager at your local SETA to gain support for the assessment process in your company. Remember that these officials are paid from the levies collected to be of help to you!
6. Complete all documentation required by the ETQA function of the relevant SETA, and forward it to them.
An Assessor will typically have interpersonal skills (to help learners through the assessment process), subject matter expertise, and assessment expertise.
# Assuring consistent quality
This is a continuous process, which is the function of the ETQAs. Quality assurance in the NQF is already assured through the standards put in place for the accreditation of training providers, of training courses, and of assessors. Moderation is an additional means of Quality Assurance.
Moderation ensures that people are being assessed in a consistent, accurate, and well-designed manner. It ensures that all assessors who assess a particular unit standard or qualification are using equivalent assessment methods, and making similar, and consistent judgements about learners' performance.
Moderation of assessment occurs at both the level of the training provider (internal moderation), the level of the ETQA assessing the training (external moderation), and at the level of SAQA, which moderates the moderation of the ETQAs. Moderation is even more important in the NQF than it was in the traditional educational system, since in the NQF there is no longer a major reliance on mass public exams at all exit points of a qualification.
There is more to moderation than just glancing over the results of a test. Moderation includes all of the following:
> Identifying the need to redesign assessments if required.
> Providing an appeal procedure for dissatisfied learners.
> Providing a procedure for the reassessment of learners.
> Evaluating the performance of assessors.
> Providing procedures for the de-registration of unsatisfactory
> Providing feedback to National Standards Bodies.
> Verifying that assessments are fair, valid, reliable and practicable.
# What does internal moderation involve?
It involves moderating (checking the quality) of the following:
> The design of the assessment itself.
> The implementation of the assessment.
> The review of the assessment.
Moderating the design of the assessment involves making sure that the choice and design of the assessment methods is appropriate for the standards being measured by the assessment.
Moderating the implementation means checking that the assessment is carried out in the way that has been specified by the NQF in the standards for that skill.
Moderating the review of the assessment is ensuring that assessors are actually learning from mistakes, and/or observations in the assessment, and using them as feedback to improve assessment.
# What does external moderation involve?
ETQAs are interested in external moderation as it enables them to monitor the standard of training provision and the standard of assessor assessment across different training providers.
The following are the moderator tasks that an ETQA will perform:
1. Provide advice and guidance to training providers*.
2. Maintain an overview of provision across training providers.
3. Check that all the staff involved in assessment are appropriately qualified and experienced (which may well be easier said than done in South Africa which suffers from an acute shortage of genuinely qualified Training and Development professionals).
4. Check the credibility of assessment methods and instruments.
5. Check the internal moderation systems described above.
6. Sample test results to monitor and observe assessment processes and the test results.
7. Check assessors' decisions.
There are other ways in which the ETQAs can assure consistent quality of training and education. One of these is to maintain a database of all learners that have been indirectly or directly assessed by the ETQA. This information will eventually represent a detailed skills "snapshot" or "balance sheet" of our country, which will be invaluable in managing the quality of training and education and planning our skills development strategy for the future.
This very brief explanation of some of the basic requirements and functions of testing (assessment in the jargon) and quality assurance of training and development practices and procedures used by internal and external providers/practitioners (moderation) is nothing new to those who are well schooled in the art and science of training and development.
HOWEVER, AND THIS IS A BIG HOWEVER, the body blow that many small, and medium (and probably very large) organisations are feeling at present is an indication of the weak state of training, development, and educational practice in most companies in South Africa today.
The means to rigorously design, develop, deliver, assess, and quality assure training and learning in company have been around for years. What has not been around for years is taking these basics seriously.
Our concern as an editorial team is that the well intentioned, but top heavy system described above, and in previous editions of this newsletter, have ‘frightened’ the living daylights out of many experienced, aspiring managers and practitioners who will simply say ‘to hell with all the bureaucracy’.
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