Assessment policy – what is involved?
By: Florus Prinsloo, Managing Director of the Assessment College of SA
Assessment College of South Africa
The Assessment College is accredited by SAQA as a service provider.
"Assessment policies are more than assessment practices. They include assessment practices, but go beyond them as well. Assessment policies describe the approaches that are used by an organisation in its assessment practices."
The above is a direct quotation from a discussion document released in 2001 by SAQA, entitled "Quality Management Systems for Education and Training Providers". It was, and still is one of the most practical documents to have been released for public comment.
In particular, the document emphasised the need for Assessment Policies to be an integral part of the much larger critical requirement for all providers of education and training, namely a Quality Management System.
What was very useful in that discussion document was that for each of the eight core criteria that a provider had to address while developing a quality management system, a set of very specific questions are given that can help human resource professionals, and line managers ‘think through’ and formulate an assessment policy suitable for the business.
As a basis for discussion on Assessment Policies I thought I would list the questions from that document that can "interrogate" an assessment policy, with some explanatory comments based on my experience to date.
2. Policy questions and definition of policy items
The questions and my comments are listed below:
Q. What is the organisation’s approach to assessment?
This has to do with attitude more than mechanics. Does your organisation assess people because it has to, or because it wants to?
The difference between the two viewpoints is always related to benefits. "What’s in it for me?" is the phrase that comes to mind.
I have no doubt whatsoever that major productivity improvements are possible for any organisation when they implement an assessment policy, and system carefully and correctly. The one obvious case is South African Breweries who are not only a hugely successful company, but also the most liked in the country by its employees. Assessment is a way of life for many years at SAB – the right approach!
Q. Is the organisation’s approach consistent with NQF principles?
Once an organisation has the right attitude toward assessment, a fine-tuning can take place by comparing the assessment policy against the principles of the NQF i.e. using the principles as a checklist as it were, nice and practical.
These principles are: (read the principles as headings around which to formulate your company’s policy)
>> Integration; >> Relevance; >> Credibility; >> Coherence
>> Flexibility; >> Standards; >> Legitimacy; >> Access
>> Articulation; >> Progression; >> Portability
>> Recognition of prior learning (RPL); >> Guidance of learners
Q. How does the organisation’s assessment policy incorporate principles of lifelong learning, recognition of prior learning and integration of theory and practice?
Moving on from the right attitude and NQF compliance, we now start to realise that an assessment policy includes not only actual assessments (such as exams) but the policy should also encourage people to "keep learning" even after the obtain the first certificate(s) – the 40 Year degree, not the 4 year degree mentality.
Of course to motivate individuals to keep learning, the assessment policy needs to also somehow consider and "credit" a person with what he or she can already do (recognise prior learning) as well as allow people to use what they learn (theory and practise).
Q. In simple terms, how does your assessment policy make assessment an enjoyable experience for people? How are assessments conducted, by whom and how often?
We now start getting into the mechanics that the assessment policy needs to put in place, although strictly speaking when we get to "how" and "who" and "how often" we are in the world of procedures and not policy – but lets keep going for the sake of simplicity.
Q. So how are you going to assess – one on one, groups, and sampling? The ‘whom’ is actually easy to answer – a registered assessor (if you do not have any yet, then get going!) How often depends on the context. An aircraft pilot needs to have pretty regular assessment done I would guess, whereas the average fruit seller would need a few less assessments
Q. What are the mechanisms that the organisation puts into place to assure the quality of assessments conducted? Are moderators used for assessments?
So, now that assessments are up and running, everybody is being assessed at least, say once every six months or so, we get to the hard really hard part – is assessment "working"?
I have no doubt in my mind that this where the critical role of a Moderator lies. SAQA lists under the functions of a moderation system "the evaluation of the performance of assessors". There is no better way to check performance than to see if learners are actually performing. Rather assessment polices, procedures, and practises must result in individuals becoming better at what they are doing!
Q. How are learners given feedback on the ways in which they have been assessed? How does this occur? Who does it, and how often?
The performance measurement that checks on the quality of the assessment as described above without a doubt would include the pivotal issue of feedback. I have often said to my learner assessors that the hardest part of an assessment is the first part, which is "planning", but the most difficult part is the "feedback" part.
Feedback is where we can make or break a person’s spirit to continue or give up on a learning pathway. This is especially true if a person is not yet competent, but even if a person is competent, the policy must put in place definite, timeous mechanisms to give feedback to people.
Q. How does the organisation ensure that assessments are used to identify and provide for the support and guidance learners need?
This particular element of an assessment policy I found the hardest element to implement until I asked the question from a learners point of view – "what would I like the provider to allow me opportunities for?" The answer then became very simple – opportunities to ask questions and receive clarity – just help learners to move forward, progress, and not to be frustrated.
In line with the above principle, the policy will provide for enabling mechanisms such as support days, back-up information sharing sessions, simple two-way communication systems and so on.
Q. How are assessment results fed back into programme development?
This last question is a classic quality assurance approach that requires an organisation to become a learning organisation. Continuous improvement is critical to the long-term survival of all organisations. The best way to improve oneself is by looking at results and then adapting, changing continuously to improve those results. The obvious example here is the onerous Matriculation exam (assessment).
Results appear to be improving, but are the reasons for the improved results being built into the programmes? I would like to believe that OUTCOMES BASED TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT (OBET) is beginning to work and that slowly but surely we are getting a more pragmatic set of learners coming out of the system, people that can actually work when they have finished school, not just recite facts and figures.
For many organisations that have as their primary focus, which is the provision of education and training in South Africa, the management of quality in both the provision and assessment of learning is a considerable challenge. However, it is non-negotiable, not only because recent legislation requires it, but simply because it makes good business sense