The role of the assessor in awarding qualifications
Marietta van Rooyen is MD of The Assessment College, and can be contacted at
Assessment College www.assess.co.za
Cutting Edge Newsletter www.cutedge.co.za
In days gone by, it was a major event if a person became a national examiner. This would usually follow many years of hard work in one’s subject and also in some cases if one knew the right persons in authority.
Nowadays, almost anyone can become an assessor, and an assessor is the person judging whether another person is competent and not yet competent. This decision means that the assessor has the power of decision on awarding standards and qualifications.
How are we going to safeguard the standards and ensure fair and just awarding of qualifications? This article explains the role of the assessor in awarding the qualification and the conditions on which a person can be a registered assessor and remain a registered assessor.
The most important use of assessment is to judge the performance of learners in education and training so that qualifications may be awarded. This learning can take place in any context, such as a workplace, learning institution or through life experience.
Although the assessment of knowledge (i.e. content) is still very important, the application of this knowledge in a practical context is even more important. Thus, the assessment practices that were traditionally used for knowledge and input-based education and training systems, are still useful in outcomes-based assessment, but cannot be the only method of assessment.
2. Why trust assessors with this important role?
# Pre-assessment scenario
On being told that no learner needs to be declared ‘NOT YET COMPETENT’ or as the USA learning professionals call it ‘STILL IN PROCESS, AND STILL CAN’T GET THE 3 R’S RIGHT! (Editor’s note), many people conclude that the standards are compromised or non-existent.
Some think that this concept promotes a "pass one, pass all" mentality. The statement is however not justified by the activities that underpin assessment practices in the NQF system.
# Unit standards and qualifications
In the NQF system, an assessment is based on standards. The most important ingredients of the assessment activity are the unit standards or qualification. Remember, we are dealing with agreed standards, and qualifications that went through a process of expert/role player generation in the SGB, public comment, stakeholder scrutiny, and authority ratification in SAQA.
A unit standard is the smallest unit that can be credited to a learner. Unit standards can stand alone, but are generally part of a qualification.
# The learning process
Assessments are the result of a learning process that precedes assessment itself. Whether the candidate reached the assessment through recognition of prior learning (RPL) or a teaching or training programme, candidates need to be familiar with the unit standard or qualification they will be assessed against. This means that there will be self-assessment on the part of the learner. The use of formative assessments within learning programmes will further ensure that candidates are properly prepared for assessments.
# Mentor/trainer assessment
In addition there will be some form of mentor, advisor, facilitator or supervisor who will also be in a position to do a pre-assessment evaluation of the learner’s readiness to be assessed. If the mentor finds the learner not to be ready to be assessed according to the standard, he/she should not go ahead with the former assessment, but rather refer the learner for extra training, more experience or another form of learning.
The above implies that learners should not be exposed to an assessment unless they are fully prepared for it. This in itself takes much of the pressure off the assessor.
Where possible, assessments should make use of naturally occurring performance because this provides authentic evidence of a learner’s skills. Sources of evidence, other than the assessor’s own observations and, evaluations, will support and add value to the final decision. A learner’s self-assessment can also be included.
# Post-assessment activities
Once again the assessment activity must be solidly embedded in a system. Internal moderators will be moderating assessment activities and supporting the assessors. Their task will be to do the quality assurance of the assessment activities in an ordered and structured way and develop the skills of assessors. In addition, assessment designers will design appropriate instruments for assessors to use, and develop assessment guides to help inexperienced assessors.
Moderation ensures that people who are being assessed are assessed in a consistent, accurate and well-designed manner. It ensures that all assessors who assess a particular unit standard or qualification are using comparable assessment methods and are making similar and consistent judgements about the learners’ performance.
The moderation system will in turn be quality assured by the ETQAs who will have qualified verifiers in place to monitor moderation systems and support moderators. Some larger organisations will prefer to appoint internal verifiers to take a systemic view of internal assessment and moderation.
Assessors, moderators and verifiers could be employed internally by an organisation or could be contracted in from outside to do this work.
If the candidate is not happy about the process or findings of the assessment, he/she can put in an appeal to have the assessment reviewed. This will ensure that candidates have a democratic right to overturn decisions that are not fair, not properly motivated or simply not believed. The ETQA should ensure that there is an appeals procedure in place, i.e. appeals against an assessment decision. Learners should be secure in the knowledge that they can appeal against an unfair assessment.
3. Recognition of prior learning (RPL)
There is no fundamental difference in the assessment of previously acquired skills and knowledge and the assessment of skills and knowledge achieved through a current learning programme.
The learner seeking credits for previously acquired skills and knowledge still has to comply with all the requirements as stated in the unit standard and will be assessed to determine competence.
The only difference is that this learner will not need to go through a learning programme. Credentialing in outcomes-based education and training is not dependent on time spent in a learning programme, but rather on the learner’s readiness to demonstrate competence.
A learner who feels ready can present himself/herself for assessment and/or submit the necessary evidence as required by the learning outcomes and assessment criteria. Exactly the same principles, i.e. currency of evidence, sufficiency of evidence, validity of evidence and authenticity of evidence, apply in an assessment of prior knowledge.
Assessment for the recognition of prior learning, is therefore, as for any assessment, subject to the following principles:
+ The application of NQF principles
+ The application of the principles of credible assessment
+ The application of the principles of the collection of and quality of the evidence
+ The assessment being planned and designed on the basis of understanding the requirements of the unit standard, part qualification or qualification that the learner is seeking credit for
4. Assessor registration
To ensure that all assessors are subject matter experts on the level assessed by them, they need to register at their relevant ETQA. Their technical/occupational experience and qualifications will then be taken into consideration to determine whether they have adequate knowledge and skills to be assessors. In addition, the SGB, on generating standards, also states who may be assessors and what ETQA should register them.
Such a person will have to provide evidence that they have the necessary expertise, knowledge and experience in assessment and the assessment process. They must also prove that they are able to assess a particular unit standard, set of unit standards, or qualification.
Such evidence may be based on:
+ Assessment/assessor training completed
+ Recognition of experience as practitioner-assessor
+ On-the-job training
If an assessor is found to fall short in ethical behaviour or professionalism he/she can be deregistered by the ETQA. A lack of assessment application will also lead to deregistration and assessors may be re-assessed from time to time.
5. What about our present assessment practices?
Exit level or summative assessments (examinations), and norm-referenced assessments (grading and averaging), could still be used as part of a more integrative assessment. It will, however, no longer be the only and decisive form of assessment.
In Outcomes-based education and training we use both formative and summative assessments.
>> Formative assessment refers to assessment that takes place during the process of learning and teaching.
>> Summative assessment is assessment for making a judgement about achievement. This is carried out when a learner is ready to be assessed at the end of a programme of learning.
Results initially collected for formative assessment, can be used for summative assessment, thus avoiding repetition.
Best practice in assessment ensures that assessors move away from the idea that assessment is only summative. It ensures that assessments can be used in a variety of ways such as diagnostic (identifying gaps in learning inputs), formative (determining the gaps in competency) and summative (determining whether the outcomes have been reached).
6. Who should become an assessor?
For SAQA, an assessor may be any practitioner who will be responsible for the assessment of the achievement of learning outcomes. The assessor can therefore be an ETD practitioner-assessor, i.e. the learning facilitator (teacher, lecturer and trainer), who has traditionally administered assessment in addition to facilitating learning. The assessor can also be a workplace supervisor, manager or a team leader, provided that they are skilled in the process of assessment and are registered as an assessor with the relevant ETQA.
Clearly, assessors need to acquire certain skills and expertise in order to be competent assessors. Generally, assessors need expertise in the following three areas:
# Interpersonal skills
It is important for the assessor to have good interpersonal skills and to be able to communicate effectively with learners. The assessor needs to establish a trusting relationship with learners – not only so that they can perform optimally during an assessment, but also so that the learners will trust that the assessor has their interests at heart.
# Subject matter expertise
Assessors must be proficient in the subject matter of the learning area in which they are assessing. Also, they should be experts in their knowledge of the unit standard requirements or qualifications for which they are registered to assess.
In addition, the assessor’s subject matter knowledge should be at least of a level higher than the learner who is being assessed.
# Assessment expertise
Assessors should be proficient in the process of assessment. This means that they should:
+ Be familiar with the unit standards that they will be assessing
+ Be familiar with and use the assessment guides
+ Plan the assessment, which includes the selection, design and implementation of assessment activities.
+ Follow the assessment process, i.e. plan and agree on the assessment with the learner; guide the learner in the collection of evidence; conduct the assessment; provide feedback to the learner about the assessment decision
+ Record and report on assessment results
+ Participate in moderation processes
+ Review the assessment and make appropriate changes
7. Frequency of assessment
The assessment process has to have a built-in process for reassessment. When learners have to undergo reassessment, they have to be given feedback so that they can concentrate on areas of weaknesses. Ideally, continuous formative assessments should minimize the need for reassessment as the assessor and the learner agree on a summative assessment only when they both feel that the learner is ready for it.
Care should be taken regarding how often reassessment can be taken, and the length of time between the original assessment and the reassessment. A learner who is repeatedly unsuccessful should be given guidance on other possible and more suitable learning avenues.
Finally, integrated assessment allows for the integration of knowledge and skills, theory and practice. It goes a long way towards assessing applied competence, i.e. practical, foundational and reflexive competence. Ultimately, it is the achievement of applied competence that is the concern of NQF registered unit standards and qualifications.
8. Language and assessment
Learners should, generally, be able to be assessed in a language that they are most proficient in. In South Africa in particular, this is a constitutional right given that we have 11 official languages!
Constitutional provisions give learners the right to determine the language(s) of learning and teaching. Assessment policies, therefore, should ensure, as far as possible and is practicable, that this right is upheld for all learners.
Clearly, assessors DO not operating in a vacuum and are monitored, supported, and verified in various ways by a (complex) system that ensures quality assessment.
This does not mean that we can relax and let the assessors do their own thing. Provided the system is in place, and the quality assurance management system works, any assessment problems will be picked up and rectified in time.