Assessment in Competency Based Training.

What is the role of CBT&A?
Competency Based Training and Assessment (CBT&A) is accepted as a key methodology in vocational training systems in many countries across the world. Whether in Germany, Singapore or Australia, CBT&A is one way to ensure vocational-level training meets the needs of business and industry.

CBT&A systems start by agreeing on the skills (or Occupational Competency Standard Unit, the OCSU) that are required for an occupation. This process is conducted with business and industry input to ensure the skills or competencies described meet the needs in the labor market. For example the occupation of motor mechanic will have an agreed set of OCSUs that cover all the work the mechanic will do.
Why is assessment so important?
Whilst agreeing on the OCSUs in an occupation is important, just as important is agreeing on how the OCSU will be assessed. We need to know that the motor mechanic has all the OCSUs to service your car, and that the mechanic has demonstrated these in an assessment.

Quality assessment means that we can have confidence the VET sector will produce students who have the OCSUs needed for their chosen occupation. It means industry and business has confidence that graduates of VET will be productive workers; parents and students have confidence there will be good jobs available after graduating; and the government knows its investment in VET will assist the economy and society to develop.

Assessment of OCSUs is the currency of vocational training. In other words it is only when the motor mechanic can demonstrate the OCSUs in an assessment that we know with confidence that the person can do the work of a mechanic, and has occupational competence.

Of course there is knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSA) that make up occupational competence. For example the motor mechanic will need knowledge about ABS brakes and will need to understand how they work and why they make driving safer. The mechanic will also need to be able to interact with customers and suppliers and will need to work safely and be aware of hazards in the work place.

Formative and summative assessment
As a student trains assessment will be formative. In other words they can have a series of assessment events (theory tests, assignments, practical exercises) that examine their KSA. For example the motor mechanic could have written tests or could prepare assignments about ABS brakes.

However they cannot gain their final qualification until they have a summative assessment where they demonstrate the OCSUs needed for their occupation. The mechanic needs to demonstrate in a workplace that they can diagnose, repair and replace ABS brakes safely and in different vehicles and in a suitable time. In other words the final summative assessment is about demonstrating the OCSU so we have confidence our brakes will be repaired safely and effectively.

It is common for formative assessments to be graded but in many countries summative assessment is judged as ‘competent’ or ‘not competent’ and not graded.

Different pathways to occupational competence
Someone training as a motor mechanic can gain their occupational competence in different ways. Some will attend colleges, some will work in industry, and some will run their own businesses. How they gain occupational competency is not as important as knowing they have all been assessed as competent.

As we develop occupational standards in partnership with business and industry, we should also be developing assessments. For example as we develop the occupational standards for the motor mechanic we should be developing assessment guidelines, processes and tools. The occupational standards for a motor mechanic may have 15 or 20 OCSUs that detail the work the mechanic does and each will have assessment guidelines. For example if one of the OCSUs is ‘diagnose problems, service or replace brakes’ then there will also be an assessment that describes how this OCSU needs to be demonstrated.
If assessments are developed separately then they can be used to assess adult students’ occupational competence before they begin any training. This allows recognition of existing skills and allows training to be targeted to gaps in occupational competence. In practical terms it means that students only need to develop the skills they don’t have. Cumulative assessment that is separate from the training program opens up flexible pathways to occupational competence, especially for adult and experienced students.
How do we develop summative assessment and who assesses?
Formative assessment is developed and conducted by teachers and trainers in structured VET programs. This is the sort of assessment that most teachers are familiar with. It involves assessing the underpinning skills and knowledge that a student accumulates as they train. Most teachers will be comfortable with formative assessment and typical types of formative assessment would include tests, assignments and practical workbooks.

In CBT&A summative assessment requires the student to demonstrate the OCSU in a work situation and to the standard expected in the workforce. Typically the assessment will specify any conditions, tools and materials that are needed and what underpinning skills and knowledge are required. In some circumstances several OCSUs can be assessed at the one time and in one assessment.

Generally assessments are developed at the same time as occupational standards. Processes that partner industry and education experts into occupational standard development panels are best used to develop assessment. Remember this is the summative assessment and seeks to answer the question: How do we know this person can actually perform this OCSU to a standard expected in the workplace? People conducting the assessment (assessors) need current practical industry skills. In some countries assessors have different job descriptions and different training from teachers. Their job is to conduct summative assessments of occupational competence, not formative assessment of KSA. It is common for employers to assist to develop and supervise summative assessments.

Author: Anthony Tyrrel/International Project Director, TAFE Directors Australia