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The Role of Assessment in CBE

The Role of Assessment in CBE

Author: Jody Waltman

In this lesson, you will learn about the role of assessment in all learning environments, including specific elements of meaningful assessment that support competency-based education.

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In this tutorial, we'll take a closer look at the role of assessment in Competency-Based Education. We'll begin with a brief review of Understanding by Design. Because understanding by Design is an instructional design approach that is actually highly compatible with CBE, and therefore it's often used in various CBE approaches.

So after discussing the role of assessment in UBD, we'll then be able to discuss assessment's role in Competency-Based Education. And finally, we'll look at a specific example. Let's get started.

Let's begin by looking at the role of assessment in the Understanding by Design instructional design process. Recall that Understanding by Design is a backwards design process. That is, we begin the instructional design process by looking at what we want to have accomplished by the end of the instructional period.

So Understanding by Design, stage one is to identify the desired results or outcomes. This is where you list the specific competencies that you want students to demonstrate mastery of by the end of the period of instruction.

UBD, stage two is where you determine the acceptable evidence. This is where you either select or develop the particular assessments closely aligned to those identify competencies that are going to serve as accurate instruments to measure the student's mastery of those competencies.

And finally, in UBD stage three, you would then develop the learning plan that will lead students to those intended results. So in UBD, assessment is designed before you even start thinking about the specific learning experiences that students will have. This definitely is in line with a CBE approach, because the emphasis is placed on the student's demonstration of competency through the intended assessments. And this ensures that your instruction is going to support the student's achievement of those competencies.

So let's now look at the overall role of assessment in Competency-Based Education. There are several different elements of a CBE program that are supported by assessment. First, in CBE, assessments are evaluated using specific criteria, and these criteria need to be communicated clearly to the students.

So each assessment has some predetermined criteria or standards that are aligned with the competencies, and student's performance on the assessment is then compared against these predetermined standards. Not only does this ensure that mastery of the competencies is being evaluated consistently, but it also helps us to provide feedback to students that will help them to improve their performance when necessary.

And the clear communication of those criteria, not just to teachers but also to students, make sure that everyone is on the same page. Everyone, teachers and students alike, understands what exactly is going to be required in order for students to demonstrate their mastery of the competencies, and this helps to eliminate any potential confusion.

Next, throughout the entire process of Competency-Based Education, students need to be provided with exercises that are going to promote their mastery of the competencies and at the same time are going to document their progress. Digital or technology tools can be a big help here, as there are many different technology options that are designed for just this purpose, for providing students with that observable system of these exercises and then documenting student's progress towards mastery of the competencies.

This technology will also create and store students' skill records that helps us to further track their mastery of those competencies. So if you are approaching CBE without the use of this technology, these skill records need to be maintained in some other fashion.

It's important to note that these records need to not only reflect the competencies that students have mastered, but also it needs to be made clear which competencies students still have not achieved mastery of.

Another important element of the entire teaching and learning process in CBE is the cycle of continuous assessment and feedback. This helps students and teachers to track student progress towards that mastery of the competencies. And finally, all of the assessment data needs to be made available, not just to teachers, but also to students.

When students have access to the information about their performance on the various assessments, this helps them to reflect on their own progress and also to set goals for what they still need to accomplish in the future.

So let's look at an example approach to assessment in Competency-Based Education and see how it stacks up against all of these various criteria. I have experience in my classroom implementing a technology-based approach to Competency-Based Education. The first step in the implementation of this particular software is to administer a pre-test to all students that determines their initial levels of mastery.

And then instructional modules are actually automatically assigned to students by the software based on the results of the pre-test. So students work through each instructional module which includes multiple parts, including an interactive tutorial, some practice exercises, and sometimes additional activities, as well.

And then each instructional module concludes with a mastery test. Students have to receive a preset score on the mastery test in order to achieve mastery of that skill or competency. I, as the teacher, can adjust the required score on the mastery test if I want to do that. Throughout this software, student progress in both the instructional modules and on the mastery tests is documented in great detail, including the amount of time that students are spending on each instructional activity and on each mastery test.

And so I, as the teacher, can easily track student progress using a variety of reports. Here were the criteria for CBE assessment activities that we just talked about a few minutes ago. Let's see whether my technology-based approach to CBE meets all of these criteria.

First, did this approach to assessment in CBE is definitely criterion-referenced. the specific criteria are actually pre-programmed into the software, and I, as the teacher, can modify them to some degree if I wish to do so. The software does indeed provide a set of observable and proactive exercises to students as they work towards mastery of the competencies.

And there definitely is a continuous assessment and feedback cycle. Students get their result automatically and I can see their results in real-time. This immediate feedback from the assessments helps students to know when they need to ask for additional help. And it also helps me to track their data and offer that help proactively sometimes, when necessary.

The software automatically tracks skill mastery records for all individual students. So I can view those records by individual student or in larger groups if I want to. So I can see the results for an entire class, for example.

The skill mastery criteria are communicated clearly to students. They know exactly what score they need to get on the mastery tests in order to have proven their mastery of that competency. If I had to identify one area that is lacking, however, it would be this particular element. Students know they have to attain a particular score on the mastery test.

But all mastery tests have the same number of questions and students have to get the same score every time in order to demonstrate mastery, which doesn't necessarily reflect the fact that some skills may be more difficult than others. Or some may contain more individual elements than others.

So if I could, I would possibly modify this in order to reflect, maybe, respective difficulties of the different skills, or other elements that come into play. Let's check the last element here. Students have access to their data. This definitely is the case within this software. Not only can I pull up records and run reports on student performance data, but students also have easy access to their data so that they can see how they're progressing along their own individual learning paths.

So here's a chance for you to stop and reflect. If you are already implementing elements of CBE in your classroom, do your assessment methods match up to the criteria that we shared in this tutorial? If you are not yet implementing CBE but I'm thinking of doing so, how might you design assessment activities that are aligned with these criteria?

For more information on how to apply what you learned in this video, please view the additional resources section that accompanies this video presentation. The additional resources section includes hyperlinks useful for applications of the course material, including a brief description of each resource. Thanks for watching. Have a great day.

Notes on "The Role of Assessment in CBE"

(00:00 - 00:29) Introduction

(00:30 - 01:49) Assessment in UbD

(01:50 - 04:14) Assessment in CBE

(04:15 - 07:41) Example

(07:42 - 08:20) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

Prior Learning Assessment & Competency-Based Education

This article by Kristen Vogt explore the importance of prior learning and knowledge in the assessment process in CBE. Vogt explores and explains PLA, the prior learning assessment now being given by CBE institutes before beginning instruction.

Performance Assessment: GRASPS 

This handout walks the teacher through the design of performance tasks following the GRASPS model in UbD.