Competence-based Assessment Techniques

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Kogan Page Publishers, 2000 - Education - 99 pages

Competence-based assessment has become the norm since this best-selling book was first published. It is now viewed in most organizations as essential that workplace efficiency is measured by occupational standards - but this can seem a complex area for many trainers.

This revised second edition provides trainers and students with a critical guide to the key principles, methods, implications and benefits of competence-based techniques. Drawing from her own extensive experience, Shirley Fletcher offers practical and authoritative guidance for all trainers and managers using, or wanting to use, this form of work-based assessment. In Part One she explains what competence-based assessment is, its purposes and uses, and looks at the different systems in existence. Part Two gives advice on implementation and examines in particular: setting performance criteria; collecting evidence of competence; matching evidence against standards or criteria; occupational; and behavioural competence.


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It is common for Australian university academics to be critical of competency-based education systems. The values that underpin a competency-based approach and those on which
traditional university education have been based are often seen to be at odds. A focus on the development of prescribed workplace skills is seen by many academics to be inconsistent with a focus on the general development of the mind. Not surprisingly, we found in an Australian study a few years ago (Bowden and Masters 1993, pp 100—102) that more than half the academics expressed negative views about a competency-based approach to university education on the grounds that such an approach is too narrow and conformist. Yet nearly 80% of those same academics indicated that they had had no experience of a competency-based approach and nearly 60% acknowledged that they had little or no knowledge of what a competency-based approach to education is about.
As this paper proceeds, those who have not paid much attention to the competency debate over recent decades will come to realise what those who have been following the debate already know, viz that the Australian finding is not unusual. Much of the debate has been based on ignorance. This does not mean that the academics’ views cited above must be wrong but it does mean that they are no more telling than the similar attacks on university agendas by assertion rather than by argument, by some in the competency movement. Something more than mere assertion is needed for the debate to lead to constructive outcomes.
Anyone concerned to address these issues needs to analyse what the competency movement is about, consider what the mission of tertiary education should be in the late 20th century and attempt to discover whether there are some common purposes to be served and something to be gained by abandoning the siege mentality of many on both sides of the debate. Such a process should have two things in mind.
The first is that the quality of student learning should be at the centre of any argument
The second is that there is a need to acknowledge that both the competency movement and the nature of tertiary education have been changing over time.
This paper attempts to make a small contribution to that process. The perspectives from which competency-based education is analysed in this paper include a brief political and historical account, an analysis of the nature of a competency-based approach, consideration of the relation between competencies and competence and some attention to its basis in educational theory.
From my perspective, competency-based education is neither a unique, earth-shattering device for completely overhauling approaches to teaching and learning in post-secondary institutions, nor a self-evident blight on the educational landscape that should be eliminated, although there are many who hold one or other of those two extreme views. Historically, the competency movement has embraced some narrow, educationally suspect practices which have attracted due criticism. On the other hand, it has certain elements which are shared with other educational reform agendas and in that sense it is valuable but not unique.
Its presence in recent decades has been catalytic and has focused attention on some important educational reform issues and has been influential on educational change outside those areas that have actually adopted a competency-based approach. This applies particularly to the relation between the educational institutions and industry and also to the nature of the professions. In addition, within the competency movement, the idea of what a competency-based approach should be about has been evolving and many current practices are in stark contrast to earlier, less acceptable versions of competency-based education. Of course, in many other cases, practices have not changed much at all.
The competency debate has never been a subdued one. In most countries in which competency-based education has been on the agenda, there has been a time when


What is CompetenceBased Assessment?
Purposes and Uses of CompetenceBased Assessment
Collecting Evidence of Competence
Matching Evidence to Standards
Review and Followup
Assessment Strategies

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About the author (2000)

Shirley Fletcher is a well-known writer and independent consultant, with her own agency. She has written many books, including Designing Competence-Based Training and Analysing Competence and Organizational Change, published by Kogan Page.

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