Rationale for Formative Assessment
Component in New Audiology Certification Standards
Judith A. Rassi
I'd like to begin my remarks by stating that
, which is conducted while an educational event or procedure is
ongoing, yields information substantially different from that
, which is administered at the time of term completion (Rassi,
1998, p. 482). The purpose of formative assessment is to monitor
students' acquisition of knowledge and skills during educational
preparation, that is, during the time when students' basic and
professional knowledge, skills, and attitudes are being 'formed.'
Ongoing assessment helps students and their academic and clinical
instructors to systematically track and document progress toward
the attainment of learning outcomes. Assessment results can also
serve as useful indicators for responsive and responsible
The Standards Council's decision to include a formative
assessment component in the new audiology certification standards
was part of an overall determination to make the standards more
effective in ensuring that entry-level clinicians (and,
ultimately, all clinicians) have the appropriate skills and
knowledge to be competent, independent practitioners. Our
reasoning was guided, for the most part, by results of the Skills
Validation Study. This study, a comprehensive job analysis
commissioned by ASHA, was designed and administered by the
Division of Applied Measurement Research of the Educational
Testing Service (ETS) and was constructed on the basis of input
from members of the Council's audiology subcommittee as well as a
panel of audiology subject-matter experts.
Results of the study were published and made available to ASHA
members (Tannenbaum & Rosenfeld, 1996). As stated in this
publication, and as explained to the Standards Council by ETS,
"a job analysis is the primary mechanism for establishing
the job-relatedness of decisions concerning standards and
curriculum redesign and professional certification" (p.
As you may recall, the findings of this study indicated a
substantial discrepancy between the views of educators and the
views of graduates, CFY supervisors, and employers on
information had been learned by students. Educators said that
most information was learned by the students when they were in
school. In contrast, the other groups in this study-that is, the
graduates themselves, CFY supervisors, and other employers-said
that much of the information, including core knowledge and
skills, was not learned until after graduation, on the job. All
groups agreed, however, that this information
be learned in school, before graduation. In other words,
educators said it
; others said it
In analyzing the study's results, those of us on the Standards
Council audiology subcommittee at the time concluded that
audiology graduates, CFY supervisors, and employers, who directly
observe and experience the
of outcomes, surely must recognize when knowledge and skills are
lacking. On the other hand, the educators who participated in
this study had a different perspective and came to a different
conclusion. If they considered only what was
in their programs, then these educators may have been convinced
that their students learned the core information that they needed
to learn before graduation. This
'we-taught-them-everything-they-need-to-know' view is certainly
reinforced by our old certification standards, the
input-and-process standards, where specific courses and clinical
practicum categories are emphasized. Whatever led the educators
to respond as they did, they probably assumed that all of the
following steps in the teaching-learning process had taken
- That they taught their students the necessary knowledge and
- That what they taught their students was learned;
- That what was learned by their students was retained;
- That what was taught, learned, and retained was then
applied effectively by their students after graduation.
But these assumptions were not validated by the other groups,
the groups positioned to see the actual outcomes of educational
preparation. Without appropriate and timely assessment, however,
only the first step of this sequence, the teaching step, can be
known. In essence, then, the skills validation study had served
as a measure of functional educational outcomes. The study told
us that the outcomes of our educational programs' efforts fall
short of what all of the respondent groups, including the
educators, think the outcomes should be.
In light of these findings, the audiology subcommittee
proceeded to draft new certification standards that would address
our concerns and would also be more effective in making
educational preparation consistent with contemporary clinical
practice (ASHA, 1997b). Among the features of the new standards,
here are the ones that led our subcommittee to include a
formative assessment component, which is the focus of today's
- As in clinical settings, there has been a shift of emphasis
in educational programs, in other disciplines as well as our
own, from input and process assessment to outcomes assessment.
Health care reform, educational reform, and the seemingly
endless problem of diminishing resources, have been demanding
this change, as is evident in the increasing scrutiny by
government officials, accreditation agencies, reform
commissions, and the public (Rassi, 1998, p. 477). As you know,
our academic accreditation standards have moved in this
direction as well (ASHA, 1997a).
- The new audiology core standards comprise specific
knowledge-and-skill statements based on items from the job
analysis study that had been validated as being important for
entry-level audiologists to know and to be able to do.
- These knowledge-and-skill statements are outcome based in
that they require educators and students to be accountable for
what has been learned.
- The new standards require a summative assessment, which
will continue to be administered in the form of a national
comprehensive examination and whose design will correspond to
the knowledge and skill areas in the new standards.
- The new standards also require a series of formative
assessments that measure students' acquisition of knowledge and
mastery of skills throughout their course of study.
Why did we add formative assessments? We reasoned that the
differences between what has been taught and what has been
learned need to be discovered
a student's course of study when something can be done by
educators and/or students to remedy the situation, not left until
after graduation for others to discover. The most direct way to
tackle this, it seemed to us, is for the graduate program to
infuse into its curriculum a systematic way of conducting
formative assessments, both clinical and academic, so that
students' progress toward the acquisition of skills and knowledge
can be monitored and evaluated. If designed to address the skills
and knowledge required by the standards, formative assessments
thereby become the actual tools for measuring outcomes along the
way. These are
outcomes, of course, if they provide information that is acted
upon or changes behavior in accordance with program objectives
(Rassi, 1998). The outcome-based nature of the new standards thus
leads naturally to the need for formative assessments.
There are added benefits. Assessments, of course, can be used
for a variety of purposes, going well beyond the examination of
students' recall of circumscribed facts taught in topic-specific
courses. Appropriate assessments conducted in the classroom,
clinic, or laboratory can inform teaching as well as learning. Is
teaching effective? Is learning taking place? Are we teaching
what really matters? Are our students learning what really
matters? Are we assessing what really matters? (Rassi, 1998).
If administered regularly and appropriately, assessments of
classroom and laboratory learning, along with actual clinical
performance, can facilitate the integration of a program's
curriculum across these areas (Rassi & McElroy, 1992).
Similarly, assessments of student performance in each of these
areas can determine whether or not instruction is consistent and
balanced across areas. Is information learned in the classroom
being retained and applied in the clinic? Are skills learned in
the clinic compatible with what is being taught in the classroom?
Are students becoming independent decision-makers in the
laboratory and clinic as they progress through the educational
program? Asking appropriate questions such as these helps to form
a system of checks and balances for different components of the
program, while also revealing information about curriculum gaps
and inconsistencies. In other words, with periodic checks and
cross-checks of students' progress in all three areas, curriculum
and course design changes can be made in a timely manner, and
students' concerns can be addressed more readily.
If conducted at strategic junctures in a student's course of
study, assessments also give instructors and students valuable,
ongoing feedback that can help them to know when students are not
moving along the continuum of learning and professional
development as expected. Depending on university or departmental
requirements, the timing and intervals of formative assessments
may be varied in a number of ways. For example, an assessment or
final examination of students' content recall at the end of each
course is a time-honored tradition for many instructors. In light
of the new standards, course instructors may or may not opt to
continue doing this. Whatever they decide, an educational program
may now want to supplement, if not replace, end-of-course
examinations with formative assessments on material covered in a
sequence of several related courses or several related clinical
practicum placements or both. Because the new certification
standards require longer courses of study, interval formative
assessments should fit into the curriculum more easily. They may
also be more necessary in a longer program because they can show
progress, or lack thereof, before a student has invested a lot of
time and money in this endeavor.
Finally, I should note that resources for helping us to expand
our assessment repertoire are abundant. The higher-education
literature is replete with information on the role of assessment
in higher education (AAHE, 1992; Angelo, 1995; Angelo &
Cross, 1993; Banta, et al., 1996). Classroom assessment
techniques, or CATs, as they are called in the world of higher
education (Angelo & Cross, 1993), can be used to assess
anything and everything from students' critical thinking and
problem solving abilities to their views about the effectiveness
of a particular class session.
In conclusion, the audiology subcommittee chose to incorporate
formative assessments into the new standards because of the
validation study results, which led to the decision to write
outcome-based standards, which led to the requirement for
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