How can ‘assessment for learning’ meaningfully contribute to ‘programatic assessment’ – Review – CRADLE seminar Series 22 June

CRADLE PhD candidate Dr Damian Castanelli recently presented his seminar, ‘How can ‘assessment for learning’ meaningfully contribute to ‘programmatic assessment’? Jess Lees, one of CRADLE’s PhD students, provides us with a review of the seminar which highlights the complexities and tensions between assessment for learning and programmatic assessment 

Damien’s engaging presentation shared insightful explanations of the complexities and tensions between assessment for learning and assessment of learning in postgraduate medical education.  

The weaving narrative told through Damien’s presentation made evident for the audience the dual challenge of assessment – to enhance learning and verify competence simultaneously Damien’s presentation included insightful examples of the use of assessment to make decisions relating to student progress and highlighted potential tensions in programmatic assessment.  

The interesting notion of the ‘firewall dilemma’ was posed as a key obstacle. This conundrum occurs when the clinical supervisor is the most informed about the student’s abilities and the decision maker regarding trainee progress. They may feel compromised and conflicted wearing two hats of both coach and judge. Conversely, if an outside judge is brought in, they may not have sufficient understanding of the trainee’s ability to be the best judge.A further conflict highlighted the nexus of programmatic assessment using work-based assessment to drive learning as a primary focus, but then later using the same work-based assessment to judge performance.  

His presentation shone a light on ‘shadow systems’or local workarounds developed to address unmet needs such as roster manipulation or unofficial data collection methods rather than the use of official assessment forms, potentially brought about from ‘disinclination to write down hard truths’. This point further illustrated the complexity of the dilemma for managers to support and assess trainees simultaneously. 

From the trainee perspective, Damien shared perspectives about trust between the trainee and supervisor. He discussed the tensions that occur if the supervisor is acting both as the coach and judge. Enhanced trustworthiness of the supervisor and rewarding trainee vulnerability may be vital to motivating trainees to embrace assessment for learning. Power is also inextricably linked with trust, and the research demonstrated that ‘power over’ was the frequent power dynamic seen in this environment. The research suggests that there may be the opportunity to develop ‘power to’ trainees to enable effect assessment for and of learning. 

Damien  contends that assessment for learning is happening, but perhaps it could do more. He concludes that work-based assessments are contributing little to progress decisions in practice. Now that shadow systems are recognised, opportunity exists to explore why these are preferred and modify accordingly to prevent such workarounds. He further suggested that supervisor investment in the trainee is crucial for successful assessment for learning to occur. This new understanding of how trust and power interact may also provide ideas on modifying assessment structures to potentially rebalance in trainees’ favour and reduce some of the risk. 

Watch Damien’s seminar, including its Q&A, via the CRADLE YouTube channel. 

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