This recent CEDEFOP publication from December 2022 aims “to map and analyse the dominant assessment forms applied in IVET [i.e. initial VET] and how these have evolved during the past 25 years. It is part of a project focused on “The future of vocational education and training in Europe.”

The report explores “the extent to which the objectives set by qualifications, programmes and curricula in terms of content and profile are improved or contradicted by assessment, as well as the extent to which a broadening of the skills and competence base of IVET could influence assessments (responding to increased emphasis on general subjects and greater focus on transversal skills and competences).” This is very relevant here in Australia at present as we question and reform the nature of VET qualifications and their conception.

Key findings

Three findings have been observed in relation to the way in which assessment has changed over time First, “a greater emphasis on formative assessment can be observed as well as a continuing strong focus on summative assessment approaches.” Summative assessment is “increasingly being used in some countries to monitor the performance of VET institutions as part of quality assurance in VET.” Second, research is pointing to an increased use of learner-based self-assessment as part of formative processes. Third, an increased use of assessment for individual units or modules has been observed in some countries “to increase the flexibility of learning pathways (for example, by providing opportunities for validating and recognising non-formal and informal learning).”  But they also note a ‘swings and roundabouts’ approach as assessment processes move between the modular and more holistic and then back.

The focus on written assessments may also be changing as “countries have increasingly adopted different methods of collecting evidence of practical knowledge. For example, many countries have introduced final practical exams or assignments, projects and performance demonstrations. Skills demonstrations are also increasingly carried out in real work environments and employers or other labour market stakeholders are increasingly involved in assessing VET learners.”

The paper also notes that:

“At the same time, a clear trend towards the use of digital assessment or various kinds of computer assisted tests can be observed and new approaches are continuously being developed and piloted. However, because the use of digital technologies in assessment does not yet have a long history, there are still some challenges and caveats associated with it.”

This all seems to resonate with changes we are seeing in assessment practices here.

Balancing validity and reliability?

The challenge of these requirements is summarised below, and:

“The way assessment has evolved over the years is, to some extent, closely linked to changes in the way qualifications and curricula are described and structured. An important driver of changing or further developing the assessment approach is linked to the key technical characteristics of quality assessment, and particularly to validity and reliability. Reliability and validity cannot easily be achieved simultaneously to the same degree: sometimes a compromise is required or a combination of different forms of assessment is used to satisfy both principles.”

Thus, written assessments may give reliability, but in the context of VET not necessarily validity given VET’s practical focus.

Aligning assessment with qualification specs and standards

The paper reports that:

“Countries often make considerable efforts to achieve this alignment, e.g. by mapping assessment content to learning outcomes and assessment criteria. They also discuss the appropriate level of detail in the description of learning outcomes and assessment criteria and sometimes change their approach towards one direction or another. Another aspect discussed in relation to assessment and addressed in reforms is the scope for interpretation and the possibility of adapting learning outcomes and assessment criteria to specific target groups, such as students with special needs. This is often related to the pursuit of fairness.”

This again mirrors thinking in Australia.

Broadening the skills and competence base of VET

European practice in relation to assessing general subjects indicate a tendency towards externalisation and standardisation of examinations in pursuit of reliability and to help facilitate admission to higher education. This would be somewhat true for VET in schools here in Australia. However,

“research conducted in this study indicates an increase in the assessment of learners’ transversal skills.’ The paper observes that “this increase appears to be more related to formative assessment, which is conducted internally at the VET provider level, and less to summative or externally conducted assessment. This might be due to the many challenges that are associated with the assessment of transversal competences.”

A final thought!

The paper suggests that further work is needed to address the rationale behind decisions regarding assessment design and related reform. This issue would be good to explore here in Australia too!

Other research publications in the series

VDC News readers can access those here. They cover a variety of themes and topics, including the changing content and profile of VET; delivering VET; facilitating vocational learning; delivering lifelong learning and, more specifically: micro credentials, teacher and trainer roles in a changing world and entrepreneur competence in VET. Topics cover the whole of Europe with some also having individual country case studies. Some of them may be of real interest to you.