And why are the regulators so concerned about the quality of assessment in the VET sector?

According to ASQA …

The primary risk for ASQA to manage is an RTO certifying that a person has competencies that do not reflect his/her skills, knowledge and attitudes. The potential damage flows not just to the individual, but to employers, and the wider community

(ASQA Regulatory Risk Framework, Version 1.0 April 2016).

So assessment will always be a focus of scrutiny and essential for RTOs to get right.

This month we will focus on this important topic to encourage you to think about your assessment practices and do some self-assessment to think about how you are doing.

What type of assessment should you develop?

You should be developing diagnostic, formative and summative assessments for use with your students. Why? We explain this throughout this post by sharing some short excerpts from our new book:

Assessment is not just something that happens at the end of the training course. If your aim is to provide a comprehensive learning experience for students to equip them for the workplace, you must determine their starting point. You must make an assessment judgement about the student’s needs and capabilities from the very first point of contact and use that information to tailor the best possible learning journey. Assessment must become an integral part of that learning journey and must be used to complete that journey…………..Diagnostic assessment is pre-assessment that allows a trainer to determine the individual strengths, weaknesses, knowledge, and skills of students before they commence the training program. Diagnostic assessment should be conducted before enrolment and prior to the commencement of training……… Information about student needs and their interest in your training programs should be investigated and documented prior to enrolment. Some ways that information can be gathered include using a Foundation Skills Assessment Tool or an LLN test during an interview or by questionnaire. Once enrolled and before training commences self-assessment checklists can also be used as diagnostic tools for a unit of competency to help the student determine their own skill and knowledge needs and set learning goals. These checklists are not used as part of the final assessment of the unit but used by the trainer to tailor the training program. Just a note here on Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) or assessment only pathways – RPL should be offered to all students before they start the course (unless RPL is not permitted for legislative reasons). Diagnostic assessment processes should be used to determine the student’s eligibility for RPL. On the job assessment can also be used at this stage to determine the need for future learning.’ (The Essential Guide to Building a Successful RTO)

Taking the time to conduct diagnostic assessments upfront is essential to providing a quality student experience and successful learning journey. By determining the abilities, prior work experience, and learning needs of your students you will be well place to support their progress and guide them to successfully complete their course. This is not only beneficial for the student but also for you and your RTO!

Designing competency based assessment

‘Formative assessments seek to determine how students are progressing, throughout the learning process, towards achieving the learning outcomes/goals. In vocational training and assessment, the learning outcomes are generally derived from a unit of competency. The unit provides guidelines with respect to the knowledge and skills to be developed by the student. Formative assessment should follow the sequence of unit learning. The key purpose of formative assessment is to provide feedback to both trainer/assessor and student on progress, support needs and ultimately readiness for summative assessment.

Summative assessment is used to determine a student’s mastery of a topic after training is completed and to gather evidence of a student’s readiness for the workplace. Assessments must integrate theory and skills, be holistic where possible and reflect the conditions of the workplace. Ideally students should be assessed in the workplace, but realistic simulations can be used. Do your summative assessment tasks satisfy all of these criteria or are you assessing only knowledge? Use this litmus test: ask yourself whether the student, on the basis of completing the final assessment is ready to perform this role in the workplace. If your answer is no, it’s time to rethink your assessment approach to ensure that the students are ready for certification and the workplace.’ (The Essential Guide to Building a Successful RTO)

When we talk to assessors about assessment they acknowledge that all of this is true and necessary but when we look at the tasks that are actually being used to assess the students we often find that unit requirements are not met. This is what we find:

  • Poor instructions for both student and assessors
  • No mapping to verify that all unit requirements have been met
  • No guidance for marking
  • No observation checklists to record performance of practical tasks
  • No guidance for reasonable adjustment
  • Assessment that is all based on written tasks ( i.e. not practical assessment)

One of the biggest problems is that many RTOs have to assess students in the classroom because the students are not working and have no workplace in which to complete practical assessments. So the tendency is to base tasks on case studies and ask the student to think about how they would complete a task.

Are your assessments compliant? How do you know?

If you are not assessing progressively throughout the training program and if you are not assessing skills as well as knowledge then it is likely that your assessments are not compliant and you run the risk of ‘certifying that a person has competencies that do not reflect his/her skills, knowledge and attitudes’ (ASQA Regulatory Risk Framework, Version 1.0 April 2016).

Is it time for some Self-Assessment?

Committing to an honest process of self-assessment is likely to be a bit uncomfortable for you and your staff. But getting a bit uncomfortable is actually essential for learning. Self-assessment can give us insight into strategies for improvement that will help us to grow. When it comes to your RTO’s assessment practices, we say, don’t put off doing some self-assessment!

Ideally you should have a range of processes in place to ensure that your assessments are compliant.

Planning: Design assessments to meet unit requirements. Map the tasks to all components of the unit to check that the whole unit is covered off. Check that your assessments meet the Principles of Assessment and Rules of Evidence.

Trialling: Trial your assessments before using them in the RTO. This means asking assessors and other staff members to check them over, complete the tasks and provide feedback on instructions and marking guides etc.

Moderation and Validation: Moderate assessment decisions for new assessments to check for reliability of instructions and marking guides. Validate your assessments after they are used for the first time.

Assessment Feedback: Seek feedback on assessment tools and practices from students and staff to ensure that you are continually improving what your do.

But these processes are often treated as tasks that have to be done for compliance rather than for improvement reasons and issues with assessment are often glossed over because they are too hard to fix.

For this reason we suggest that you implement a schedule of internal audit and invite independent auditors into the RTO on a regular basis to help with self-assessment processes. We can help you with that. We have a range of tools that can help you with this process of self-assessment. We can also assist with our audit services.

Check out the links below and contact us if you need some assistance.

And don’t forget to keep a look out for the new book!







Gillian and Karen

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