Transforming Assessment Across Disciplines

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Current assessment and progression policies and practices in higher education are primarily dominated by the dichotomy between formative and summative assessments. This blog is based on an ASCILITE 2020 conference paper (Cerimagic and Khanna, 2020), in which my co-author and I discuss using programmatic assessment in a transformative way. We critically reflect on how medical education is attempting to resolve the tensions created by the dichotomous assessment system. Including how we can transfer lessons learnt to improve assessment practices in business education.


Contemporary assessment practices in higher education institutions are dominated by a (assessment) system of learning which privileges objective and quantification of students performance. Thus, higher learning institutions find it challenging to implement assessment reform. Given the emphasis on the achievement of complex graduate attributes such as influence, leadership and working in multidisciplinary teams, novel systems of assessment should promote authenticity, agility, adaptability, and meaningfulness. Rather than focusing on those attributes that can be tested through objective, standardised tools (Pathak, et al., 2019).

In recent years, the field of medical education has made significant paradigm shifts in proposing newer approaches to assessment, such as programmatic assessment (PA). PA is a concept that fosters assessment ‘for’, ‘of’, and ‘as’ learning by utilising carefully selected and collated data on students’ longitudinal progression in various competencies from multiple sources, including narrative-rich feedback (Cerimagic, et al., 2020).

Practices and Principles

The practice and principles of programmatic assessment practice in the Sydney medical program were informed by internal and external consultations and the literature (Van Der Vleuten et al., 2015, Wilkinson et al., 2018, Norcini et al., 2018).

These include:

  • Collecting multiple, continuous, and information-rich assessment data, longitudinally
  • Integrating assessments across vertical themes based on learning objectives, outcomes, and yearly capabilities
  • Collating assessments and accessing via an electronic portfolio (ePortfolio)
  • Focussing assessment outcomes on feedback using quantitative and narrative data
  • Using a learning advisor model to provide individualised feedback and identify students requiring remediation and further assistance
  • Making progression decisions on a holistic appraisal of the ePortfolio, which incorporates assessments for all vertical themes, attendance, professional conduct and communication

Approach to Implementing Programmatic Assessment

The Sydney medical program’s assessment philosophy introduces and continues developing a programmatic assessment that retains the five key purposes of this approach. As outlined in the 2018 Consensus framework for good assessment for health professions (Norcini et al. 2018).

1.         Optimising the impact of assessments on learners

2.         Providing student feedback on strengths and weaknesses

3.         Improving student self-regulated learning

4.         Motivating students to focus on improvements

5.         Improving instructional effectiveness

This approach to implementing programmatic assessment has delineated assessment components that can assess themes, capabilities and graduate qualities in an integrated way that mirrors the teaching of these components in the curriculum with clearly expected standards (Cerimagic and Khanna 2019).

Using purposefully selected multiple assessment tasks, designed to sample across the expected competencies and combined over the full academic year, the assessment strategy allows for creating a rich and longitudinal flow of triangulated information about each student’s progress in various capability areas. Evidence for the validity of this approach has been outlined in previous studies using Kane’s framework (Schuwirth and van der Vleuten, 2012).

A Business Education Context

As underpinned by the theory of programmatic assessment, the dichotomy of formative and summative assessments can be effectively replaced. In its place, a system of compulsory assessments that will be on a continuum of stakes (i.e., low, medium, high) can be adopted for authentic business assessments. But of course, the stakes of the assessments must be considered in making holistic progression decisions.

Thus, a balance between and within assessments can be ensured. Not in terms of their typology of formative versus summative, but in terms of their utility concerning feedback, remediation, and progression decisions.

This critical viewpoint offers an innovative perspective on the fundamental problem of assessment and learning to advance understandings of applying assessment of and for learning within the same program.

Assessment for learning instead of assessments of learning could be successfully achieved in a business education context.

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Dr Sabina Ćerimagić is a Senior Lecturer and Deputy Academic Director of the Business Co-Design (BCD) team, at the Sydney Business School, at the University of Sydney. Sabina’s main research areas are: educational pedagogy, project management, change management, leadership and motivation, cross-cultural project management and training, curriculum redesign, curriculum renewal through design thinking, systems thinking, design-based research, higher education pedagogy, and technology integration.

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