Assessment on placement for the University of Queensland, James Cook University and the University of the Sunshine Coast students is by way of the Student Placement Evaluation Form [SPEF-R] (The University of Queensland, 2008) with the primary emphasis on providing constructive, objective and detailed feedback. The SPEF-R is provided by the Universities to every supervising clinical educator.
This fieldwork evaluation form covers a range of learning objectives seen as integral to student learning and professional development in order to practice effectively as occupational therapists. These objectives cover the expected knowledge, behaviours and skills that the student must demonstrate in the following areas: professional practice, self management, communication, documentation, assessment/Information gathering, intervention, evaluation, group skills (optional) and, a selection of other roles according to the appropriate clinical area in the placement : direct client care, case management and/or project management/ consultancy.
The purpose of assessment in the student clinical setting is to:
- Certify - pass/fail
- Promote - to the next level
- Diagnose - learning needs
- Analyse - performance problems
It is important that you are familiar with the marking requirements and expectations of the (SPEF-R) handbook prior to the student's arrival. The SPEF-R will also help you to structure and grade the learning program and the placement expectations of the student placement.
Linking performance to components on the SPEF gives the clinical educator "a way to structure feedback and to monitor the components of the students' performance" (S. Bartholomai, personal communication, May 31,2007)
SPEF-R five point rating scale
1 = unacceptable performance
2 = concerns exist
3 = developing competence
4 = competent performance
5 = exceptional performance
(The University of Queensland, 2008, p.9)
It is important to grade students as students and not as new graduates. Take care not to succumb to the urge to mark a student up because you see their potential, particularly at the halfway assessment. Mark them based on evidence-based observations. When grading, consider how much more the student needs to learn and develop in order to be at a graduate competency. Only rate a student at 5 - exceptional performance - if the performance is truly exceptional. There is usually room for improvement.
How will I gather evidence upon which to base student evaluation?
Evidence Based Evaluation
Gathering evidence and recording observations is paramount to providing detailed and specific feedback and subsequently, to providing accountable and factual evaluation.
- Do be diligent about recording your observations as they occur in order to be able to provide timely and responsive feedback. Waiting until assessment time and relying on your memory will more than likely result in feedback that is generalised with difficulty drawing on specific examples. For this purpose, consider having a notebook dedicated to regularly documenting your observations and any planned feedback for the student. Refer to example of an observation record provided in Part Two: step 6.
- Include in your documentation the actual behaviour and performance observed, and the desired behaviours, as well as taking care to note any important feedback or strategies for discussion with the student to improve performance in that skill. Then, when it comes to providing reasoning for your evaluation, you are also providing specific examples of what behaviour is/was expected, what feedback was provided leading up to evaluation, and what actions the student could take to improve the particular performance or behaviour.
- Regularly refer to the SPEF-R criteria that relates to each learning objective, so that the student's performance in core items can be monitored accordingly. For instance, if a student is at risk of failing one or more core items of a learning objective, close monitoring and timely recording of observations will allow for early detection of weaknesses which may be improved by way of constructive feedback and development of an action plan toward improvement, before it comes to pass/fail evaluation.
What if I have concerns that a student is at risk of failing?
Whilst the halfway evaluation point on the SPEF-R provides an excellent opportunity for identifying how well a student is meeting the minimum requirements for passing, you do not need to wait until halfway to provide evaluative feedback to the student on their performance. If at this or any other time it is identified that a student is failing or at risk of failing, please contact the clinical education liaison staff of the Universities. You may also complete the Concerns Exist Form (located in SPEF-R manual) and immediately forward it to the clinical education liaison staff at the Universities (via the fieldwork manager at your facility if appropriate).
In such cases, halfway evaluation is an important time to draw the student's attention to existing weaknesses and to review the learning plan including ideas, actions and strategies for improving those skills, clearly specifying outcomes that need to be achieved by the final evaluation in order to pass. Once notified, the university clinical education staff member can assist in developing such a plan. This may involve a three-way face-to-face or phone interview with yourself and the student, and offering any additional supports to encourage improvement of the skills and knowledge areas of importance.
My student has some personal issues that are affecting his/her work on placement. He/she has come to me for guidance, however I don't feel that I am equipped or that it is appropriate for me to provide counselling at that level. What can I do?
It is not expected that you provide personal counselling for your students. You can talk to the clinical education liaison staff at the universities, who may be able to assist the student with strategies for example for managing workload and time-management. If required, the student is also able to access free professional counselling from the student services at their University.
What if my student doesn't agree with my evaluation of their performance?
A student may disagree with your evaluation and they have the right to disagree. It is important that you are open to discussing your assessment outcome with the student and this is why using examples to explain your rationale is so important.
- Avoid reactive or defensive responses
- Don't negotiate the outcome - agree to disagree.
(Dunwoodie, Fitzgerald, Hill & Patane, 2007)
What if the student fails the final assessment?
If the student does not meet the minimum requirements for passing a learning objective, despite having accessed support and having developed a learning/action plan for addressing the problem areas, then the student fails the placement. The university clinical education liaison staff should be contacted immediately and they will manage the academic process required for this student.
Any grievances that a student may express with the final evaluation should be referred to the university clinical education representative for mediation.
(The University of Queensland, 1998)
For more information go to Part Five: Students Experiencing Difficulty
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