As announced in the two previous issues of this volume, it is intended that the third issue of each volume of the Queensland Journal of Educational Research will include articles on a particular theme. Typically, the theme will be announced each year in the first issue of the current volume and the articles may be a combination of submitted and invited papers.
The articles in this issue of the journal focus on implications of competency based assessment for selection. The main focus is on selection into tertiary courses on the basis of competency based assessment in previous courses. Problems associated with the use of competency based assessment for selection into tertiary courses are identified and analysed, together with possible solutions to these problems. There are also problems for selection into employment and some employers have expressed dissatisfaction with competency based assessment because it does not allow them to choose the most proficient applicant.
Competency based assessment has been adopted and implemented as the pervasive assessment ideology in the vocational education and training (VET) sector in Australia. Training programs have their learning outcomes prescribed in terms of defined competencies, and certification of satisfactory completion of the training program requires the demonstration of competence on each of the competencies. Competency based assessment therefore has comprehensive implications for the way in which training programs are conducted and the way trainee learning is organised. For example, the principles of competency based assessment require that trainees be assessed as either competent or not-yet-competent and that trainees be given further opportunities to acquire each competency. This implies the adoption of flexible teaching approaches which offer some form of individualisation in the learning process.
However, it is not the purpose of the articles in this issue to explore all of the implications and characteristics of competency based assessment, nor to examine its assumptions, procedures and effects. Rather, the implementation of competency based assessment in the VET sector in Australia is taken as already set, at least in terms of the reporting mechanisms. The articles in this issue examine one set of problems resulting from this implementation and consider what options exist for resolution of those problems consistent with the existing philosophy of competency based assessment. It should not be assumed that the authors necessarily endorse the implementation of competency based assessment. They have not expressed a view on this matter. Their intention is to contribute to the ongoing debate on issues surrounding competency based assessment and to encourage further discussion.
The articles on which this issue is based were specially commissioned for a review of selection procedures for Technical and Further Education (TAFE) Associate Diplomas and Diplomas in Queensland and formed part of the final report of that review. The review, together with the commissioning of the articles by Peddie and by Wilmut and Macintosh, was funded by the Queensland Department of Employment, Vocational Education, Training and Industrial Relations (DEVETIR) and resulted in a report entitled Getting Them In. The articles by Peddie and by Wilmut and Macintosh, as well as the introductory and concluding articles, have been specially revised and edited for this issue. The presentation of these articles in this form in this journal ensures that they will reach a wider audience and make an important contribution to the wider educational discussions on competency based assessment and tertiary selection.
The VET sector in Australia has for some time been undergoing rapid transformation. The most recent changes have involved restructuring to create competition among training providers and to implement the principle of user-buy, that is, choice of provider in the hands of the employer or the trainee. TAFE's hegemony as a training provider is now challenged by the many private providers entering the field. This has encouraged the development of many strategic alliances, and in some cases amalgamations, between TAFE institutes and universities. There is much recent talk about the development of a 'seamless web' of tertiary education provision, breaking down past barriers between vocational education and training on the one hand and university education on the other.
Nevertheless, these changes do not change the imperatives of selection. While it is possible that existing and mooted changes to university funding and fees, coupled with apparent demographic changes in aspiration and participation, will lead to some reduction in pressures on entry to tertiary courses, this is by no means certain. Certainly, it is the case that some tertiary institutions and some tertiary courses face an under-supply of applicants rather than an over-supply. In such cases, selection is not an issue; all qualified applicants - 'qualified' sometimes defined rather loosely - are accepted. However, this is not the situation for many tertiary courses and pressures for entry to many highly popular courses are unlikely to diminish for 'funded' or 'scholarship' places. In those cases, selection must be made among all those considered to be eligible or qualified for entry. The necessity for selection in many such situations is likely to persist for the foreseeable future.
The need to select among eligible or qualified applicants makes it necessary to differentiate the relative merits of the applicants. Competency based assessment itself typically provides no basis for such differentiation. All trainees completing a particular qualification are considered to be equally competent and equally qualified. Further, all qualifications at a particular level of the Australian Qualifications Framework are considered to represent an equivalent standard. In situations where there are many such applicants for entry to a particular course, this can be problematic.
What, then, of articulation agreements between the VET courses and university courses? Do not such agreements remove the issue of selection in such cases? Despite the existence of articulation agreements between various VET courses and university courses, it is still not typical for those agreements to guarantee a place in the receiving course. Selection may still be competitive, at least to some extent. Furthermore, credit for previous studies is activated or considered only after the applicant has gained entry to the course. In any case, the issue is much broader than articulation between courses in the same area of study since many VET trainees seek to use their VET course as a springboard to a different area of study where articulation agreements may not exist and where entry involves competition with all other applicants. This might include entry to other VET courses as well as to university courses. So, the issue of selection on the basis of competency based assessment is one of some import across a wide range of situations.
Graham S. Maxwell
|Please cite as: Maxwell, G. (1997). Editorial. Queensland Journal of Educational Research, 13(3), 1-3. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer13/editorial13-3.html|