Date Published: October 14, 2017
Publisher: Springer Netherlands
Author(s): Andrea Oudkerk Pool, Marjan J. B. Govaerts, Debbie A. D. C. Jaarsma, Erik W. Driessen.
While portfolios are increasingly used to assess competence, the validity of such portfolio-based assessments has hitherto remained unconfirmed. The purpose of the present research is therefore to further our understanding of how assessors form judgments when interpreting the complex data included in a competency-based portfolio. Eighteen assessors appraised one of three competency-based mock portfolios while thinking aloud, before taking part in semi-structured interviews. A thematic analysis of the think-aloud protocols and interviews revealed that assessors reached judgments through a 3-phase cyclical cognitive process of acquiring, organizing, and integrating evidence. Upon conclusion of the first cycle, assessors reviewed the remaining portfolio evidence to look for confirming or disconfirming evidence. Assessors were inclined to stick to their initial judgments even when confronted with seemingly disconfirming evidence. Although assessors reached similar final (pass–fail) judgments of students’ professional competence, they differed in their information-processing approaches and the reasoning behind their judgments. Differences sprung from assessors’ divergent assessment beliefs, performance theories, and inferences about the student. Assessment beliefs refer to assessors’ opinions about what kind of evidence gives the most valuable and trustworthy information about the student’s competence, whereas assessors’ performance theories concern their conceptualizations of what constitutes professional competence and competent performance. Even when using the same pieces of information, assessors furthermore differed with respect to inferences about the student as a person as well as a (future) professional. Our findings support the notion that assessors’ reasoning in judgment and decision-making varies and is guided by their mental models of performance assessment, potentially impacting feedback and the credibility of decisions. Our findings also lend further credence to the assertion that portfolios should be judged by multiple assessors who should, moreover, thoroughly substantiate their judgments. Finally, it is suggested that portfolios be designed in such a way that they facilitate the selection of and navigation through the portfolio evidence.
With the rise of competency-based assessment, portfolios are increasingly seen as the linchpin of assessment systems. Although their format and content may differ, generally they all contain reporting on work done, feedback received from peers and faculty, progress made, and goals and plans on how to further improve competence (Driessen et al. 2007).
We observed that assessors went through a similar process of selecting and interpreting portfolio evidence, while we also noted variations in assessors’ approaches to reaching a judgment. In the next sections we will first describe this shared process and then assessors’ divergent approaches, followed by three explanations for this variance as inferred from the data.
The present study has sought to enhance our understanding of how assessors form judgments of students’ professional competence based on the evidence collated in a competency-based portfolio.
The present study described the process whereby assessors reach judgments, when reviewing the evidence collated in a competency-based portfolio. Assessors were able to form a judgment based on the portfolio evidence alone. Although they reached the same overall judgments, they differed in the way they processed the evidence and in the reasoning behind their judgments. Differences sprung from assessors’ divergent assessment beliefs, performance theories, and inferences acting in concert. These findings support the notion that portfolios should be judged by multiple assessors who should, moreover, thoroughly substantiate their judgments. Also, assessors should receive training that provides insight into factors influencing their own decision making process and group decisions. Finally, it was proposed that portfolios be designed in such a way that they facilitate the selection of and navigation through the portfolio evidence.