Assessment in social work: a guide for learning and teaching
Questions and messages for educators
One aspect of the brief for this guide was to identify questions for educators to consider, arising from the main sources. The questions given throughout the Guide, together with the ‘messages for educators’, have been collected together here to serve two purposes. They provide a prompt list for educators (or encouragement that they are addressing the key areas), and they act in place of an executive summary of the issues considered.
The extent of questions illustrates the multi-dimensional nature of social work assessment and shows the range of knowledge and skills required. The questions also indicate the scale of the task that faces educators in the design and delivery of assessment learning.
The significance of assessment in social work practice and education
- What do social work students learn about the significance placed on assessment by government and agencies, service users and carers, the professional literature and the requirements of the social work degree?
Reasons for teaching and learning about assessment
- Are there opportunities for students to consider the ‘because of’ and ‘in order to’ reasons for learning about assessment?
- What is the focus of teaching, as between technical competence, transferable principles and critical analytical skills, or some combination, and what is the rationale for the approach chosen?
The definitions of assessment
- Does teaching rely on one or more of the following four ‘types’ of definition: process-focused, contingent, contestation-focused, critical social constructionist?
- What are your criteria for choosing the type(s) that are taught and examined?
- What are the implications of your choices, for student learning and for students’ understanding and conduct of assessment?
- In what ways does teaching on risk feature in the programme?
- Is there an opportunity to explore the contested nature of risk and the different perceptions among different groups about risk and its significance?
- Bearing in mind both the variable levels of attention to risk that may be found in textbooks and the different kinds of risk that preoccupy assessment frameworks, what are the main teaching and learning sources?
The purposes of assessment
- Do students have the opportunity to study the multiple purposes and interests that assessment may serve and the implications for their role?
- Are there opportunities to consider the purposes of particular kinds of assessment and to practice the explanation and negotiation of purpose with service users and carers?
- Are students able to explore the potentially dynamic relationship between purposes, the potential contradictions between them and the scope for resolving contradictions?
Who is being assessed?
- In relation to which levels or areas of ‘social organisation’ does teaching and learning about assessment take place?
Theories that underpin assessment
- Which underpinning theories appear in assessment teaching?
- What part do the theoretical and value stance and experience of the teacher and students play in the choice of theory in teaching and learning about assessment?
- Are there methods for subjecting these choices (above) to independent examination and for evaluating theories from the range on offer?
The different timeframes of assessment
- What types of assessment timeframes are taught and are there opportunities for applying or evaluating the main types?
- Are students alert to the possible variation in assessment timeframes as set by government, agency or professional criteria and of possible tensions between them?
- If you are using assessment frameworks in teaching the process of assessment, does your selection allow for the variation between the level and types of guidance offered?
- If a form-based approach is included in teaching and learning, are both the pros and cons explored, including the risks of form-led assessment processes?
- Is there scope for exploring the ways in which assessment processes change over time and the factors that influence those changes?
- Are there opportunities for students to learn of the debates that surround evidence-based practice?
- Are there opportunities for students to develop the knowledge and skills that different evidence-based approaches to assessment require?
Legislation, legal frameworks and policy contexts
Do the learning materials you recommend:
- recognise the importance of legal knowledge in assessment?
- provide knowledge relevant to the particular national context in which students are expecting to be employed?
- make clear the national context to which any particular legal or policy examples refer?
- Do the learning materials used pay attention to the nature of organisational employment of social workers and the implications for assessment?
- Are there opportunities to explore the politics of assessment that can surface between social worker and organisation when there are differences over goals, standards, resources or procedures?
Collaborative assessment with other professions and agencies
- Does learning for collaborative assessment feature explicitly in students’ academic and practice learning opportunities?
- What sources and learning methods do you use to ensure that both the interprofessional and inter-agency dimensions of assessment are included in student learning?
Language, communication and assessment
- What learning materials and opportunities are available to students to ensure that they understand and can act upon the multiple issues of language and communication in assessment?
Service user and carer perspectives
- How do students learn of service users’ and carers’ perceptions, expectations and experiences of assessment?
- Do students have the opportunity to draw on their own experiences of being assessed in various contexts in order to reflect on possible user experiences and expectations?
Involvement of service users and carers
- Do teaching and learning cover the different kinds of involvement of service users and carers debated in UK social work and expected by user and carer groups and social policy?
- Do students have the opportunity to learn how users wish to be involved in the definition and exploration of their issues during assessment?
Do students have the opportunity to explore user-led approaches to assessment including:
- the nature and implications of user-defined and user-conducted or self-assessment?
- the matrix of models of assessment, from professional/agency-led to devolved user/carer self-assessment, which come into view when assessment is examined for the extent to which it is user-led.
Traditional, emancipatory and governance values
- What materials and opportunities are available to help students explore the links between values and ethics, on the one hand, and the models, methods and goals of assessment, on the other?
Anti-racist, anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive practice
- Are there specific opportunities for students to engage with anti-racist, anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive principles and practice in assessment?
What should be the content?
- Do learning opportunities predominate in one area or another of the abstract–concrete continuum illustrated, (with its corresponding tendencies, types of knowledge and skills produced, and implications for practice)?
- Alternatively, does teaching cover both of
- knowledge of assessment processes, including tools and assessment frameworks
- a broader repertoire of transferable theory, principles, skills and social science knowledge for use in assessment?
- Does the content of teaching recognise the mix of stakeholder consensus and difference about the content of the assessment curriculum?
- Are students able to identify specific areas of learning that contribute to their understanding and skills in relation to assessment?
- Are students able to identify particular models, definitions, purposes and theories of assessment taught on the course?
- Are students able to identify particular formal frameworks of assessment taught on the course?
- Do students consider themselves prepared for undertaking assessments during their practice placements?
- The message from the main sources is that social workers need learning opportunities and practice skills along the abstract–concrete assessment knowledge continuum.
- Since there are limits to what can be included in any curriculum, the combination of abstract and concrete content has to be chosen for maximum transferability.
Sources: textbooks and assessment frameworks
- Textbooks and frameworks can become out of date as legislation, policy and practice change, which they do frequently.
- Textbooks published overseas or for other national contexts may offer useful insights of subjects neglected locally but should be used cautiously because of their different origin.
- There are legislative and organisational differences between the four UK countries, which may restrict the applicability of guidance to a given country.
- Reading is an insufficient basis for developing assessment expertise; learning exercises, discussion in supervision and application to practice are needed.
- Assessment as presented in textbooks and frameworks represents a complex set of skills and knowledge. Students and inexperienced practitioners need opportunities to explore and learn how to apply what they read, preferably in supervised practice.
- Educators and students should be clear on the reasons for choosing particular textbooks and frameworks.
- Students should be alerted to any limitations of recommended works and especially to changes of policy and practice since the works were written, and be directed to supplementary reading.
- Educators should be explicit about their intended audience and be sure to match content to student level and needs, as between students needing introductory knowledge and those requiring more advanced guidance.
- Educators should define how they are using the concept of assessment, bearing in mind that there is no single agreed definition.
- Learning should include case studies and exercises to encourage active learning.
- The bases of theory and evidence that underpin teaching should be explicit.
- Educators should recommend further reading and identify, in particular, important topics that have not been fully covered in teaching.
How may teaching and learning be structured?
- What is the structure of discrete and embedded/infused academic learning opportunities on assessment and its rationale?
- Are embedded/infused learning opportunities clearly ‘visible’?
- Does the teaching and learning structure allow systematically for preparation of students for assessment before they enter practice placements?
Whatever structure, sequence and pattern of modules is chosen for teaching assessment, the clear messages from the research by Crisp and colleagues and the Salford CSWR study are that:
- programme providers should be able to articulate how the structure enables learning objectives in relation to assessment skills to be achieved
- All stakeholder groups
should be able to:
- understand the assessment learning objectives of the programme
- identify when the teaching and learning opportunities have occurred.
How may assessment be taught?
- The best prospect for assessment learning seems to be a combination of approaches in which reading – and lectures, where used – are enlivened by a variety of active learning opportunities allowing for different learning styles.
- Agency-based practice learning facilitated by supervision is highly favoured but needs support and preparation via class-based learning and guided reading for students and briefing for practice-based teachers.
What should be the relationship between what is taught and assessment practice in care agencies?
- Are there mechanisms for negotiating the respective priorities of agencies and social work courses in relation to the teaching and practice of assessment?
How is student competence assessed?
- How may the analysis of assessment in this guide inform implementation of the requirements for competence in assessment set down for the social work degree by the respective national care councils?
- What arrangements or plans are there for a service user contribution to the evaluation of students’ assessment skills?
Whose contributions are needed in assessment teaching?
- Has the requirement of service user and carer involvement in social work education been translated into assessment learning opportunities that are effective for students and sustainable for service users? If not, are reasons identified and solutions defined?
- Are agency staff and particularly practice teachers and assessors appropriately briefed on class-based objectives, teaching methods and assessment methods on social work assessment skills?
- Are the expectations of the social work degree course regarding practice learning objectives and opportunities clear and agreed by all parties?
- Are there ways to ensure that learning opportunities extend beyond familiarisation with agency standard assessment forms?
- What opportunities are there for learning with, from and about other professions in relation to assessment?
- Are there learning opportunities in which students can work across agencies and understand the inter-agency and multi-agency dimensions of assessment?
- Are there assessment teaching arrangements that expose social work students to the perspectives of teachers from other professions and disciplines?
- Development appears especially to be needed in the involvement of service users and carers in students’ agency-based assessment learning.
- What are the distinctive ideas about assessment represented by social work programmes and their educators, and do those ideas group into a recognisable discourse or discourses?
- Do particular discourses predominate in academic or practice teaching and, if so, what influences appear to account for this predominance, giving the ideas authority and as embodying ‘truth’?
- How does a given discourse stand up against competing discourses, not only in the classroom but in a student’s placement and subsequent employed practice?
- How may students be prepared to practice effectively in situations where assessment discourses compete?