Assessment in social work: a guide for learning and teaching

What are the guide’s chief sources?

The three primary sources used for the guide are outlined below. The nature of each is summarised by the ‘Question answered by the research’ and by a description of the sampling strategy and data collection method.

Source 1

Crisp, B.R., Anderson, M.R., Orme, J. and Lister, P.G. (2003) Knowledge Review 01: Learning and teaching assessment skills in social work education, London: Social Care Institute for Excellence.

Question answered by the research

What does the literature say on how learning and teaching of assessment skills in social work and cognate disciplines occurred in the classroom and practice settings?

Sampling strategy and data collection

Crisp and colleagues sought literature about learning and teaching of assessment using the following sources:

The search identified 60 journal articles that met the search criteria. The majority (nearly 50) were from the USA and England with the remainder distributed among several other countries. The articles were classified under the following headings: country of focus; target group; what was taught and how?; and was the teaching evaluated? (pp 93–4).

Source 2

Crisp, B.R., Anderson, M.R., Orme, J. and Lister, P.G. (2005) Knowledge review 09: Learning and teaching in social work education: Textbooks and frameworks on assessment, London: Social Care Institute for Excellence.

The study was designed to supplement the knowledge provided by Source 1. The focus on textbooks reflected the substantial potential influence of these sources on social workers’ learning. The focus on assessment frameworks responded to the increasing use of these tools in both social work practice and education.

Question answered by the research

What might a reader and, especially, a beginning social work student or unqualified worker, learn about assessment from a) textbooks and b) assessment frameworks?

Sampling strategy and data collection

Social work textbooks were sought in two categories: textbooks with a substantial section (one or more chapters or an identifiable section) on assessment; and textbooks entirely on assessment. The books selected were required to have a generalist focus (as distinct from a concern with a specific problem or service group), be currently available in the UK and have a publication date between 1993 and 2003.

A search of introductory texts located ten books with one or more chapters on assessment and six texts specifically about assessment. Three texts were from outside the UK, two being from the USA and one from Australia. A further ten introductory texts were excluded, having no chapter on assessment.

The reviewers collected data from the chosen 16 texts using a proforma covering three kinds of characteristics:

Turning to frameworks, there is no standard definition of the term ‘assessment framework’. Crisp and colleagues therefore devised the following criteria for the selection of frameworks, which should:

Searches identified four examples of standardised frameworks: they were published between 2000 and 2003 and governed assessment with children and families, carers and disabled children, older people and drug users. Each framework was examined to explore its potential ‘to educate students and workers about the assessment process more generally than in relation to the specific population for which it was designed’ (p 39). Again, a proforma was used to collect data, applying similar categories to those used for the textbooks. Further information on the textbooks and frameworks studied by Crisp and colleagues is given in Section 27 of this guide.

Source 3

Shardlow, S.M., Myers, S., Berry, A., Davis, C., Eckersley, T., Lawson, J., McLauglin, H. and Rimmer, A. (2005) Teaching and assessing assessment in social work education within English higher education: Practice survey results and analysis, Salford: Salford Centre for Social Work Research (available from Salford CSWR, University of Salford, Salford, Manchester M6 6PU).

Question answered by the research

What kinds of practices are found in the teaching and learning of assessment on social work programmes and in relation to inclusion of service user and carer perspectives in teaching and learning?

Sampling strategy and data collection

The empirical study by the Salford CSWR sought information on teaching of social work assessment from four sets of sources: higher education institutions (HEIs), service users and carers, service-giving agencies providing practice learning opportunities, and former social work students.

Ten HEIs offering qualifying social work education in England responded to a questionnaire on assessment in 2003/4. The information gathered was used, in 2004/5, to inform site visits to a further 13 geographically-dispersed HEIs. The HEIs had volunteered from a selection of 20 chosen for their reputation as providers of ‘exemplary teaching and learning opportunities’ (Shardlow et al, 2005, p 17). At the visits, interviews were held with 21, mainly academic, staff although a small number of practice assessors participated too. Examples were collected of teaching materials in use.

Service users and carers were consulted by focus group discussion with seven groups based in north-west England and selected on advice from Citizens as Trainers (CATs) who had two members on the research team. Participants had greater or lesser experience of educating social workers and were chosen to include difference by age and reason for involvement with social work and to ensure representation of minority ethnic groups.

The research with agencies and practitioners was designated as ‘illustrative studies’ to recognise the limited samples and the use of the findings to illustrate issues in assessment. The studies consisted of: completed questionnaires from five agencies (four not-for-profit and one local authority social services department) involved in providing social work placements; and 23 qualified social workers from a single cohort of candidates undertaking a post-qualifying child care award. All but one of the social workers held the DipSW, each gaining the award from one of six different HEIs. Ten of the social workers had qualified in 1999 or after and the remainder, except one, between 1994 and 1998.

Other sources for the guide

The guide draws on a further set of sources comprising the requirements for the social work degree issued by the national care councils of the UK. There are national variations of emphasis in these requirements but they have common roots in three sources:

The national requirements for the degree establish expectations in the learning of assessment and have a particular relevance to the kinds of questions that educators must consider. Other SCIE guides and relevant sources are also cited in the text and used to clarify or develop the discussion.

How was the guide created?

The studies by Crisp and colleagues and by Salford CSWR were analysed in two stages by treating their content like the data of a qualitative study (Ritchie and Lewis, 2003). In the first (non-cross-sectional) stage, each source was examined to identify assessment themes and concepts relevant to educators in the social work degree. In the second (cross-sectional) stage the resulting categories were combined into a common framework which was applied across the whole set of sources. This process modified or confirmed the usefulness of categories and resulted in the structure of sections for this report and the allocation of content. The categories were then used to structure the examination of national requirements for the social work degree and, to a lesser extent, other relevant literature.

How can the guide assist in learning and teaching?

The particular strength of the materials from the three studies is contained in the range of issues identified and the scope they offer for exploring both the multiple dimensions of assessment in social work and the subject of assessment in social work education. The three studies do not, for the most part, provide detailed evidence-based conclusions on how to teach assessment. This guide aims to assist educators in their various roles by identifying issues and choices that they should consider.

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