RTOs train well but assess poorly

Allison Miller, eWorks Accredited ConsultantAt the recent ACPET National Conference, Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) Chief Commissioner, Chris Robinson, said that registered training organisation’s (RTOs) in the vocational education and training (VET) sector train well but assess poorly. Allison Miller, who was in the audience, discusses this candid statement, breaks down the Standards for RTOs according to assessment requirements, and offers advice about good assessment practices for the VET sector.

Non-compliance and assessment go hand in hand

Chris Robinson’s statement was based upon recent analysis by ASQA of RTO compliance rates since the introduction of the new national Standards for RTOs (Standards) earlier in 2015 (ASQA, 2015). The analysis has shown that whenever an RTO has recorded non-compliance, assessment is always an issue. These issues stem from:

  • poor assessment strategies
  • poor assessment tools
  • poor assessment practices, and
  • unqualified trainers and assessors.

An assessment is much more than an assessment tool

The Standards (Clauses 1.8-1.12) are  very explicit about how an RTO should conduct effective assessment by implementing an assessment system that ensures that assessment:

  • complies with the assessment requirements of the relevant training package or VET accredited course; and
  • is conducted in accordance with the principles of assessment

This approach should also be applied to the assessment of recognition of prior learning (RPL). Under the new Standards, trainers/assessors need to be able to:

  • Unpack a unit of competency (UoC) to match skills to their industry. That is, the assessor needs to ensure that a learner has the required skills to work effectively in the relevant industry, according to what is included in the UoC.
  • Design assessment activities and tools which meet all of the UoC requirements, the relevant industry’s needs, and all of the principles of assessment and rules of evidence (Table 18-1 & 18-2).
  • Determine how to best collect, assess, provide feedback and store assessment evidence.
  • Write supporting documentation which outlines the learning and assessment activities students will undertake to demonstrate they are competent.
  • Understand, implement and participate in an assessment validation process.



Credit: Exam by Alberto G.

Other key components of a successful VET assessment system

Although not as explicit in the Standards, there are a number of other key components of a successful VET assessment system, such as having:

  • Several and varied assessment activities such as formative assessments which measure the learning (also known as assessment for learning) and summative assessments which measure the output of the learning (also known as assessment of learning). Summative assessments should not only be included at the end of the course.
  • Assessment activities and tools which are real and applied. That is, the student is doing the actual task in the workplace or simulated workplace environment or producing something that would be produced in the workplace.
  • Effective feedback mechanisms which help students move forward with their learning, also known as feed forward (JISC, 2013)
  • Ways of authenticating that the students are who they say they are, especially online students.
  • A variety of ways to capture assessment evidence such as text, images audio, video, checklists and third party reports.
  • Effective ways to capture and store assessment evidence so that is can be easily found, such as uploading all students’ evidence into a learning management system.

It’s not all about ASQA

Having an effective assessment system is not only about satisfying ASQA auditors and meeting the Standards for RTOs. An effective assessment system should ensure that a student has the skills, knowledge and experience to meet current workplace requirements as outlined in the UoC and according to what is currently being done in industry. This means that a trainer/assessor’s vocational currency is very important (Clauses 1.13-1.16). Trainers/assessors should be supported to continue

to work in industry either through part-time work, through work shadowing opportunities or other industry programs, to ensure they maintain this currency.

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