Answer to "What does programmatic assessment mean for constructive alignment?"


Editor: Marjan Govaerts


When adopting programmatic assessment models in the context of competency-based education, constructive alignment is just as essential as it is self-evident. Constructive alignment (CoAl) refers to an educational design approach that integrates intended learning outcomes (ILOs), teaching and learning activities (TLAs) and assessment activities (AAs). Key principles underpinning the CoAl-approach in programmatic assessment are:

  1. The notion that competence is a complex phenomenon, and competence development requires a carefully selected and longitudinally arranged set of learning tasks (i.e. curriculum or curriculum map), to support learners’ achievement of intended educational outcomes as specified in the overarching (competency) framework.

  2. The notion that students learn what they think they will be tested on, i.e. “assessment drives learning”. This so-called backwash works positively when assessment tasks are embedded within and aligned to what and how students need to learn.

  3. The notion that programmatic assessment typically aims at maximizing use of assessment for learning -while at the same time ensuring robust decision making about learners’ progress. This implies not only providing learners and decision makers with feed-back about performance in the assessment task (“where am I”; “what is the student able to do”), it also implies that assessment generates meaningful information that will help learners improve and develop. Information should therefore include feed-up (“where do I need to go”, “what do I need to achieve”) and feed-forward (“how can I achieve intended outcomes”; “what needs to be my next step”). Effective use of assessment feedback for learning then calls for a curriculum that provides students with opportunities to demonstrate growth, in longitudinal learning trajectories and through assessment that is maximally embedded in and connected to actual learning tasks - to ensure all assessment activities reinforce desirable learning.

In summary, successful design and implementation of ‘fit-for-purpose’ programmatic assessment, requires:

  • clearly stated learning goals, educational outcomes or ILOs,

  • a curriculum that is ‘fit-for-purpose’, i.e. learning tasks carefully designed to effectively and efficiently support learners’ achievement of ILOs,

  • a constructively aligned assessment programme that is mapped to the curriculum and intended learning outcomes.



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