Validity in work-based assessment: expanding our horizons

Marjan Govaerts*, Cees P. M. van der Vleuten

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


ContextAlthough work-based assessments (WBA) may come closest to assessing habitual performance, their use for summative purposes is not undisputed. Most criticism of WBA stems from approaches to validity consistent with the quantitative psychometric framework. However, there is increasing research evidence that indicates that the assumptions underlying the predictive, deterministic framework of psychometrics may no longer hold. In this discussion paper we argue that meaningfulness and appropriateness of current validity evidence can be called into question and that we need alternative strategies to assessment and validity inquiry that build on current theories of learning and performance in complex and dynamic workplace settings. MethodsDrawing from research in various professional fields we outline key issues within the mechanisms of learning, competence and performance in the context of complex social environments and illustrate their relevance to WBA. In reviewing recent socio-cultural learning theory and research on performance and performance interpretations in work settings, we demonstrate that learning, competence (as inferred from performance) as well as performance interpretations are to be seen as inherently contextualised, and can only be under-stood in situ'. Assessment in the context of work settings may, therefore, be more usefully viewed as a socially situated interpretive act. DiscussionWe propose constructivist-interpretivist approaches towards WBA in order to capture and understand contextualised learning and performance in work settings. Theoretical assumptions underlying interpretivist assessment approaches call for a validity theory that provides the theoretical framework and conceptual tools to guide the validation process in the qualitative assessment inquiry. Basic principles of rigour specific to qualitative research have been established, and they can and should be used to determine validity in interpretivist assessment approaches. If used properly, these strategies generate trustworthy evidence that is needed to develop the validity argument in WBA, allowing for in-depth and meaningful information about professional competence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1164-1174
JournalMedical Education
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


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