What is the purpose of assessment and how does the SPEF-R© measure up?

Assessment practice has undergone change in the last decade. It has evolved from mainly measuring what has been learnt to include an emphasis on learning and teaching processes. For this reason the SPEF-R© has been built around the importance of providing constructive and instructive feedback.

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Ideally assessment can serve three inter-related purposes. It can be used

  • to improve learning - referred to as formative assessment.
  • for credentialing or accreditation - referred to as summative assessment, and
  • to improve teaching - through evaluation.

The SPEF-R© can contribute to all of these purposes, although different functions will be emphasised at different times of the practice placement.

Formative assessment

The SPEF-R© provides formative assessment in that it is intended for use throughout the placement and encourages written feedback and discussion aimed at helping the student work towards the intended learning objectives.

Ideally the feedback you provide will give your student a clear idea of 'where to from here', for the remainder of the practice placement as well as providing a focus for possible learning goals in subsequent practice placements. See Module Two for further information about providing feedback.

Summative assessment

The SPEF-R© also provides summative assessment in that it forms the basis of grade allocation. The validity and reliability of the ratings you allocate will be enhanced if you have the full rating scale in view each time you complete the evaluation form. See Module Three for further information about correct use of the rating scale.


The SPEF-R© is evaluative in that it encourages practice educators to seek ongoing feedback from students.

The SPEF-R© package contains The Student Review of Professional Practice Placement-Revised Edition which is a useful launching pad for discussion about how your student's learning needs can best be met in your workplace, and how you may provide the most meaningful and relevant learning experiences for future students.

I have heard the SPEF-R© follows a criterion referenced approach to assessment. What does that mean?

In the past assessment was commonly norm-referenced. A student's learning was evaluated through comparisons with the learning of other students. You may remember the "bell curve"- your grade depended on its rank amongst other people's scores, not on how much you actually knew. If your cohort of students did well, your mark might be comparatively lower despite how well you addressed the topic.

In contrast, criterion referenced assessment involves measuring a student's learning by comparing it to predetermined criteria (the qualities to be assessed) and standards (indicators of achievement in relation to the criteria).

Criterion-referenced assessment (CRA) has now become a preferred alternative to norm referenced assessment in many universities because of its capacity to provide a fair reward for learning regardless of comparisons with the learning of other students. For example, criterion-referenced assessment is a policy at the University of Queensland (see HUPP 3.30.1 Assessment Policy and Practices) and may well also be at the university with which you are affiliated.

The SPEF-R© embraces a criterion referenced approach to evaluation of student practice. The intended learning outcomes (learning objectives) and component evaluation criteria (items) are explicit and core competencies (core items) have been identified. The items, particularly the core items, are considered foundational to the practice of occupational therapy, and are grounded on the Australian Competency Standards for Entry-Level Occupational Therapists (OT Australia, 1994).

The 5 point rating scale makes explicit the standards or levels of performance. Expanded explanations of each standard of performance are provided to assist with a clear understanding of the 'meaning' of each rating descriptor.

Brown, S., & Knight, P. (1994). Assessing Learners in Higher Education. London: Kogan Page.