You will need to formally complete the SPEF-R© for the first time at the halfway point of your student's practice placement

This formative evaluation process should:

  • Provide sufficient information to your student to enable him to enhance his practice prior to the final summative evaluation.
  • Help identify necessary additional experiences for the remainder of the placement.

This section of the module provides comprehensive information to help you achieve these outcomes.

Specifically it includes:

  • an overview of the rating scale
  • important considerations when applying the scale
  • recording halfway feedback and recommendations
  • determining a formative result of pass or fail for individual learning objectives and for the evaluation overall
  • providing summary feedback at halfway
  • what the student may contribute - self evaluation and student feedback
  • discussing the evaluation with your student
  • using the halfway evaluation to plan
  • what to do if concerns exist

Rating Student Performance

One of the key activities when completing the SPEF-R© is allocating a rating for each relevant item. The following sections will provide you with the necessary information to both understand and apply the rating scale.

The rating scale

For this section it will be important to be able to refer to the SPEF-R© User Manual. Please turn to page 9 of the User Manual.

What standards are used to rate student performance and what do the ratings mean?

At the halfway evaluation you need to provide a rating of your student's performance for each relevant item using the five point scale or use insufficient observation or not applicable (this last category will have been chosen when customising the items for your workplace).

As you will note, the rating scale fundamentally distinguishes between satisfactory and unsatisfactory performance.

A rating of 3 or above indicates that a satisfactory standard of performance has been demonstrated. Therefore, a 3 or above is considered a pass for the item.

Ratings of N/A and I/O are also counted as a pass for an item when determining an overall result for the learning objective.

For each standard of performance, the rating scale incorporates the following key concepts

  • the student's awareness of and adherence to behaviour that is safe and appropriate e.g. physical and psychological safety, cultural competence
  • the degree of assistance/prompting/ monitoring the student requires (as appropriate to the setting)
  • the student's level and application of knowledge and skills

Where can I go to read more about the different standards of the rating scale?

If you would like to read an example of what student performance could look like at different levels of the rating scale you can read Appendix B on pages 25-30 of the User Manual.

How do I indicate my rating decision?

To indicate your rating choice, simply tick the appropriate box from the halfway line of boxes as shown in the diagram.

What is the significance of core items?

Core items are considered essential components of occupational therapy practice and therefore the rating of these items has a significant bearing on the overall outcome. Students must pass each core item to pass the evaluation overall. In other words, if your student scores a 1 or a 2 on a core item she has failed the assessment overall. Core items are identified in every learning objective.

How are core items identified on the form?

Core items are easily identified on the form. Look for this symbol:  .

How were the core items selected?

Core items were identified following a review of the Australian Competency Standards for Entry-Level Occupational Therapists (OT Australia, 1994). In the development of the SPEF-R©, results of student performance were also taken into account, particularly deficiencies that commonly contributed to student failure.

Applying the Rating Scale

Can I use all levels of the rating scale?

You are able to use all levels of the rating scale or I/O or N/A.
Some practice educators feel uncomfortable giving a rating of 1 or 5. These ratings can and should be awarded when your student's performance corresponds to the rating descriptors of the scale.

It is particularly important that you indicate at halfway any issues you are concerned about, giving your student the information and time he may need to improve. Using the 'performs unacceptably' or 'performs marginally' category in these instances sends your student a strong message, reinforcing critical learning that must take place during the second half of the practice placement.

Please note: If students obtain a rating of 1 or 2 at halfway on a core item, their overall rating for that learning objective at halfway will read as "fail". You should not be reluctant to give ratings of 1 or 2 at halfway if the rating accurately reflects student performance. As the halfway evaluation aims to provide formative feedback, this result should not be interpreted by you or your student as indicating that the he will necessarily fail at final evaluation. However, it will provide your student with valuable feedback about the need to improve his performance on that item during the remainder of the placement.

If you are concerned that your student is at risk of failing overall, you will find more information later in this module in the section entitled If concerns exist.

It should be noted that a rating of 5 indicates accomplished performance at a student level and, while individual evaluations dominated by 5s would be uncommon, you are encouraged to use this standard when it accurately represents your student's performance on particular items.

How do I score an item if I haven't observed the behaviour enough? How many times is enough?

Listen to a practice educator respond to this question.


What other considerations should I keep in mind when making rating decisions at halfway?

Keeping the full rating scale in view is one key strategy to enhance the reliability and validity of your rating decisions. The following considerations are also crucial.

  • Substantiate your decisions regarding ratings and written feedback with concrete examples of what you have observed.
    Tip: have the notes you have made about your students performance in front of you together with the full rating scale when completing the evaluation. Continually check your notes against the rating descriptors.
  • Base halfway ratings on your student's overall performance for each item from the beginning of the practice placement until the halfway evaluation. It is important that where possible your comments/feedback refer to more than one example of your student's performance otherwise she may feel she is being evaluated on the basis of a single incident.
  • Avoid altering standards. The standards against which you rate the student performance at halfway and final evaluation should remain the same
  • Avoid marking conservatively at halfway to allow room for improvement. Give your student the rating that corresponds with her actual performance. Your assessment needs to provide an accurate message about performance. Students report becoming confused and frustrated when they sense or are told there is a disparity between feedback and the rating. While you might want to indicate to your student improvement over time, remember that increased standards on the rating scale is only one way to do this. The use of verbal and written feedback is a very effective way of indicating improvement.

View vignettes of differing levels of student performance.

The selected vignettes demonstrate students in two different clinical settings, performing at various levels. See how other educators we surveyed rated their skills and behaviours.......
They run approximately 12 minutes each.

Vignette 1 - Case conference in a mental health setting.

Vignette 2  - Home visit in a community setting.

View a vignette of practice educators utilising the rating scale.

The vignette demonstrates practice educators working through a rating dilemma. See what they consider…..
It runs approximately 3 minutes.

Use the activity sheet to help you get the most from the vignette

Previous Practice Placements

My student has completed other practice placements. Shouldn't I be able to expect more?

Even if your student has had previous placements, he will be encountering completely new experiences in the new context of your workplace.

He may be able to generalise some of the skills and behaviours developed on previous practice placements - particularly those described in domains 1-5. Students who come to you with previous placement experience may even show growth in these skills. However, even when students have established skills that they can draw upon, their knowledge of how to use them in the new context of your workplace, with its unique organisational culture, will need time to develop.

The ability to draw upon previous experience is much less likely for skills described in domains 6-8 where your student is likely to be encountering completely new skills in a new context.

Compare the following

  • Completing a standardised developmental assessment of a 2 year old girl with Down Syndrome in her own home.
  • Completing a preliminary interview with a middle aged man with schizophrenia in an acute mental health setting.

These are very different experiences and undertaking one may not necessarily help you be proficient at the other. Yet these are both information gathering processes that may be evaluated using Information Gathering (Direct Service Provision), Item 4.

Just because students have completed previous practice placements it does not mean they will necessarily be proficient with the specific behaviours and skills required in your workplace.

Should I have higher expectations of final year students?

Listen to a practice educator respond to this question.

Halfway Feedback and Recommendations

How should I record my feedback and recommendations?

No matter how much emphasis students tend to place on ratings, these are only half the story. Ratings must go hand in hand with feedback. It is usually the feedback that gives students the clearest idea of what is needed for continued improvement.

With this is mind, a primary emphasis of the SPEF-R© is to provide constructive and detailed feedback. Comments relating to each of the relevant learning objectives are recorded in the Feedback/Recommendations section, immediately following the corresponding item bank.

Your student is more likely to be able to modify her behaviour if your feedback is

  • specific
  • objective and
  • indicates clearly what behaviour change is necessary for improvement.

Keep handy the notes you have taken of your student's performance so that you can describe specific examples of what you mean. You may like to phrase your comments either as current behaviours or desired behaviours.

An example…

Instead of saying you felt your student "lacked confidence when speaking with co-workers" you may say that during staff meetings you observed that she

  • spoke quietly so that people had to lean forward to hear
  • tended to only look at her notes when speaking
  • usually only contributed to discussion when her opinion was specifically sought

Recommendations naturally flow from here, and you might encourage your student to come up with some suggestions.
In the previous example, your combined feedback might include comments such as
During staff meetings I/you need to

  • speak at a comfortable volume for my listeners
  • give my co-workers some sustained eye-contact
  • take the initiative to offer pertinent information at appropriate times

For more ideas about wording feedback you may like to revisit A Feedback Formula from Module Two.

Determining an Overall Result

Before you start this section make sure you have the SPEF-R© User Manual in front of you. You will need to refer to

  • the rating scale (page 9)
  • the minimum requirements for passing each learning objective (Table 1, page 15)

The minimum requirement for each learning objective is also indicated on the form below the associated item bank.

How do I work out if my student has passed or failed?

There are three steps involved in scoring the evaluation.

Work systematically through the following process to determine your student's overall result.

Step One

Rate each item from the relevant item bank in each domain. Refer to your notes about your student's performance and the full rating scale to help you allocate the most appropriate rating for each item.

This is probably the best time to also record your feedback and recommendations. In fact, writing down your feedback can help you to determine your rating for an item. Remember to aim to be objective, specific and constructive.

Step Two

Determine if your student has passed or failed the relevant learning objective for each domain.

To pass a learning objective your student must achieve both of the following.

  • Pass all core items within the relevant item bank i.e. achieve at least a rating of 3 on all core items. If your student fails a core item, he consequently fails to meet the learning objective.
    Remember that ratings of N/A and I/O are to be counted as a pass for that item and are considered equivalent to a rating of 3.
  • Also pass at least the minimum number of any additional items indicated in Table 1. Remember the minimum requirement for the learning objective is also indicated on the evaluation form.

Once you have determined the result for the learning objective, tick either the halfway passed or failed box on the form.

Step Three

Determine if your student has passed all relevant learning objectives.

At halfway, students receive an indication of their progress towards an overall pass for the placement. To achieve an overall pass your student must pass the relevant learning objective for all domains i.e. if your student fails a learning objective within a domain he has failed overall.

Remember, as the halfway evaluation is only formative, the result provides an indication to the student of his progress at this stage towards meeting the learning objectives. A fail at halfway does not necessarily indicate that you expect the student to fail at the end of the placement. But it will alert him to the need for improvement in particular areas.

Where can I go to see some scoring examples?

Appendix A in your User Manual, pages 21-24.

Completing Summary Feedback

What do I need to include in my summary feedback?

Once you have worked through the scoring process and know your student's progress towards an overall pass, you can complete the Summary feedback at halfway.

You will need to

  • tick the passed or failed box to indicate the overall result for the placement so far
  • provide general feedback

There is no need to repeat specific feedback you have already covered. Instead you may comment about your student's overall strengths, outline required and/or desired outcomes for the remainder of the practice placement and perhaps detail further learning experiences you would like to see included. It can be really helpful to look back on the form and see which items have been scored insufficient observation. Decide what you can do to provide your student with the opportunity to develop and demonstrate these skills.

What the Student Can Bring

How can I include my student in the process

Module two has reinforced the importance of actively engaging your student in evaluation processes so she is more likely to learn from and act upon your feedback.

At halfway this can be done in a number of ways.

  • Self evaluation. Consider asking your student to self evaluate using the SPEF-R©. It may be useful to let her know that you understand that this can be an uncomfortable experience. Reinforce that you are interested in seeing if you both identify similar general strengths and emerging skills, and that the focus is not on 'matching' specific ratings item for item. You may also like to highlight why self evaluation is a valuable learning process, not only as a student but also later as an occupational therapist.

Should I ask the student to self evaluate using the SPEF-R©?

Listen to a student respond to this question

Halfway evaluation is a great time to get feedback from your student. Find out what you can do to help him make the most of the remaining time. You could seek feedback about workload, clarity of expectations, level of independence, your availability etc. Consider using the SPEF-R© Student Review of Professional Practice Placement. Seeking evaluative feedback is sometimes referred to as 'closing the feedback loop' and may help your student feel listened to and understood. She may subsequently be more willing to take on board your feedback.

How do I use the Student Review of Placement?

Listen to a practice educator respond to this question.

Communicating Feedback at Halfway

How much time do I need?

It will be important to set aside sufficient time to discuss the evaluation fully with your student. Many practice educators report that at least an hour is required.

How do I communicate my halfway evaluation feedback effectively?

There is no one 'correct' way to talk through the evaluation. The following suggestions may be helpful as you decide upon your own approach.

  • Ask your student to record reflections of her own performance, perhaps completing the SPEF-R©. Discuss the similarities and disparities with your evaluation during your conversation. 
  • Consider giving your student a copy of the evaluation feedback some time prior to your discussion. She will have time to process the information before you meet, perhaps leading to a more productive conversation.
  • If your student hasn't seen the evaluation prior to your discussion, start by giving a brief overall summary, letting her know if she is passing or failing. She might then be able to concentrate on the specific feedback you have for her.
  • Give your student the opportunity to comment on her overall response to your evaluation. If she is finding this difficult, you could ask if it is what she was expecting or reflect on any cues you are noting e.g. you seem relieved/disappointed … 
  • Work systematically through the evaluation. For each domain begin by referring to the learning objective, and relate your discussion back to that objective. Before moving on to the next domain you may like to summarise where you think your student is at in terms of meeting the objective, and brainstorm plans of "where to from here".
  • Ensure there is a close relationship between your verbal and written feedback e.g. in an attempt to be positive it is easy to say something is great or that your student has done a fantastic job. Students can then become confused or disappointed if the corresponding rating is a 3 (or even a 4).Choose your words very carefully!
  • Have your notes of the student's performance handy. Some students may want more information about why you have chosen a particular rating. Try to remain calm and objective as you substantiate your decision, relating examples of what you have observed. Plan to have some examples of what else you would be looking for in order to award a higher rating in case this comes up.

Both sign and date the document at the end of the discussion. Make sure your student has her own copy to keep and refer to.

View a practice educator substantiating rating decisions.

This vignette is a snapshot of a discussion where the student is clearly disappointed with his ratings. See how a mismatch between verbal and written feedback can become an issue, the type of information the Practice Educator provides to substantiate her decisions and how she responds when called upon to suggest what more the student could do to achieve a higher rating.
It runs approximately 4 minutes.

Use the activity sheet to help you get the most from the vignette

Using the Halfway Evaluation to Plan

By the end of your halfway evaluation discussion it is important that your student has a clear understanding of what he can do to further improve. Consider, "Where to from here?" at several points in your conversation. The following ideas may be helpful:

  • Refer back to the associated learning objective for each domain. Summarise where you think your student is at.
  • Brainstorm specific ideas/actions/learning opportunities that might address any concerns you have identified or may further enhance emerging skills. Pay particular attention to any items you have rated as I/O. 
  • Note any actions you need to follow through on. Suggest that your student records ideas and actions he will need to follow up.
  • Recap and emphasise key points you have covered using the summary feedback section. 
  • Encourage your student to develop a plan for the remainder of the practice placement. Some learning goals may even extend beyond this period. You both should be clear about any actions you have agreed to undertake.

View a vignette of a practice educator using the halfway evaluation to plan.

Notice how both the student and practice educator come away with a clear sense of 'where to from here?'.
It runs approximately 3 minutes.

Use the activity sheet to help you get the most from the vignette

If Concerns Exist

What should I do if I think my student is at risk of failing the placement overall?

This can be a stressful situation for both you and your student. The most important step is to alert university staff as soon as possible. There is no need to wait until the halfway evaluation if concerns are evident earlier.

Your university may have a specific process they would like you to follow. This may include completing the Concerns Exist form (found immediately after Summary feedback at final evaluation in the SPEF-R©). The form asks you to detail your specific concerns, and any strategies you may have already put into place. It also clarifies the type of support you are seeking.

Remember, the earlier you contact your university, the more time your student has to obtain support and to address the concerns you have identified. You will also benefit from support offered early, before things seem to be at crisis point.

What do I do if I think my student may fail?

Listen to a practice educator respond to this question.

Other Frequently Asked Questions

The following Frequently Asked Questions can also be helpful to you

What do I do if a student performs very differently in group versus individual contexts?

Listen to a practice educator respond to this question.

Teamwork is a big part of our work group. How can I make sure this is reflected in the evaluation?

Listen to a practice educator respond to this question.

Can I ask other co-workers about my student's performance?​

Listen to a practice educator respond to this question.

We have more than one practice educator contributing to the evaluation. Do we do anything differently?​

Listen to a practice educator respond to this question.