Speaking of Education

The 2003 Education Leadership Conference (ELC) provided an unequalled opportunity for leaders in education from 27 independent psychology organizations, 28 APA divisions and 13 APA governance groups to address issues of accountability and assessment facing education.

Participants examined our role in improving education and as "stewards" or "custodians" of the discipline itself. The latter is a significant responsibility of educators in all disciplines, and one for which we are rightly held accountable. Integrally related to accountability is the need for assessment, out of which emerge issues for advocacy--advocacy within our discipline, in relationship to other disciplines or institutions, and in public policy. Clearly, we must deal with each if we are to maximize psychology's contribution to health, education and human welfare.

One group of participants focused on psychology's role in the preparation of K-12 teachers and the assessment of teacher quality; another group focused on the preparation of graduate students as future stewards of psychology as a discipline. A third group reviewed principles for assessment of professional competencies developed at the 2002 Competencies Conference. They also examined how standardized patients are used in medical education, and a variety of other methods with respect to their utility for formative and summative assessment in professional psychology. Participants also shared promising practices, noting ethical issues (e.g., dual roles of faculty in formative versus summative assessment) in the process.

Participants interested in undergraduate education examined alternative models of assessment and developed plans specific to their home institutions based on resources developed by a Board of Educational Affairs task torce chaired by Jane Halonen, PhD, namely the report on "Undergraduate Psychology Major Learning Goals" and the "Assessment Cyberguide." Already well-received in psychology, these resources have been used as models in other disciplines as well, given the widespread press for assessment throughout the higher education community.

At this time, it seems that the scholarship of teaching and learning is better established at the undergraduate level than in graduate education where our future psychologists are trained. This is an especially interesting paradox for psychology as a discipline, given its roots as a science of learning and its focus on the measurement of behavior. A second paradox is that many psychologists who are active in the scholarship of teaching and learning in professional education have focused on other professions, especially medicine, nursing, teaching and dentistry. This is most positive in that it underscores psychology's application to education in our society, but I advocate here for our increased focus on education and training in psychology itself.

Within professional psychology, there is general agreement on broad areas of competence as articulated in the current APA accreditation guidelines, the 2002 Competencies Conference, previous national training conferences and groups such as the Joint Council on Professional Education in Psychology. I should also note that psychology's accreditation system has been one of the earliest among the health-care professions to adopt an outcome-based model in which programs specify the competencies their graduates are to achieve and how they will be assessed. Yet many ELC participants agreed that we are more confident of our ability to assess knowledge than to assess competence in practice.

Concerns about accountability and competence in our work force raised by national reports on problems of safety and quality in our health-care system are not likely to subside. Thus, the assessment of professional competencies needs increased attention and is as important to practitioners as to education and training programs. It is also an area requiring psychological science in order to serve the public interest.

What is the evidence of competence? What are the evidence-based methods of assessing competence? How do we assess continuing competence? These are questions that every health profession is addressing with respect to its education and training programs and its practitioners in the field. Answers that will not suffice include measurements of knowledge, completion of program requirements and completion of continuing-education courses without some performance-based or authentic assessment.

To promote an integrated approach to the assurance of competency, the Institute of Medicine Health Professions Education Summit recommended formal oversight groups for the health professions, since education and training programs, accreditation, licensure and certification systems often work independently and sometimes at odds. I have been wondering whether it is timely for psychology to re-examine the call made over a decade ago for a national commission on education, training and credentialing in professional psychology.

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