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Assessment and Evaluation in Nursing Education: A Collection of Considerations to Foster Success

Updated: May 2, 2021

Assessment and evaluation has grown in use and importance in education, especially in nursing programs. The results of assessment and evaluation influence lives and can involve emotional responses. In nursing programs, these results can be the difference between graduating and entering the nursing profession or having to repeat a course, or worse yet, being dismissed from a program. Several professional organizations have set-forth guidelines for ethical testing and evaluation methods for faculty. For example, the National League for Nursing (NLN) Presidential Task Force on High-Stakes Testing developed the Fair Testing Guidelines for Nursing Education, which is based on their core values of caring, integrity, diversity, and excellence. These guidelines are widely accepted testing principles in nursing education. As evaluative measures must be integrated into education to support student learning and promote competency, the methods used for scoring performance must be clearly delineated and the students must be notified of the expectations and consequences as early as possible. If an evaluation is to yield a substantial result, several assessment and evaluative measures should be utilized in order to provide fair and consistent feedback.

A chief purpose of assessment is to discriminate between performances in order to identify significant differences regarding knowledge and skill. Bias can occur when variables outside of the direct educational experience and performance are factored into the assessment. Faculty must take great care in providing feedback that is without bias and without grade or test score inflation. Such inflation involves scoring students with grades that were not earned to boost graduate numbers or to preserve job security. This issue is especially noted within part-time clinical nursing faculty with little to no background in the educator role. Additionally, grading discrepancies between course theory and clinical experiences occur frequently. With such discrepancies, a student may receive high grades in the classroom setting, however, ultimately receive a failing grade in the clinical component of the course when the pass/fail grading system is used.

When delivering a course failure, it is wise to have a well-developed process in place for sharing this news with the student, while taking care to ensure that the message is effective, sensitive, and without potential intrusion such as physical touch, as some individuals may feel very uncomfortable and, perhaps, violated by this gesture. Educators could put themselves at risk for being accused of assault if they offer physical support, such as opting to place a hand on the student or offering a hug, even in a genuine effort to impart a sense of calm and understanding. The educator should seek to support healthy, helpful interactions that are mutually respectful and share the common goal of student success. Bringing options to the table, along with pathways to turn a situation around, promote positive learning outcomes and growth, which places the educator as a true partner in education, as it should be.

Students have the right to due process and the potential for legal involvement always exists. At times, students may seek to take legal action when they feel that they have been wronged. The student may look to sue their educator if they feel victim to bias or inflation in assessment of performance and skill, especially if they feel their peers received grades that were falsely inflated, while they received falsely deflated grades secondary to assessment bias. The student may also feel that since they regularly earn high grades in their theory application and classroom content testing, they have the knowledge and skill to pass clinical. Additionally, clinical evaluation showcasing poor performance may impact student self-esteem. In order to help keep students and faculty working together to achieve a supportive and successful educational experience, ethical practice must take place. Students must be given written explanation of their rights and what is expected of them, along with course requirements and program policies, in the beginning of the program and each course. Educators can remember that mutual goals are best met when communication is regular and ongoing, with time for reflection and inquiry. If it is noted that a student is struggling to make satisfactory progress, the student should receive notification of their academic deficiencies in meeting objectives and that failure may be on their horizon, but that hurdles to success present opportunities for improvement when recognized early. Faculty should retain assignments until the student has completed the program and offer genuine guidance throughout.

As nurse educators, we must remain mindful of the complexities of the student nurse experience and the potential for the development or worsening of anxieties and fears when the student is approaching the time of evaluation. While manageable feelings of anxiety regarding upcoming evaluations or tests are to be expected, and can even act as motivation to adequately prepare, students may become agitated or distraught during the time of the actual evaluation or when delivered unfavorable news. Remember, no two students are the same, so understanding how to best support each individual to succeed is key. Testing and evaluation are commonplace within nursing programs; therefore, learning to cope with these challenges is a necessary part of student development. In order to best prepare the student nurse for evaluation regarding clinical performance, the educator should provide clear explanation of clinical guidelines, expectations, and criteria for completion of the clinical rotation.

It is important for nurse educators to remember that when we move from clinical to educational realms, we are likely transitioning from expert clinicians to novice educators. Patricia Benner’s Model of Novice to Expert expresses that as nursing skills and knowledge build, the care delivered strengthens and the nurse makes their way to the expert stage. As nurse educators transition from clinicians, Benner’s model can be applied to aid in role development as framework to gauge progression from the novice educator into proficiency. As it is possible for a nurse to be a novice in one area and an expert in another, the specific practice must be assessed within it’s own limits. New faculty should be supported by existing faculty mentors in order to promote a successful transition, as the novice member may start out under prepared to teach and possibly have little to no formal education on the educator role. Faculty who are able to support student needs from an educational perspective, while fostering effective interpersonal relationships with students of diverse backgrounds, positively influence the development of expected outcomes. New faculty may have the nursing knowledge, but may benefit from gaining comprehension of the educator role, which is multifaceted.

Considering the high stakes surrounding assessment and evaluation, nursing faculty must be aware of the potential for students to attempt to take legal action, thus documentation on assessment and evaluative methods must be consistent and comprehensive, while conducted with application of evidence-based methods. As it is our responsibility as nurse educators to ensure that education is producing effective, competent nurses, we must be continuously aware of integrating proven methods of assessment and evaluation, while seeking assistance or collaboration from faculty peers in providing reliable and valid feedback.

Pause, Reflect, and Plan:

Have I encountered educators that may have benefitted from additional education or guidance in transitioning to their new roles? Do I require more guidance? Do I feel that I have a mentor to work with on engaging in effective student assessment and evaluation? Who can I practice establishing academic action plans with? Rehearse delivering academic deficiency notices with? Consider having mock conversations to be sure that your plans are sound and that your delivery is effective. Practice this discussion as the educator and as the student, taking note of your feelings and insights along the way. A mentor who has successful experience in these practices could support this engagement well.

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