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Assessing Learning Outcomes in Education of Professionals

Assessing Learning Outcomes in Education of Professionals

Education in the professions has distinctive characteristics that ensure each graduate is able to meet the particular requirements of a professional practice. National and/or state regulatory agencies and specialized accrediting bodies generally delineate particular areas of expertise and experiences that programs must include in training. This delineation can be quite extensive, detailing very specific concepts, maneuvers, and internship experiences. Specialized accrediting bodies correspondingly look closely at curriculum and at how programs assure their graduates are prepared for practice.

Given the detailed accountability, some professional programs organize an extensive set of learning outcomes, or competencies, by the sequence in which professionals engage their clients or, in other words, by the expertise required at a specific point in the encounter. This contrasts somewhat with an approach in other fields where a smaller set of learning outcomes represent how learners more generally integrate their knowledge, skills, abilities, and dispositions.

For many professions, regulatory agencies require that a graduate of a program also successfully pass licensure or certification tests before he/she is formally recognized as being qualified for practice. These tests are designed to comprehensively cover areas of expertise.  These high stakes tests are administered in secure settings by entities external to the university.

Professional programs monitor cohort-by-cohort passing rates on these external examinations, which provide evidence for the quality of student preparation for practice and benchmarks it against other programs. If subscale scores are provided by external examinations, faculty use these to identify particular areas on which to focus ongoing program improvement. These licensure and certification examinations, which are relatively distinctive to education in the professions, complement curriculum-embedded assessment.