Nursing Council New Zealand (NCNZ) nursing competencies were incorporated into the science modules of the Bachelor of Nursing curriculum in 2009. The teaching staff endeavoured to ensure that the competencies were met through the alignment of pedagogy, curriculum and assessment. A competence approach calls into question some aspects of the validity of previous traditional methods of assessment, which provide evidence of knowledge and skills, but do not embrace the wider dimensions of competence (Mclellan, 2007; Stewart, Fester, Dannenfeldt, Stewart, & McHaffie, 2010).
The paper presents the research findings from the evaluation of a new assessment tool (science practical test), specifically focussing on the tool’s usefulness in assessing all aspects of competence, rather than only knowledge and skills. The tool was evaluated in terms of its construct and consequential validity through a variety of data collection methods. Construct validity was measured in three ways, using a matrix to map the tool against dimensions of competence, comparing it with a previous traditional form of assessment, and analysing student results from selected questions. Data for consequential validity were collected by questionnaire and focus group interview to gauge the consequences of assessment on desired learning (Boud, 2007).
Initial analysis of the student results clearly showed the extent to which students were able to make links between science learning and nursing practice. However, the wider dimensions of students’ developing science-informed competence were not demonstrated clearly. The values component of science-informed competence was demonstrated through further examination of students’ responses. Questionnaire and focus group interview findings both confirmed that students understood the intent of the assessment tool. Students recognised the assessment as providing them with feedback on their progress towards becoming registered nurses.
Although the challenges and tensions in assessing competence in nursing education remain, new understandings were gained about assessing science-informed competency in the first year of the Bachelor of Nursing.
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