Programmatic Assessment for Improved Graduate Work-readiness: Testing ‘for’, not just ‘of’ learning

James Thompson, Don Houston

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Education programs commonly adhere to an academic tradition of ‘teach, then test’. Summative testing samples student knowledge and skills at the end of each subject and is used to evidence that mandated learning has been achieved. The aggregate of separate satisfactory subject results is interpreted as evidence of a competent and capable graduate. However, concerns regarding the validity and reliability of such assessment practices which fail to reflect the holistic, integrated, or authentic features of a discipline or which incentivises students to prioritise test results are now reported extensively in education literature. The relationship of these practices with deeper and sustainable student learning have also been questioned.
Programmatic assessment for learning (PAL) reflects an alternative system of learning where student understanding and abilities are calibrated against the broad expectations and standards of the discipline regardless of their current stage of study. Testing begins at the start and occurs continuously throughout the study program. As progress tests consider the full breadth of program curriculum rather than each isolated subject area, it is difficult for students to cram before tests. They must instead refocus their preparation on a deeper understanding of concepts. The more frequent assessment also generates much greater volumes of feedback to students and assessors. Multiple data points tracking the detail and trends of student development replace credentialing measures at the end of learning.
Concerns around the work-readiness of graduate paramedics have been the focus of an action research study featuring multiple iterative cycles of learning innovations and evaluation spanning more than a decade. As well as local improvement in student learning, new theory regarding paramedic learning and assessment design has been generated, in addition to new definitions for understanding and interpreting work-readiness, how this is developed and how it should be determined. A major project within the program addressed the potential for implementing PAL as part of the reforming paramedic education.
Quantitative and qualitative findings from the evaluation following the development and trialing of PAL evidence changes to student attitudes and learning behaviour, improved sustainable knowledge and skills, and perceptions of improved work-readiness.
Conclusions: Work-readiness must reflect attained and maintained proficiency across all integrated domains of the discipline, evidenced on multiple events, and include examples of the student’s own judgement. Programmatic assessment for learning approaches contribute to more valid and reliable measures of a paramedic graduate’s capabilities and better support the development of the paramedic learner than traditional summative assessment of learning for credentialling.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages4
Publication statusPublished - 18 Apr 2021
EventCollege of Paramedics International Education Conference - Online , London, United Kingdom
Duration: 12 Apr 202118 Apr 2021


ConferenceCollege of Paramedics International Education Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
OtherThis conference was an opportunity to bring together paramedic educators from around the world to share knowledge, enhance learning and promote innovation.
The College of Paramedics, the Australasian College of Paramedicine and partners in Canada worked together to create this virtual, online conference. Each day had a specific, education-based theme and consisted of live online content supplemented by a range of pre-recorded supporting resources. The aim was offer an interactive and engaging forum for attendees to participate in.

Internet address


  • Programmatic Assessment
  • Graduate Work-readiness
  • Academic tradition
  • "teach, then test"
  • Summative testing
  • Programmatic assessment for learning (PAL)


Dive into the research topics of 'Programmatic Assessment for Improved Graduate Work-readiness: Testing ‘for’, not just ‘of’ learning'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this