Assessment in the Foundations Curriculum

Mar 23, 2016
Students taking a test

The new Foundations Curriculum offers an integrated approach to student learning. We have been working to design a new comprehensive assessment system to ensure we are assessing students in a way that aligns with this approach, and with the best evidence.

To help us understand what this model is all about, we asked MD Program Director of Evaluations Dr. Richard Pittini and Director of Foundations Student Assessment Dr. Glendon Tait a few questions.  

Can you describe this new approach to assessment?

Dr. Pittini: The new assessment model, called programmatic assessment, shifts the emphasis from assessment of learning to assessment for learning. It takes a holistic approach to assessment that focuses on identifying each student’s proficiency across diverse professional competencies and the identified learning outcomes throughout the Foundations Curriculum.

It provides us with a complete picture over time – not just a snap shot in time.

It will involve more frequent lower-stakes assessments, to ensure we are providing students with quality feedback to promote individualized student learning and to better identify and support students in difficulty.

The results of assessment activities will be aggregated into a learner chart that provides a comprehensive and holistic picture of learner progress. The learner chart will capture assessment data from all sources and will be the basis of student self-reflection on their own progress. These materials will be used to develop a personalized learning plan to ensure students are staying on track, and receiving help where it is needed. 

How do more frequent assessments benefit student learning?

Dr. Pittini: We are all familiar with the approach of cramming in as much studying as possible right before a big exam.  Not only is this stress-inducing, it fosters a binge and purge style that doesn’t promote long-term knowledge retention. 

Instead, having multiple, smaller assessment exercises encourages students to use these as learning opportunities where they are practicing acquiring new material, retaining it, and calling it up when needed. Because assessments will be mapped to objectives and competencies, students can use them to guide targeted areas for additional learning.

Our colleagues Dr. Marcus Law, Director, Preclerkship Renewal & Academic Innovation and Dr. Nicole Woods, Scientist at The Wilson Centre have prepared a video that discusses the theory and evidence behind this concept in greater detail. I encourage you to take a look. 

What will assessment look like for students?

Dr. Tait: Assessment tools, methods and processes are planned, arranged and coordinated deliberately throughout the entire Foundations Curriculum.  We’ll be using a few different types of assessments to gauge student progress, including, for example:

  • Weekly online feedback quizzes that students will complete at home each week. While low stakes, these will help students examine how well they have learned the week’s material.
  • Mastery exercises that will take place every one to three weeks, with flexibility in spacing depending on course structure. These exercises carry more weight in determining if student has been successful in a course. Questions examine how well concepts are integrated and applied. Some questions will be cumulative – asking students to apply concepts from various courses or contexts. These one-hour exercises are completed in class.
  • Quantitative and narrative evaluations throughout courses, including (but not limited to): bell ringer assignments, encounter cards, case reports, reflective writing, etc.
  • Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) scores that consist of multiple stations where each student is asked to perform a defined task such as taking a focused history or performing a focused clinical examination of a particular system. A standardized marking scheme specific for each case is used.

The aim of these diverse assessment tools is to determine whether the student has met the learning objectives and competencies in a way that promotes retention and application and prepares them for practice, not just to perform on the next exam.   

In terms of assessment, what would a typical week look like in the Foundations Curriculum?

Dr. Tait:  Here is a sample weekly timetable.   

Sample Assessment Schedule

What will this mean for teachers?

Dr. Tait: Teachers will still be asked to make individual judgements about a student, for example at an OSCE station or in a clinical encounter form. 

As part of our curriculum renewal, curriculum developers are aligning assessment activities with learning outcomes and activities. Many of our existing assessments will be used in the new curriculum, while others will be introduced over time to ensure alignment with our new approach.

We will be supporting our teachers in this shift of approach to ensure all assessments provide meaningful feedback and assessment information not only informs decision-making, but perhaps even more importantly, informs the ongoing learning and support of students.

One very important role in the new curriculum, and in this new assessment approach, is that of the Portfolio Academy Scholars.  Within the portfolio component, tutors guide students in learning about self-assessment and reflection and professional identify development. They will have an expanded role in acting as academic mentors or coaches – meeting with each student on two occasions during the academic year to review their learner chart and facilitate a reflection on their academic performance. 

This component will help inform students’ personalized learning plans that will allow them to achieve competence in the MD Program, while at the same time addressing their own unique career aspirations and learning needs. 

The Office of Faculty Development, in collaboration with the Office of Evaluation, will provide resources that faculty can consult and/or attend as they prepare for their new roles with respect to programmatic assessment.

Anyone interested in teaching in the Foundations Curriculum can visit the Foundations website to learn how to get involved


Back to Top