Standards Setting and Framework Development

Unit standards: A tool for quality assurance
By Hilda Bertin
Principal Standards Setting Officer
A unit standard is a registered statement of a discreet area of competence and desired education and training outcomes and its associated assessment or performance criteria. It is accompanied by administrative and other information such as standard and level number, number of credits, field and subfield, issue and review date.
A unit standard specifies the outcome to be achieved by a learner:
  • the title is the main outcome
  • the elements describe the more detailed outcomes that learners' knowledge and skills are assessed against.
Everything else in a unit standard including the performance criteria are intended to assist the assessor in making a quality judgement about whether a person has achieved the outcome to the required standard. 
In addition to that of providing clear expectations for learner performance, the unit standard shows the close alignment between the stated curriculum, the taught curriculum and what is being assessed.
The standards-based learning does not limit the types of summative and formative assessment tasks that teachers can design. Different forms of assessment such as quizzes, written tests, performances, projects, structured observations, and oral examinations can be valid and reliable assessment strategies.
Quality assurance includes two principles: "fitness for purpose" (the product should be suitable for the intended purpose); and "right first time" (mistakes should be eliminated). Unit standards must reflect the current performance requirements if learner skills and abilities are to be accepted by employers within the sector and other education and training providers. The development of unit standards with input from the industry and relevant stakeholders for different qualifications will ensure these principles are kept right from the beginning of the development to the final implementation and assessment. The unit standards then become the tool to ensure that the programme is of quality in terms of fitness and currency. 
The key 'ingredients' in a unit standard are the elements and related performance criteria which after successful completion will allow the learner to perform a specific activity or task in an occupation. The advantage to the assessor is that it provides focus by tying each assessment task to one or more of the performance criteria. When it comes to summative assessment, it is important that all assessment tasks are linked to one or more performance criterion. 
Unit Standards ensure better accountability – holding teachers and schools responsible for what goes on in the classrooms. The practice of aligning learning to standards also helps ensure that a higher level of learning is attained, guides teachers in the process of assessment and helps keep them on track.

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