UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Validation of educational assessments: a primer for simulation and beyond Cook, David A; Hatala, Rose


Background: Simulation plays a vital role in health professions assessment. This review provides a primer on assessment validation for educators and education researchers. We focus on simulation-based assessment of health professionals, but the principles apply broadly to other assessment approaches and topics. Key principles: Validation refers to the process of collecting validity evidence to evaluate the appropriateness of the interpretations, uses, and decisions based on assessment results. Contemporary frameworks view validity as a hypothesis, and validity evidence is collected to support or refute the validity hypothesis (i.e., that the proposed interpretations and decisions are defensible). In validation, the educator or researcher defines the proposed interpretations and decisions, identifies and prioritizes the most questionable assumptions in making these interpretations and decisions (the “interpretation-use argument”), empirically tests those assumptions using existing or newly-collected evidence, and then summarizes the evidence as a coherent “validity argument.” A framework proposed by Messick identifies potential evidence sources: content, response process, internal structure, relationships with other variables, and consequences. Another framework proposed by Kane identifies key inferences in generating useful interpretations: scoring, generalization, extrapolation, and implications/decision. We propose an eight-step approach to validation that applies to either framework: Define the construct and proposed interpretation, make explicit the intended decision(s), define the interpretation-use argument and prioritize needed validity evidence, identify candidate instruments and/or create/adapt a new instrument, appraise existing evidence and collect new evidence as needed, keep track of practical issues, formulate the validity argument, and make a judgment: does the evidence support the intended use? Conclusions: Rigorous validation first prioritizes and then empirically evaluates key assumptions in the interpretation and use of assessment scores. Validation science would be improved by more explicit articulation and prioritization of the interpretation-use argument, greater use of formal validation frameworks, and more evidence informing the consequences and implications of assessment.

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