The TDA newsletter published on the 11th of April 2022 resurrected an old idea about ‘assessing in a holistic manner’. This got me thinking.
In the Australian VET system:
- What is holistic assessment?
- What is non-holistic assessment?
- Is holistic assessment different to competency-based assessment?
- If holistic assessment is a different type of assessment method, how is it different?
In this article, I will primarily focus on the performance of work tasks. I do believe that a person must have knowledge and skills to perform a work task. And I understand the importance of a person having an appropriate depth and breath of knowledge relevant to a specific work task. But the performance of work tasks is the prime purpose of vocational education and training.
Fifteen to twenty years ago, VET practitioners talked about holistic assessment. It was an alluring concept but vague. It also led to RTOs arguing with auditors that they didn’t need to gather evidence of a person’s knowledge because assessment was holistic. The logic was, if a person could perform the work task, then this must imply they have the required knowledge.
An assessment judgement may be flawed when using ‘implied assessment methods’ compared with using ‘explicit assessment methods’. Another way of saying this is, making an assessment judgement ‘with evidence’ is better than making an assessment judgement ‘without evidence’. A foundation of the Australia’s VET system is the premise that assessment is evidence-based.
Ten years ago, when the Standards for Training Packages 2012 were implemented, it became crystal clear that Knowledge Evidence meant that the evidence of knowledge must be gathered. This may not have stopped the disagreement with auditors, and some RTOs continued to ignore this requirement.
The quality of assessment has been an issue for decades.
What is holistic assessment?
It is difficult to find a definition of ‘holistic assessment’ in the context of the Australian VET system. A good place to start a search for a definition is NCVER (however some of their definitions are out-of-date).
NCVER’s Glossary of VET doesn’t have a definition of the term ‘holistic assessment’. However, it does define ‘integrated assessment’. 
Integrated assessment (as defined by NCVER)
An approach to assessment that covers multiple elements and/or units of competency. The integrated approach attempts to combine knowledge, understanding, problem solving, technical skills, attitudes and ethics into an assessment task to reduce the time spent on testing and make assessment more ‘authentic’.
This definition is about assessment needing to cover multiple elements or units of competency. It states the benefit of integrated assessment as reducing the time spent on being assessed. Also it says that integrated assessment should make assessment more ‘authentic’. It is a shame that the word, ‘authentic’, has been used because in this context it has a different meaning to ‘authentic’ that is used as one of the four principles of assessment specified by the Standards for RTOs 2015. This may cause some confusion.
The myskills.gov.au website is maintained by the Australian Government’s Department with the responsibility for VET. One of the fact sheets it has published is about ‘Assessment’. And in this fact sheet, it defines ‘integrated assessment’ and links this term to ‘holistic assessment’.
Definition by the Australian Government’s Department
Under the heading, ‘Integrated (holistic) assessment’: 
Individual competencies are rarely performed in isolation in the workplace. Typical job roles involve a number of related tasks, and evidence gathering should reflect this. Integrated assessment is the simultaneous assessment of two or more related units of competency, and it is an efficient and authentic evidence gathering process, because it more closely reflects the real nature of work.
Under the heading, ‘What is integrated assessment?’: 
Integrated assessment is the simultaneous assessment of two or more related units of competency, and it is an efficient and authentic evidence gathering process, because it more closely reflects the real nature of work. This is also known as holistic assessment.
These definitions tell me that ‘holistic assessment’ is the same as ‘integrated assessment’. If you are wanting to explore this topic further, I have previously published information about ‘integrated assessment‘.
Can an RTO conduct ‘holistic’ assessment?
Getting back to the original TDA newsletter that sparked this article. The following is a quote from this TDA newsletter:
“Once a student is studying a Diploma or an Advanced Diploma, they should be able to be assessed in a holistic manner.”
An RTO can already assess in a ‘holistic’ or ‘integrated’ manner. And actually, RTOs are encouraged to do so. I think raising the need for ‘holistic assessment’ has nothing to do with assessment methods.
Training Packages and ‘holistic’ assessment
It could be about Training Packages. But Training Packages do not determine if an assessment approach is ‘integrated’ or ‘holistic’. This is a decision made by the RTO. The RTO is required to develop a training and assessment strategy, and this determines if units of competency will be assessed on an ‘integrated’ or ‘holistic’ manner.
I think VET leaders shouldn’t blame Training Packages for everything that is wrong with the Australian VET system. We seem to be constantly changing the design and contents of Training Packages. And these changes don’t seem to improve the quality of VET outcomes. People are still complaining about quality.
It is the RTOs that can make their assessment practices more integrated, more holistic, and more closely aligned with the real nature of work. VET leaders, in particular those that lead or manage RTOs, are the people who could make a significant improvement on how training and assessment services are delivered, and the quality of VET outcomes.
I think we should stopping blaming Training Packages for quality issues. And I think we shouldn’t blame trainers and assessors for quality issues. And Industry Clusters are not going to improve the quality of VET. For me, it is the leaders and managers of RTOs that can have the greatest impact on improving VET quality in Australia.
What do you think?
Funding for training that is not competency-based
But I suspect a call for ‘holistic assessment’ is actually a call for an alternative to ‘competency-based assessment’. There is nothing stopping an RTO from delivering training that is outside of the current competency-based VET system. However, this training would not be funded by the government. Microcredentials are likely to disrupt the current approach to government funding. We may end up establishing at least two training systems being funded by government:
- Competency-based training and assessment system
- Training and assessment system that is not competency-based
Delivering training that is outside of the current competency-based VET system would avoid the need for the RTO to be compliant with the Standards for RTOs 2015. I am unsure if the delivery of unregulated training will improve quality.
Do you think this will improve quality?
Do you need help implementing integrated (holistic) assessment?
Please ring Alan Maguire on 0493 065 396 if you are an RTO manager, and if you would like to organise some professional development (PD) for your management team, or trainers and assessors. Some PD topics include:
- How to improve assessment quality
- How to implement integrated assessment
- How to develop resources for integrated assessment.
 https://www.voced.edu.au/vet-knowledge-bank-glossary-vet accessed 11 April 2022
 https://www.myskills.gov.au/media/1781/back-to-basics-vet-assessment.pdf accessed 11 April 2022
Training trainers since 1986