CBTE: A Philosophy, Not a Model, Part 7

November 19, 2018

As we continue our discussion of competency-based theological education (CBTE), we are going to dive a little deeper into the concept of assessment.  A couple of weeks ago we looked at how CBTE requires the power of assessment, traditionally held by faculty, to be woven throughout those walking alongside the student.  Not only does CBTE challenge the traditional power dynamics of assessment, it also invites us to think differently about the nature of assessment and the role that relationships play in the process.

Often, assessment within education is very task specific and analytical.  That is to say that our systems of assessment require all students to complete the same “key assignments” so that those assignments can be evaluated.  The data from those evaluations is then collated to tell us how well the school is achieving its stated program goals.  When the nature of assessment is task specific and analytical, the educational journey is forced to follow a certain pathway.  In addition, the pathway or the steps along the way carry more weight than the outcomes themselves.  In both instances, students, learning, and discipleship suffer.

If the goal of CBTE is to help students walk through a journey of discipleship that ends with the completion of holistic outcomes, then the nature of assessment must reinforce that goal rather than push against it.  The result is that assessment must become general and holistic.

General and holistic assessment allows mentor teams to assess student learning at the outcome level, rather than the assignment level.  That is to say that this approach to assessment invites the team to consider the whole of the student’s work, to develop unique assignments that can be used to demonstrate proficiency of an outcome, and to conduct assessment and evaluation over a long period of time (rather than being relegated to a single point in time).

Obviously, there are several questions one could ask regarding how this gets lived out. Rather than answer all of those questions, let me highlight the one thing that must be true in order for this type of assessment to work – relational authority.

Task specific and analytical assessment can be done “from a distance” in that the assessor does not need to have any relationship with the student.  In fact, one could argue that it works better when there isn’t a relationship.  It is a system that can be mechanized, optimized, and structured around work flows and clear definitions of authority.  While all of these things sound good, they are also reasons for why this approach to assessment often allows students to graduate without integrating knowledge, character, and ability.

Holistic and general assessment, on the other hand, requires relationships to be at the center of the evaluation process.  To assess students through this approach, faculty and mentors must spend time with students, know the students from multiple angles, and be in ongoing dialogue about a student’s development.  Without these relationships, holistic assessment is not possible.  However, with these relationships, holistic assessment is not only possible, it is powerful.

It is powerful and transformational because the mentor team doing the assessment can speak hard truth and provide wonderful encouragement to students from a place of relational authority rather than role authority.  That is to say that students will hear the critique and encouragement from someone they know and trust rather than from someone who simply has a position of authority.

As we step back and think about all that has been said so far about CBTE, I hope you can begin to see how each of these points are mutually reinforcing.  Distributing power, thinking differently about the role of faculty, approaching assessment through holistic means, and thinking about education as an organic journey of discipleship come together through the power of relationships.  It is a relational paradigm for theological education.  Each of these must be aligned if CBTE is to be successful.

Speaking of alignment, join us next week as we think about the operational impact of alignment.

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