As valid as it can be? : The assessment of prior learning in higher education

Sammanfattning: Assessment of prior learning (APL) represents the task to identify and acknowledge an individual’s knowledge and skills regardless of how it has been obtained. In higher education this type of assessment is primarily used for the purpose of awarding access, credits or advanced standing. Because of the impact the results from APL have on the future working career for individuals claiming APL, it is of great importance that these result of APL is valid. The question of interest in this thesis is to what extent APL in higher education is a valid assessment. The thesis is written in the field of educational measurement and comprises four papers and an extensive introduction with summaries of the papers. The most recent views of validity theory were used as the general theoretical framework in all papers, and all papers are concerned with APL in higher education. Study I reviews the research area of APL in higher education from a validity perspective. The general conclusion from the review is that the majority of the studies conducted in this area primarily provide theoretical rationales and theories for a variety of APL practices, and that there is a need for empirically based studies examining and evaluating validity of APL. Studies II, III and IV are empirical studies based on, and exemplified with, an APL scheme related to higher education in Sweden. Study II examines validity issues identified from claimants (individuals or students claiming APL) view of APL. The claimants’ experiences from the specific APL scheme were examined using a questionnaire developed for that purpose. Conclusions drawn from the results are that possible threats to validity may exist in the administration of APL procedures, as well as in consequences of APL. Study III focuses on validity of admission decisions based on APL. The study examines decisions made by different higher education institutions for approximately 600 individuals applying for higher education based on their prior learning. The results show that the existing practice of APL needs improvements in order to obtain validity and trustworthiness in the decisions made in relation to APL. Finally, Study IV focuses on reliability in APL related to higher education. The study provides data of inter- and intra-rater reliability among judges in the specific APL scheme. The results show a lack of especially inter-rater reliability, and a conclusion is that reliability in this type of assessment should be further investigated. The general conclusion from this thesis is that there is a need to take validity issues in APL seriously, and that APL in higher education may not be as valid as it could be.