Implementation & Benefits of an Assessment Platform in Physician Assistant Education

April 20, 2015 Richard Murphy

Richard E. Murphy, PA-C, MBA is an ExamSoft client, and graciously agreed to share his experiences with implementing and using our testing and analytics platform with our blog audience.

Introduction to Physician Assistant Education

On-going student evaluation is essential in physician assistant (PA) education. Documentation of achievement of learning objectives, comprehensive assessments including complex diagrams and color images, and student ease of use and acceptance are key factors in the evaluation process for this student population. PA education averages 27 months in duration and is conducted at a master’s level in the United States. There are now 190 accredited PA programs in this country.

The PA Program at Tufts University School of Medicine commenced in January 2013. Part of the implementation of the program included the introduction of computer-based testing utilizing the ExamSoft™ system. All students were required to have portable laptop or tablet devices for use in class and at home. iPad use by students was introduced in the second year of operation. In the first two years of operation 231 computer-based examinations were given to the first two classes and a total of 5,073 questions were entered into the question bank. Less than 10 traditional “paper” examinations were given during this time period. Faculty were surveyed as to satisfaction with regards to ease of use, question entry, and results reporting. All principal and adjunct faculty were highly satisfied. Students were also polled as to their opinion of computer-based testing and over 95% responded “satisfied” or “highly satisfied”.

Implementation from Paper to Computer-Based Exams

Since this was a new educational program, there were no pre-existing computerized question banks. All questions were either imported from Microsoft WORD™ files or entered directly into the software program’s question portal. Direct entry permitted faculty to categorize each question as “Blueprint” items as designated by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). The categorization process permitted the linking of a question to specific learning objectives or NCCPA Blueprint items. Questions imported from WORD™ files could be categorized at a later time. Subsequently, students would be offered areas of deficiency on which to concentrate their studies after an assessment was conducted. Faculty could also note areas which required emphasis in subsequent classes.

Academic Advantages of Computer-Based Testing

At the completion of an assessment, the multiple choice, True/False, and Fill-in-the-blank question items would be scored instantly by the software. Simple statistical analyses are performed instantly by the software, providing the instructor with grade ranges and means as well as Point Bi-serials in addition to a detailed item analyses. Individual question performance would be recorded and faculty could review the question’s performance over the course of several classes …

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About the Author

Richard  Murphy

Richard E. Murphy, MBA, PA, is Assistant Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine, Director, Physician Assistant Program, Tufts University School of Medicine, and Assistant Professor of Surgery Senior Physician Assistant, Tufts Medical Center.

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