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Abstract: This manuscript reports on the development, piloting and validation of the Field Placement/Practicum Assessment Instrument (FPPAI). The FPPAI is a measure of student attainment in social work field practicum/placement under the 2008 Education Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS) of the Council on Social Work Education. The tool is designed for use by field instructors in undergraduate and foundation year graduate social work programs. Competency of 457 students from 19 undergraduate social work programs, across 18 states, was measured over three years. Analysis supports the reliability, validity, and utility of the FPPAI as an outcome measure of the 2008 EPAS competencies, and related practice behaviors.


Field practicum education has always been an integral component of social work education and is recognized as having a major impact on graduates’ preparation for professional practice. The fundamental philosophy, beliefs, structure, and processes of field programs have endured throughout the first century of formal social work education. The general social work competency requirements to be met by social work students during their field practicum are defined by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) through the Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS) of 2008. Although EPAS defines competency standards to be achieved by social work students within their field practicum setting, it is ultimately the responsibility of the accredited program to interpret and implement competency standards. The process of designing and implementing pedagogy that meets EPAS can be beneficial for social work programs, but it may also pose a challenge for programs to subsequently demonstrate the successful attainment of their pedagogical goals and objectives with their students.

Not surprisingly, responses to EPAS field standards and requirements vary considerably among social work programs. Typically, programs must demonstrate their attainment of field standards by providing the type, amount, and quality of activity required of the students in their field placements to demonstrate social work skill competency (Council on Social Work Education [CSWE], 2008). However, in the last few decades it has become increasingly difficult to consistently provide students with high-quality field experiences because of significant and critical resource changes in agencies, universities, and in the student body (Wayne, Bogo, & Raskin, 2006). Consequently, measures of the field experience must be chosen carefully to ensure appropriate validity and reliability across a diversity of agencies.

EPAS 2.3 describes Field Education as the “Signature Pedagogy” of social work education (CSWE, 2008). Specifically, “Signature pedagogy represents the central form of instruction and learning in which a profession socializes its students to perform the role of practitioner” (CSWE, 2008, p. 8). Field placements provide the students the unique opportunity to integrate theory and social work practice in the agency setting as an integral part of their overall social work education (CSWE, 2008). Like other components of the social work curriculum, bachelor/foundation level field education must be evaluated based on the 10 EPAS competencies and 41 practice behaviors defined by CSWE.

In an effort to address the need for accurate measurement of quantitative and qualitative data related to direct practice skills (guided by the 2008 EPAS), and at the request of numerous social work programs from across the country, the uniform, comprehensive, and standardized Field Practicum Placement Assessment Instrument (FPPAI) was developed. The FPPAI uses national norms to allow cross program comparisons according to program type. The Social Work Education Assessment Project (SWEAP) Committee (previously known as the BEAP Committee), added the FPPAI as part of a six instrument assessment package (Social Work Education Assessment Project [SWEAP], 2015). The ten primary competencies, along with the 41 Practice Behaviors, listed in the Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (CSWE, 2008) are the foundation for the Field Practicum Placement Assessment Instrument (FPPAI). The FPPAI focuses on both academic and non-academic measures of EPAS competencies. The authors report the findings of a three-year pilot study of the FPPAI as an outcome instrument for EPAS competencies related to critical thinking, values and ethics, diversity, social justice, history, policy, generalist practice, human behavior in the social environment, research, communication, supervision and social work practice skills through a development, pilot, and validation study (CSWE, 2008).

Review of Literature

Importance of Field Practicums Within Social Work Education
CSWE considers the field practicum experience an integral, application type component of all social work educational programs. Course work is often the first exposure students have to the standards of social work practice. The field practicum offers students the opportunity to apply the theoretical concepts and social work skills learned in the classroom in an actual social work setting under the guidance of a social work field instructor (Ryan, McCormack, & Cleak, 2006; Dalton, Stevens, & Maas-Brady, 2009). Historically, the field practicum experience is the time and place for social work students to practice being a “social worker” (Wayne et al., 2006).

Hay and Donoghue (2009) conducted a study to assess the impact of social work student field practicum on development of individual students’ social work skills. The objective of the study was to provide evidence for the importance of the field experience as part of student exposure to social work practice. The study established the critical importance of the field practicum experience, in that it provided social work students the opportunity to practice social work skills, knowledge, and values learned during previous and concurrent academic course work.

Measuring Student Educational Outcomes in the Field Setting
The field practicum setting is the ideal place for social work students to practice social work skills learned while being evaluated for attainment of the social work educational outcome criteria (McCarthy, 2006). The measurement of student outcomes while participating in the field practicum setting has been a source of research since student participation in field practicum has been a requirement for accreditation of baccalaureate and master level social work programs. However, current literature pertaining to social work field evaluation is limited, and what is available indicates that there is considerable variation in how objectives and competencies are evaluated between individual social work educational programs (Dalton et al., 2009).

Measuring student outcomes in field is complex. The reliability and validity of an evaluation tool that measures student performance must be a deciding factor in the application of the tool for feedback to provide valuable information for social work program development and improvement. Regehr, Bogo, Regehr, and Power (2007) examined three field evaluation tools and found that each included evaluation categories that were broad in nature, making it difficult to interpret the outcomes. Consequently, the researchers stressed the need for the development of a standardized evaluation tool for use in the field practicum setting.

Beyond the need for reliability and validity, the complex nature of student evaluation in the field setting also makes it challenging for social work programs to find an appropriate measure as they continue to strive to attain or retain their CSWE accreditation (Holden, Anastas, & Meenaghan, 2005). For example, the factors involved in measuring student competency within the practicum setting include the practicum setting, the student, and the field instructor (McCarthy, 2006). Due to the complexity, field instructors often default to measuring students on their personal qualities, including personality traits and learning style, instead of core social work educational competencies (Bogo et al., 2006). Consequently, the field instructor’s opinion of the student’s personality traits and fit within the field practicum setting often take precedence over observation of the student’s application of social work skills and competency (Bogo et al., 2006).

The development of a valid and reliable standardized tool to provide field practicum instructors the ability to assess student competency attainment during their field placement is essential for individual social work programs to demonstrate that they have met required EPAS competencies. For the purpose of this article, the authors are using the following definitions for validity and reliability. “Validity is the best available approximation of a given proposition, inference, or conclusion” (Trochim & Donnelly, 2006, External Validity section, para. 1).“Reliability is the consistency or repeatability of your measures” (Trochim & Donnelly, 2006, Reliability section, para. 1). Consequently, focused upon the current EPAS standards (CSWE, 2008), the Field Practicum Placement Assessment Instrument (FPPAI) was developed as a “valid and reliable” assessment tool to be utilized by field instructors to assess the student’s level of skill attainment within the field practice setting. In particular, the questions included in the FPPAI are designed to provide an assessment of the individual student’s knowledge, understanding, and application of social work practice skills. The FPPAI was designed to identify the strengths and weaknesses of individual social work students in regards to social work competencies within the field practicum setting, but to also provide aggregated data for use in program level assessment. The FPPAI is part of a six instrument SWEAP assessment package design to assist programs gather outcome data from a variety of sources across multiple domains (SWEAP, 2015).


The underlying goal in creating the FPPAI is to provide schools of social work a standardized method to evaluate their programs and create strategic plans to meet accreditation requirements through the use of accurate measurement data (Stoesz & Karger, 2008).

Study Design
Test development. The FPPAI contains 55 questions. All questions are written in Likert scale format. The Likert scale used consists of ten points ranging from not observed to mastered performance (Table 1). The final FPPAI scale was developed from extensive literature research and recommendations from experts in assessment during the piloting phase of the instrument, including information gathered from the CSWE EPAS 2008 documents and brief reviews. Two initial pilot cohorts provided feedback based on experience as a pilot program participant. There were two revisions to the instrument prior to full implementation. Specifically, focus groups were used to determine clarity, appropriate focus, validity, and consistent response interpretation. A reiterative revising process was followed until all concerns were address and no new issues were identified. Upon receiving program feedback, the instrument was revised to the current instrument being utilized today.

The FPPAI was developed to address the Educational Policy 2.1 (Core Competencies) and 2.3 (Signature Pedagogy: Field Education). A uniform and comprehensive instrument was developed to focus on the measurement of competencies in field education. Each of the competencies is captured in operationalized definitions of practice behaviors. An additional response category of N/A can be selected if the behavior is not observed and is treated as missing data in all calculations. In addition to the quantitative portion of the FPPAI, an optional qualitative questionnaire is provided. The FPPAI can be used at mid and final evaluation points and is completed by the Field/Practicum Instructor or by the instructor with the student present. The instrument provides a space for a unique student ID tracking number, the Field/Practicum Instructor’s electronic signature, and completion date. The instrument is administered through a security/password protected website.

All questions are relevant to the study and were grouped by the following social work practice competencies: 1. Professional social work skills and supervision; 2. Professional communication; 3. Social work values and ethical practice; 4. Critical thinking; 5. Diversity; 6. Human rights, social and economic justice, and policy practice; 7. Research; 8. Human behavior in the social environment; 9. Generalist practice; and 10. Social work practice with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. Table 2 identifies the specific FPPAI question(s) that measure each of the CSWE competencies and practice behaviors. Because the FPPAI measures the student performance as observed by the field supervisor, it is considered to be a “direct measure” under CSWE standards. In additional to the FPPAI, Table 2 also identifies the specific SWEAP Exit Instrument question(s) that measure each of the CSWE competencies and practice behaviors as an “indirect measure” under CSWE standards (DeLong-Hamilton, 2009). Thus, the combination of measuring outcomes using the SWEAP FPPAI and Exit Instruments meets the CSWE requirements of measuring each competency and practice behavior using both a direct and indirect measure.

In addition to the quantitative portion of the FPPAI, an optional qualitative assessment is provided for program use, but was not included in the FPPAI pilot study. The qualitative portion includes questions that mirror the quantitative portion and provides the opportunity for field instructors to deliver their input regarding the social work student’s progress towards goals outlined within the FPPAI. This is also an opportunity to record any other field instructor comments. Additionally, signature lines are available for the field/practicum director, field/practicum supervisor, and student. The instrument was administered and is currently available as a paper and online instrument. This allows programs to select the best administration medium for their program needs.

Purposeful sampling. A non-randomized, purposive sample was utilized in this study. A call for participation was sent through the Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors (BPD) list-serve for each piloting phase. All programs, regardless of size and type, were invited to participate. The call sought participation of undergraduate social work programs to use the FPPAI as a tool to assess social work students in field placement. Participants had to agree to utilize the FPPAI assessment tool in the evaluation of student performance of EPAS competencies. The sample consisted of social work students enrolled in a BSW program and participating in a field practicum course. Nineteen schools divided into four cohorts participated from different regions through the United States. A purposeful mix of locations (rural versus urban, as well as regions), private and public affiliations, and program sizes were chosen to represent a full diversity of programs. The FPPAI was piloted through two methods of delivery (mail and online) with social work programs across the United States.

After the initial pilot study, the instrument was revised from participant feedback and full implementation began in the Fall of 2011. Currently, there are fifty social work programs utilizing the FPPAI instrument nationwide.

Construct and content validity. As stated previously, the FPPAI is designed to measure the CSWE’s ten Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS) competencies and 41 practice behaviors within the field/practicum setting. The EPAS competencies and practice behaviors were chosen because they are used by CSWE to accredit baccalaureate- and master’s-level social work programs. EPAS supports academic excellence by establishing thresholds for professional competence. As CSWE (2008) states, EPAS “permits programs to use traditional and emerging models of curriculum design by balancing requirements that promote comparability across programs with a level of flexibility that encourages programs to differentiate” (p. 1). Every practice behavior is covered by at least one FPPAI question, and then feeds into the performance measure associated with the EPAS competencies.

Concurrent validity. The authors of this study are unaware of any standardized field instruments that directly measure the 2008 EPAS standards and have national comparative norms that have been published in the professional literature. Consequently, concurrent validity was obtained by comparing the ratings by an independent panel of experts with FPPAI ratings from field supervisors for 45 students. Specifically, the authors calculated the measure of agreement between the results obtained by the FPPAI and the average ratings of experts for 62 students at an individual school. The correlation coefficient between the experts and the FPPAI (r = .94) established strong concurrent validity between the two methods.


Internal Consistency
An initial cohort of 304 participants from 19 schools across 18 states participated in the FPPAI pilot project over three years. Cronbach’s alpha reliability test of internal consistency was completed (n=304, .96), reporting excellent internal consistency (Morgan, Gliner, & Harmon, 2006).

Inter-Rater Reliability
The FPPAI is designed for use across diverse social work agencies by a large number of field supervisors engaged in direct practice. To assess inter-rater reliability, a second FPPAI cohort (n=43) required that all field supervisors participate in a standardization training during the annual field seminar normally held by individual BSW programs. Amongst the programs participating in this phase of the pilot project, all were able to obtain greater than 90% inter-rater reliability between field supervisors during standardization trainings. In a third cohort (n=48) without standardization training, field supervisors achieved inter-rater reliability ratings of 84%.

Test-Retest Reliability
In a fourth cohort (n=62) of field instructors, the test-retest reliability of the FPPAI was examined. Specifically, field supervisors were asked to re-rate the student after a three-week delay. This time period was chosen give sufficient delay as to prevent clear recall of the previous rating, while avoiding major developmental change in the student. A test-retest correlation coefficient of .93 was obtained for the FPPAI.

Means and Standard Errors
The means, maximums and minimums for the final ratings of the ten 2008 EPAS competencies measured by the FPPAI are reported in Table 3.

The mean, minimum, and maximum represented in Table 3 are the aggregated data from the study and reports on the typical program outcome, along with the dispersion range, within each practice domain as noted.


Implications for Policy
The complex nature of student evaluation in the field setting is a challenge for social work programs as they continue to strive to attain or retain their CSWE accreditation (Holden, Anastas, & Meenaghan, 2005). The findings from this pilot study brought up several concerns that may have an impact on policy, practice, and future research in field education. To date, few research studies have evaluated social work field practicum settings in relationship to the assessment of student social work competencies. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, the FPPAI is the first standardized instrument that allows for programs to make national comparisons according to program size and type. This allows for programs to make administrative and pedagogical decisions with valid and reliable data reflecting their students’ performance in field. Because the FPPAI is assessing the field performance, it is a direct outcome measure. Consequently, beyond providing social work programs with high quality data, the FPPAI also meets the CSWE accreditation requirement for programs to provide direct measures of their educational outcomes. If used in combination with the SWEAP Exit Instrument, the requirement by CSWE for accredited programs to measure each EPAS Competency and Practice Behaviors using both a direct and indirect measure can be met.

This research should encourage continued development of additional standardized instruments for use in field education as it demonstrates that a valid and reliable measure of field performance is possible. This study focused on a specific area: the evaluation of social work students in the field practicum setting and their achievement of social work core competencies as outlined in the CSWE Accreditation Standards. Nevertheless, a field assessment is only one (albeit critical) measure of a program’s educational performance. As one of the initial standardized measures of BSW Program outcomes, the FPPAI will be an essential part of establishing the convergent validity of other measures. Additionally, the FPPAI will allow inter-program comparisons, controlling for program type and size that will elevate research on social work education. Consequently, follow-up research will be performed to include detailed assessments of key findings from individual programs compared to national standards. Since many graduate social work programs are utilizing the FPPAI instruments already, the next step is for validity and reliability to be established specifically for these programs.

There are several limitations associated with the development of the FPPAI. First, the samples used within this study were not representative of all CSWE accredited undergraduate programs. Consequently, the possibility of bias must be recognized. Therefore, in contemplating the use of the FPPAI in measuring student outcomes, each program should review initial obtained results and examine them for possible bias for their particular student cohorts. The authors also encourage programs to report the consistencies or biases that they may discover over time within the professional literature.

Second, the development of this instrument was dependent upon constructs defined by CSWE within the EPAS standards. It must be recognized that the competencies and practice behaviors described within EPAS may not cover all competencies and behaviors of interest for individual programs. Each program must determine if additional measures should be developed and administered. Additionally, the authors recognize that EPAS standards as defined by CSWE will change, necessitating alterations to the instrument. Programs must therefore be careful to appropriately choose and interpret the version of FPPAI that is reflective of the current EPAS standards under which they are operating.

Finally, even though the instrument anchors are objectively defined, it is possible that the individual cohorts may interpret and utilize the anchors differently. It is recommended that each program provide periodic training to their field supervisors regarding the use of the FPPAI to enhance consistency in reporting. Furthermore, programs should understand that the selection of the FPPAI as a measure of their program outcomes brings with it an expectation that they will engage in such trainings.

Conclusions and Recommendations
The findings of this study indicate that the Field Practicum/Placement Assessment Instrument (FPPAI) is a valid and reliable instrument to evaluate student practice skills in the field as a direct measure of outcome evaluation. This is one instrument that programs can utilize as their signature direct measurement to meet CSWE accreditation outcomes in relation to their benchmark standard and assessment plans. It is important to note that as of early 2015, 92 accredited CSWE social work programs are using the FPPAI as their signature field assessment and many of whom have reported successful reaffirmation using this instrument. Because the validity and reliability of this instrument has been established, the FPPAI is one of the few standard measures that allow for meaningful comparisons between and within programs. Additionally, as CSWE updates their EPAS standards over time, further versions of the FPPAI will be created to assist programs in maintaining their ability to appropriately measure their outcomes. The SWEAP team will continue its research agenda to evaluate the scale, item construction, and length of the instrument to ensure continued validity and reliability of the instrument. In combination with the SWEAP Exit Instrument, accredited programs can fulfill the CSWE requirement for obtaining both direct and indirect measures of all 10 Competencies and 41 Practice Behaviors. Therefore, it is our recommendation that the FPPAI be adopted by accredited social work programs to evaluate outcomes related to field education, the signature pedagogy of social work education.

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