Mixed Messages or Miscommunication? Investigating the Relationship Between Assessors' Workplace-Based Assessment Scores and Written Comments

Acad Med. 2017 Dec;92(12):1774-1779. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000001743.


Purpose: The shift toward broader, programmatic assessment has revolutionized the approaches that many take in assessing medical competence. To understand the association between quantitative and qualitative evaluations, the authors explored the relationships that exist among assessors' checklist scores, task ratings, global ratings, and written comments.

Method: The authors collected and analyzed, using regression analyses, data from the McMaster Modular Assessment Program. The data were from emergency medicine residents in their first or second year of postgraduate training from 2012 through 2014. Additionally, using content analysis, the authors analyzed narrative comments corresponding to the "done" and "done, but needs attention" checklist score options.

Results: The regression analyses revealed that the task ratings, provided by faculty assessors, are associated with the use of the "done, but needs attention" checklist score option. Analyses also identified that the "done, but needs attention" option is associated with a narrative comment that is balanced, providing both strengths and areas for improvement. Analysis of qualitative comments revealed differences in the type of comments provided to higher- and lower-performing residents.

Conclusions: This study highlights some of the relationships that exist among checklist scores, rating scales, and written comments. The findings highlight that task ratings are associated with checklist options while global ratings are not. Furthermore, analysis of written comments supports the notion of a "hidden code" used to communicate assessors' evaluation of medical competence, especially when communicating areas for improvement or concern. This study has implications for how individuals should interpret information obtained from qualitative assessments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence*
  • Education, Medical, Continuing*
  • Educational Measurement*
  • Emergency Medicine / education*
  • Humans
  • Qualitative Research
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Workplace*
  • Writing