Chapter five: Trainee qualifications and assessment
The purposes of trainee assessment are to:
As previously stated, the goal of the training program described in this manual is to provide the incountry projects with Volunteers who have the base of skills necessary to be effective aquaculture extensionist. In order to ensure that this occurs, it is essential that each trainee's progress towards meeting the technical and non-technical goals of the program be closely monitored and assessed throughout training. Assessment is an extremely important part of the training program, as important as the technical component. It addresses all of the skills and qualities a Volunteer must possess in order to be effective.
The underlying premise is that every individual who enters training has a valuable contribution to make to Peace Corps and the host country. The purpose of assessment is not to deprive anyone of the opportunity for personal growth and the positive lifetime experience of having served as a Peace Corps Volunteer but, rather, to ensure that the individual puts as much into and gets as much out of the experience as possible. Assessment is often looked upon in a negative way, with the emphasis on the misconception that it is part of a "weeding out" process. In reality, it serves a very positive function in providing the kind of feedback, guidance and self-examination that will allow a trainee to develop his/her skills, positive personal qualities and confidence to the maximum extent possible. However, it is also recognized that the trainee may be better suited to another project or that he/she may not yet be ready to make the necessary commitment.
In the training program described in this manual a strong emphasis is placed on selfassessment. Trainees are encouraged to observe and reflect upon their own actions, skill development, reactions to new situations and challenges, and feelings about their work. Rather than posing a threat to trainees, the way assessment is handled should create an atmosphere that allows people to decide, without guilt, resentment or feelings of failure, whether or not the aquaculture program is right for them at this point in time. If a trainee has reservations about joining Peace Corps or being in the aquaculture program, then he/she should be able to discuss this with the staff and receive objective, supportive and truthful feedback. If, after careful consideration, a trainee decides to leave the program, this should be treated as a positive step toward finding the best, most appropriate vehicle for that trainee's particular skills and interests, not as an admission of failure or "quitting".
Trainee assessment is a delicate and difficult process. This is compounded by the fact that trainees are not assessed solely on their knowledge and performance in the technical components of training. If this were the case, assessment would be relatively easy and objective. In order to keep the assessment process as objective as possible it is essential that the assessment dimensions of the program be clearly defined and understood by all people concerned, trainees and Trainers alike, and that trainee performance be measured against a set of technical and non-technical behavioral objectives as are described in Chapter Three.
During orientation, trainees should be given a form that lists the grounds for administrative separation and the assessment dimensions of the program. They should keep one copy for their own information, and sign and return another copy for the staff files. In preparing for personal interviews, trainees should be asked to refer to the assessment dimensions to help them assess their own progress and performance in those areas.
The basic assessment dimensions which have been developed by Peace Corps, and which apply to the program described in the manual, serve as a means of organizing objective technical and non-technical behavioral data. They emphasize to the trainee the importance of the non-technical objectives of the program.
The assessment dimensions used in this program are:
As previously stated, a great deal of emphasis is placed on trainee self-assessment. Trainees are encouraged to be honest with both the staff and with themselves as they go through the program and learn about their own strengths, weaknesses, qualities, reactions and behaviors. Trainee self-assessment is encouraged through means such as group discussions, peer and self-critiques, and self-evaluation instruments that are filled out in preparation for personal interviews. Trainees are encouraged to seek out a meeting with any staff member he or she chooses at any time in order to discuss concerns related to self-assessment. It is not necessary for a trainee to wait for the regularly scheduled interviews to get input from staff members or to discuss issues about which they are concerned.
Staff Assessment of Trainees:
Staff assessment of trainees takes place through several means:
Assessment is a delicate area and requires a great deal of skill, sensitivity and judgement on the part of the staff. A great deal of attention should be paid to this aspect of the staff's role in training. If the assessment component is handled properly by the staff it is a very positive aspect of the program that will help trainees to fulfill their potential and gain self-confidence. If it is handled poorly, it can break down all trust between staff and trainees, have a negative effect on trainee attitudes and efforts, damage trainee confidence and self-esteem, and/or allow trainees to go to their countries of assignment unprepared to do their jobs well.
Collection and Organization of Behavioral Data:
Behavioral data is collected throughout training and consists of very specific, detailed information including examples of trainees' actions, responses to a variety of situations and challenges, comportment, job performance and/or any other data that will aid staff in giving trainees useful, meaningful, clear feedback during interviews. This data also becomes very important in the event that an administrative separation becomes necessary in that it is the basis for the required documentation.
It is necessary to collect behavioral data in writing because staff members cannot be expected to accurately remember such detailed information for large numbers of trainees. The physical task of collecting the data is uncomfortable for both staff and trainees, so as much as possible should be done to acknowledge this and relieve stress. Although staff are encouraged to be discreet and sensitive in the way they handle this, the fact that behavioral data is being collected cannot and should not be kept secret from the trainees. Discussing the necessity of collecting behavioral data and informing trainees about how this data will be used can help alleviate at least some of the stress trainees feel when they know they are being observed. If the staff is responsible and professional, it eventually becomes less of an issue for trainees. In collecting behavioral data, trainers should be thorough and accurate. It is easy to underestimate the difficulty of this task, and it should be addressed in depth during staff training. It is essential that data be collected as closely as possible to the time that events occur. With so much going on and so many more trainees than trainers, it is impossible for trainers to accurately remember details for long. It is a common misconception for new staff to think that they can put off writing things down until the time is more convenient, but this is a mistake because there is so much going on at any time. Unrecorded data builds up and becomes less clear in the trainer's mind, and then becomes a very large, intimidating task that requires tremendous discipline and a lot of time to finally sit down and write. Distortion is a real problem when data is not recorded properly. Trainers must also be sensitive about how they record data. If possible, they should be discreet, but not secretive, in order to minimize distractions and stress for the trainees. It should not be necessary to whip out a notebook and write furiously within inches of a trainee's face as he/she struggles with a difficult task. If a trainee is obviously nervous and appears to be under a great deal of stress because of the trainer's presence, the trainer should refrain from taking notes until it can be done in an unobtrusive way.
Behavioral data must be objectively stated, very specific and very clear. In general, data should be statements of facts, i.e. this happened, this was said, etc. Personal judgements on the part of the observer are not usually relevant, though in some cases they may be worth noting as long as they are clearly described as such. (For example, it would not be an objective statement of fact to write, "Mary did not participate in the group discussion on fish farming for profit as she usually would because she was in a grouchy mood and was sulking about her confrontation with Bob (trainer) this morning in which he reprimanded her for breaking the rules of individual training." The appropriate observation to note here would be, "Mary did not make any comments or ask any questions during the group discussion on fish farming for profit. She appeared to be unhappy and inattentive." However, in this particular case, it would also be appropriate for the trainer to note something like; "My note: She appears to be unhappy and distracted, although she participated quite actively in yesterday's discussion. She was talkative and friendly at breakfast and her mood seems to have changed since her conversation with Bob about individual training before this meeting. Perhaps that conversation affected her participation in this discussion? If she continues to appear unusually withdrawn for the rest of the morning, may want to check with her to see if she wants to talk.") In addition to the data itself, it is important to include information that puts the data into context. In order to do this, include dates, times, during what particular activity or session incidents occurred, etc.
Behavioral data usually becomes useful when it helps demonstrate patterns or significant changes in a trainee's actions, behavior or performance. Isolated occurrences of a specific type of behavior or reaction may not be important and it often seems unnecessary to record them, but unless they are recorded it is difficult to see patterns emerge or changes occur. This is often difficult for trainers to realize, so valuable data can be lost. Staff should document all significant observations. If certain actions do turn out to be very isolated, they may never be referred to, but if, over time, a pattern becomes clear, then the series of observations that form the pattern become extremely important to have. There is a tendency to record more data to support negative feedback than positive points. Staff should be encouraged to strive for balance and to record both positive and negative behaviors, actions or results.
Organization of behavioral data is critical and is usually a difficult task. If the data is not well organized, it will probably not be used and will serve no productive purpose. This is one of the most difficult staff duties and should not be permitted to go unattended. Several systems have been tried and a perfect solution has not yet been found. One approach is to set up a behavioral data file for each trainee, with one trainer in charge of keeping these files organized and notifying staff about trainees who are being overlooked. Data should be kept in chronological order. It may be helpful to clip together all data that is collected (within each individual file) by periods between interviews, i.e. all data that is in the file from day one until the first personal interview would be clipped together, all data collected between the first and second personal interview is clipped together, etc. This may aid in keeping track of what was discussed at each interview and in tracking progress.
Formal personal interviews are scheduled at approximately two week intervals throughout the program. Actual scheduling depends upon the length of the program and how the interviews will fit in logistically with other training activities. The structure of the personal interviews may vary, but a general approach is clear. The Master Trainer is present at all interviews. In each interview, at least one Assistant Trainer is also present. The interview begins with the trainer asking the trainee a few questions (specific examples will be given in the Program Design chapters). The questions may lead to some discussion. Following this, if some self-evaluation instrument has been used, the trainee is asked to discuss his/her responses, and the staff provides input and feedback. During this period, the staff may present their own points of view regarding the trainee's analysis of his/her performance, either concurring with or disagreeing with the trainee's assessment, and/or raising issues the trainee has not brought up. If there is disagreement between the trainee's and the staff's assessment of some area of performance, this is explored further so that each side may gain an understanding of the other point of view, misinterpretations can be corrected, etc.
Often, trainees are quicker to see their own weaknesses than their own strengths, and the staff must be sure to provide the trainee with feedback about areas of strength. If there are negative feedback points or areas the staff and/or trainee feel should be improved, the staff helps the trainee clarify, prioritize and plan some strategy for working on that area. After all issues raised by the questions and the self-assessment instrument have been discussed, the Master Trainer asks whether there is anything else that the trainee would like to talk about. Before ending the interview, the Master Trainer should summarize the main points that came up, especially a well balanced summary of the trainee's strengths and what has been identified as areas in which the trainee would like to improve.
Although the usual procedure is to have the Master Trainer and at least one Assistant Trainer present at each interview, this is flexible. Trainees may request to have any assistant Trainer(s) present or not present at their interviews. If the trainee wishes to meet with an Assistant Trainer without the presence of the Master Trainer, a separate interview with that Assistant Trainer can be arranged. The trainer that is chosen to attend each interview is selected based on the amount of interaction the trainer has had with the trainee, how closely they have worked together, and the kind of rapport that exists between the trainer and trainee. In some cases, it may be necessary to have more than the usual two staff members present at an interview. This is usually the case in a situation where an administrative separation or a resignation is a possibility. In this case, it is desirable to have more staff members present in order to get the most accurate documentation possible regarding the content of the interview.
A delicate area is the question of whether or not staff members should take notes during interviews. It is important to have documentation of what was discussed and what occurred in each interview (in order to provide smooth continuity in the following interview, as well as for documentation in the rare case of an administrative separation). Yet the environment in an interview should be open and non-threatening, and the staff taking notes could make a trainee very uncomfortable and less willing to express concerns or raise issues. It is suggested that, in all but extreme cases, few or no notes be taken during the interview. If a staff member would like to jot down a few thoughts while the trainee is talking in order to be able to respond to those points, that is fine as long as this procedure is explained to the trainee. After the trainee leaves the interview, the staff members present should take a few minutes to record the key points of the interview, especially what feedback was given, what the trainee identified as his/her own strengths and weaknesses, and any strategies that were developed for working on areas the trainee targeted for improvement. These notes will serve as a reference for the staff, allowing them to make a point of tracking the trainee's progress in specific areas and provide the kind of feedback the trainee has expressed interest in, as well as allowing for a smooth transition to the next interview.
An interesting phenomenon that became increasingly clear throughout the three years of this training program (especially based on feedback from volunteers who were trained here and reported back after working in the field for a while), is that trainees are much more likely to remember and emphasize even the mildest negative feedback than even the strongest positive feedback. Even if the staff makes a point of giving balanced feedback, the trainees do not receive it, do not hear it as the staff thinks they are presenting it. It is therefore incumbent upon the staff to discover ways to deal with this. There may be no solutions to this problem that will be effective in every case, but based on attempts made here, there are a few suggestions we can offer. First, begin the feedback and end the interview with stress on the positive points. Using self- assessment instruments is very helpful because it draws out the trainees. The more talking the trainees do in the interviews, the better. While there are exceptions, trainees seem to have a tendency to be harder on themselves than the staff would be. They will feel much less threatened if they are the ones to identify and initiate discussion of the areas in which improvement is required. They will be more honest with themselves when they are not put into a position of feeling as if they must defend themselves. The staff can then offer support in the form of encouraging the trainees and offering suggestions for strengthening the areas the trainees have cited. Often, the staff can help the trainees put things into a clearer perspective, and will be able to put more emphasis on the positive points to balance the points raised by the trainees. Help the trainees recognize their strengths and how these can be used to overcome problems or develop better skills in the areas that are not as strong.
There are specific rules for giving feedback properly and effectively. Refer to the Small-Scale Marine Fisheries Training Manual (available through ICE), Session 4, entitled "Feedback and Journal Writing" for some excellent guidelines.
The logistical conditions for the personal interviews are very important. They should be held in a comfortable, private location that is conducive to an open discussion. This is a time when both the trainee and the staff members must give their undivided attention to the trainee being interviewed and to what is being discussed, so if there is a chance that any party may be distracted due to other pressing issues, it may be best to reschedule the interview. Because interviews are so individual in nature, it is difficult to set rigid time frames. Flexibility should be built into the scheduling.
The first personal interview, which is usually shorter than the later interviews, takes place as early as possible during the first few days of training. Since this occurs before trainees have really participated in many activities, feedback is very rarely provided by the staff at this interview unless extreme behaviors have been observed or the trainee requests feedback on specific points. The first interview serves more to allow a personal contact to be made between the staff and each trainee, to welcome each trainee individually into the program, and to allow the trainees to ask questions or express any concerns they may have.
Pond Interviews and Quizzes:
Once trainees begin management of their ponds, trainers conduct informal pond interviews on a daily basis. Staff circulate around the pond area and spend time talking with the trainees about their activities, observations and problems they encounter. In addition to the informal interaction at the ponds, formal pond interviews are very helpful for checking trainees' technical comprehension and evaluating how well they are able to apply what they have learned. In addition, these interviews often help the trainee pinpoint aspects of their management that need further thought. If possible, they should take place approximately once a week. They are carefully structured. The staff decides upon a series of questions (usually between five and eight questions) to ask the trainees about their pond work. The trainers are each assigned certain trainees to interview. The trainers have a form for each trainee that has the trainee's name and the date at the top, followed by the questions, with spaces between the questions for noting the trainees' responses and other observations. The interviews take place during the normal pond time. Trainers, carrying clipboards with the forms, approach each trainee to whom they have been assigned. At the trainee's pond, the trainer explains that several questions will be posed about his/her pond. (The point here is to establish that this is a more formal visit than the usual pond time discussions). The trainer asks the trainee the questions listed on the form and notes down the trainee's responses as well as other significant observations (for example, the trainer might note that the trainee knew a great deal of the information without looking in his/her notebook, or that the trainee seemed eager to discuss his/her pond work in depth, or that the trainee had extremely disorganized notes and was unable to find information requested, etc.). Specific questions for pond interviews will be listed in the Program Design chapters.
Quizzes are given periodically and serve several functions. In some cases, they serve mainly to alert the trainees to their accountability for the material and the importance of taking careful notes and paying close attention to what they see, hear and learn. Sometimes they serve to help both the staff and the trainees to determine which aspects of the material are clear and well understood and which aspects need further attention. Quizzes are generally unannounced. They are usually openbook; trainees are permitted to refer to their notebooks during the quiz. Samples of some quizzes given in this program are included in the manual, but quizzes should be developed and given as required for each training situation.
Administrative Procedure - Separations and Resignation:
If trainees leave the program it is through one of three procedures: medical separation, administrative separation or resignation.
Medical separations are decided upon strictly by the Peace Corps medical officers and training staff are not involved except to fill out the necessary paperwork and carry out appropriate procedures related to the trainees physical departure from the program.
Trainees may choose to resign from the program for any number of reasons. In some cases, there are situations with family or friends that demand their attention or they simply arrive at the realization that they do not want to leave home at that time for personal reasons. Sometimes, they do want to be Peace Corps Volunteers but realize that they would prefer to serve in some program other than aquaculture. In some cases, a trainee may choose to resign as an alternative to being administratively separated. There are many more possibilities, but these are the most common.
If a trainee expresses a wish to resign, it is important for the Master Trainer to meet with the individual. If the trainee does not wish to divulge the reasons for the decision, he/she should not be pressured, but the staff should encourage the trainee to discuss his/her reasons for resignation. This is important for several reasons and the role of the staff at this point depends upon the trainee's reasons for resigning and on the trainee's needs and feelings at the time. The important thing is that every effort should be made to minimize the pain and discomfort of a trainee in this difficult situation, and to help this individual sort out personal feelings, allowing the trainee to make this decision with confidence and self-esteem intact. Sometimes, the trainee may be going through a period of low self confidence and feel that it is best to leave even though he/she may not really want to resign at all. In this case, the staff may be able to help the trainee put unrealistic concerns into perspective and/or convince the trainee to wait awhile and offer to work with him/her more closely on some of the difficulties being encountered. In some cases, the trainee might be resigning because he/she does not enjoy aquaculture, but may be unaware of the possibility of serving in Peace Corps in another program. If it is determined through talking with the trainee that the individual does wish to join Peace Corps, the staff can offer suggestions for seeking out those other options.
Often the staff may agree that the trainee is making the right decision (for whatever reason), but the trainee still needs to be reassured that resigning from the program is not a negative thing. Sometimes trainees perceive themselves or fear that others will see them as failures or "quitters". They may fear embarrassment upon returning home after saying goodbye to their family and friends, or believe that people will be disappointed in them. Frequently, a trainee wants to resign but has not reached the point of being able to admit it out loud for the reasons just mentioned. So in a sense, the trainee may need to be given "permission" to leave. The staff should point out that it takes a tremendous amount of self-awareness, courage and sense of responsibility to make such a difficult decision. It is harmful to the trainee, Peace Corps, other Volunteers and host-country farmers to have a Volunteer go to post without really wanting to be there or without being fully committed to the program. It is much better to have the trainee resign during training than to wait until he/she arrives at post. Point out that sometimes Peace Corps is just not a good choice for a person, sometimes the timing isn't quite right, and/or sometimes the aquaculture program is not the best match for a person's skills and interests.
In the case of an administrative separation, there is a very specific set of procedures that must be followed to protect and ensure fairness to the trainee and to the training program. It is strongly recommended that the contractor for the training program be assertive and persistent in obtaining specific information about these procedures and all requirements of the office of Special Volunteer Services in Peace Corps/Washington. Refer to Peace Corps Manual, Section 284. The entire set of procedures will not be covered here in detail, but some of the major points will be discussed. Except in the most extreme cases, such as a trainee breaking a law or exhibiting extraordinarily bizarre behavior, administrative separation should be a last resort. Every effort should be made to provide helpful feedback to trainees regarding their progress in all aspects of the training criteria and to help them work on any areas needing improvement to bring them up to standards.
Trainees should be kept well informed of their progress. They should be given opportunities to respond to concerns expressed by the staff, and their responses should be listened to with objectivity and an open mind. Sometimes there may be misinterpretations on the part of the staff or the trainee that can perpetuate further misunderstandings and reduce the productivity of discussions between them. An honest, open dialogue can sometimes clear up the misunderstanding, open up communications and reestablish trust so that the issues can be addressed constructively. Feedback is critical in that trainees may be completely unaware of a problem, and thus may not be taking steps to correct it. No administrative separation should ever come as a surprise to the trainee. If proper feedback has been provided, if the trainee has been kept abreast of his/her progress and of the concerns of the staff, if the staff has helped the trainee develop strategies to improve problem areas, and if the staff and the trainee have agreed upon a set of conditions under which the trainee would be permitted to remain in the program, then the trainee will be well aware of where he/she stands and will have the opportunity to determine the outcome by his/her own actions.
It is worth repeating the importance of documentation of behavioral data and trainee progress. Part of the procedure for administrative separation involves thoroughly documenting the suggested grounds for separation, providing a chronology of what occurred to lead to the recommendation for separation, and explaining what was done to help the trainee correct the cited problems.
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