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Validation of Assessment Instruments

Validating a Standardized Patient Assessment Tool Using Published Professional Standards

For the past several years, medical and health professional programs across the country have been implementing the use of standardized patients, or actors trained to portray signs and symptoms associated with a specific medical condition, as teaching tools — the GW Health Sciences programs are at the forefront of this new teaching method. The "patients" help students hone their diagnostic skills, care plan development, and bedside manner before students enter clinical practice.

Although well-established in medical education, the validity of assessing student performance during encounters with standardized patients had not been adequately addressed in Physical Therapy education. Faculty members from the GW Physical Therapy program took up the challenge and decided to do just that. Using a high stakes exam in the GW Doctor of Physical Therapy program, the faculty validated a method for assessing student performance using standardized patients.

During standardized patient encounters students have to demonstrate advancing skills over a series of four encounters which correspond with practice expectations found in Physical Therapy core professional documents such as The Guide to Physical Therapist Practice; A Normative Model of Physical Therapist Professional Education; and Minimum Required Skills of Physical Therapists Graduates at Entry-Level.

According to thirty academic and clinical educators who rated the match between the standardized patient assessment tool criteria and statements found in these documents, ninety-six percent (22/23) of the criteria agrees with at least one of the documents at statistically significant levels. Thus, the project's investigators concluded that their assessment tool was valid and consistent with current practice expectations in Physical Therapy.

This research, which helps connect classroom teaching and assessment to practice, is the first of its kind in physical therapy education to use published professional documents to validate a standardized patient assessment tool.


Costello, E., Plack, M., & Maring, J. (2011). Validating a standardized patient assessment tool using published professional standards. Journal of Physical Therapy Education, 25(3), 30-45.

Contact Information

Ellen Costello, PT, PhD
Joyce Maring, PT, EdD
Margaret Plack, PT, EdD