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Education & Development

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Supporting national learning assessment systems

A joint initiative between the Global Partnership for Education and ACER supports countries in analysing national learning assessment systems to identify areas of improvement.

The agenda around the Sustainable Development Goal for Education (SDG 4) to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’ by 2030 has reinforced a focus on quality in education systems worldwide. To establish, monitor and improve education quality, data on learning outcomes are crucial. At the global level, learning data allow us to investigate trends and uncover issues of global relevance.

For a few years now, the international community has signaled the existence of a far-reaching ‘learning crisis’, underpinned by figures from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) released in 2017, showing that more than 617 million children and adolescents worldwide are unable to read a simple sentence or perform a basic math calculation. The data also show that this alarming situation exists in spite of the fact that more than two-thirds of these children and adolescents are actually in school.

This has focused increasing attention on the need to assess learning at the global, regional, national and local levels, in order to gain relevant data on the extent to which students are learning. This will allow us to be able to use this data to inform evidence-based decision making in education policy and to improve teaching and learning practice.

What constitutes an assessment system?

Learning assessments in various forms and scope have become an important tool for policymakers and practitioners to gain information on student learning. At its core, learning assessment is simply the process of gathering and evaluating information on what students know, understand, can do and what progress they are making, to make informed decisions about next steps in the educational process.

Learning assessment systems include various modalities of learning assessments, from large-scale assessments at the national, regional or international level, to public examinations and classroom assessments – each having a specific purpose, ideally embedded in an overarching goal to jointly provide relevant, high quality data in important learning domains, at key stages of school education, and for relevant levels of the education system. Assessment systems are also made up by the policies and structures within the education system, providing the context for the assessment programs to be developed and implemented and the data to be used to inform evidence-based decision making in education policy and practice. Ultimately such a comprehensive learning assessment system aims to improve student learning.

For the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the strengthening of learning assessment systems is a strategic priority, because of its relevance to improving learning outcomes and to ensuring effective and efficient education systems, which are two of the three key goals of the GPE strategic plan for the 2016-2020 period (GPE 2020). The work on learning assessment features both in GPE’s implementation grants at country level, over 70 per cent of which include components focused on various aspects of learning assessment systems, and GPE’s Assessment for Learning (A4L) initiative at the global level, which aims to strengthen learning assessment systems and to promote a holistic measurement of learning.

A4L focuses on three core activities, including support to regional assessment networks focused on learning assessment and research and tool development to promote the measurement of the so-called 21st century skills. The other key activity is focused on the development of a tool to support comprehensive analysis of national learning assessment systems, known as the Analysis of National Learning Assessment Systems (ANLAS).

The key objective of ANLAS is to strengthen national learning assessment systems in GPE partner developing countries. ANLAS provides a framework and tools for countries to undertake a comprehensive analysis of their national learning assessment systems, with the aim of identifying areas of improvement. The expected outcome of ANLAS is a set of recommendations to inform the development and implementation of improvement strategies as part of the wider education sector planning process.

The development of ANLAS

Following a formal procurement process, the GPE Secretariat commissioned the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) to develop ANLAS under the oversight of the GPE Secretariat. The ANLAS development process includes three phases:

  1. Development of the ANLAS toolkit (July 2018 to January 2019)
  2. Pilot implementation of ANLAS in three GPE partner countries (January to April/May 2019)
  3. Revision and refinement of the ANLAS toolkit based on observations and experiences from the pilots (May to June 2019).

The pilot implementation of ANLAS is an important part of the consultative development process and successful uptake of ANLAS. The piloting will test both the content of the ANLAS toolkit and the process of using these resources to analyse the national learning assessment system and make recommendations to improve education sector plans.

The ANLAS approach

The ANLAS approach is based on the broader GPE mandate to strengthen national learning assessment systems and to promote a holistic measurement of learning. To ensure the learning assessment systems in place are sustainable and effective, it is important to regularly review and evaluate their actual state and progress. ANLAS therefore provides a framework and tools for countries to undertake a comprehensive analysis of their national learning assessment system, with the aim to identify areas of improvement.

ANLAS is diagnostic in nature, allowing identification of detailed aspects and recommendations for improvement. Successfully implemented, ANLAS will lead to the development and implementation of improvement strategies via the education sector planning cycle.

Concrete recommendations resulting from ANLAS may relate to the development of effective policies and efficient structures that are aligned with the requirements of the education system. Building the assessment system may also include strategies such as the reform of existing learning assessments, or development of new assessment programs, in order to jointly provide relevant data of adequate quality to inform evidence-based decision making in education policy and practice.

The diagnostic function, the cross-sectional consideration of 21st century skills and the integration of the analysis and findings into the education sector planning process are key features of ANLAS. ■

This is an edited version of an article by Ramya Vivekanandan, Senior Education Specialist, Learning Assessment Systems, GPE Secretariat and Ursula Schwantner, Senior Research Fellow, Australian Council for Educational Research, that originally appeared on the Global Partnership for Education blog:

This is part one of a two-part story. Read the second part in Research Developments.


About the author

Dr Ursula Schwantner is a Senior Research Fellow in ACER’s Education Policy and Practice research program.

More [rd] articles by Ursula Schwantner

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