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Government Officials Talk National Learning Assessments

Experts and officials with responsibility for learning assessments in 16 countries of the Asia-Pacific region participated in the capacity development workshop on large-scale assessments of learning, held on 23-26 September 2014 in Bangkok. The workshop provided insight on assessment models and practices, including benefits and challenges in implementing assessments at national and international levels.

Caption: (from left to right) Mr Mohammad Ismail Khattab, Mr Kinga Dakpa and Mr Mordecai Akila Baine share their experience in measuring learning outcomes through large-scale national assessments of learning. ©UNESCO/A. Tam

We had the chance to talk to some participants from Afghanistan, Bhutan and Papua New Guinea about their experience in measuring learning outcomes through large-scale national assessments of learning. Afghanistan has recently started conducting its first national sample-based assessment of learning while Bhutan and Papua New Guinea have carried out national education assessments for several years and are pondering their possible participation in international student learning assessment initiatives.

Mr Mohammad Ismail Khattab, Director of Education Management Information System (EMIS) & Senior EMIS Advisor, Ministry of Education, Afghanistan:

“Students’ learning assessment is a new concept to the Afghanistan Ministry of Education. In the Ministry, a separate unit called Learning Assessment Unit in General Education, which is envisaged to grow into a national education assessment agency in the future, formally started operation in early 2013. Our country has embarked upon conducting the first-ever national sample-based assessment of learning achievements of students at Grade 6 in 2013, followed by Grade 3 in 2014.

National education assessments are important as they can shed light on how well students are learning in the education system with reference to expected learning outcomes at various levels. Also, they can provide information about whether there is evidence of particular strengths and weaknesses in student knowledge and skills and how particular sub-groups of the population perform as compared to larger groups.

While the first national assessment is still underway and the assessment report for Grade 6 will be released in October 2014, we have identified several challenges in conducting national learning assessment activities, such as how best the survey results can be used by the Ministry and stakeholders and how these learning assessments can be institutionalized.

To address these challenges, we believe long-term capacity development in such areas as test development, analysis of psychometric properties of items, sampling, data analysis and reporting may be needed.”

Mr Kinga Dakpa, Secretary of Examinations, Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessment:

“In Bhutan, to measure student learning, the Bhutan Board of Examinations had been in operation till 2011 before the Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessment, as an autonomous organization, was created to take charge of education assessments in the country. Our new organization has the mandate of conducting and certifying national level board examinations, conducting assessments and monitoring of school academic achievement and carrying out education research about school system performance.

With support from the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), we started national education assessments on English and Mathematics at Grade 6 (end of primary education) in 2003 and at Grade 10 (end of basic education) in 2006. A second round of national education assessments on both subjects at Grade 6 and Grade 10 was completed in 2011 and 2013 respectively.

The national education assessments are helpful for us in informing policy decisions on, among other things, teacher training, curriculum development and school management system. For instance, the national education assessment results at Grade 6 in 2003 were used to inform the curriculum reform in 2006.

While the country enjoys the benefits of conducting national education assessments, there are several challenges that we are facing. The primary one is the lack of expertise. Due to budget constraints, we do not have enough well-trained staff to conduct the assessments. Another challenge relates to the autonomous status of our organization. We need to seek ways to make sure that the government would favorably consider our policy suggestions based on national education assessment results.

Capacity development and financing are important in making our national education assessment a successful one. Technical assistance may be needed on participating in an international education assessment so that we can compare our national education assessment results with those of the international community to better inform policy decisions.”

Mr Mordecai Akila Baine, Assistant Secretary, Curriculum Development and Assessment Division, Department of Education, Papua New Guinea:

“Students at Grade 8 (end of primary education), Grade 10 (end of lower secondary education) and Grade 12 (end of upper secondary education) sit for national examinations in Papua New Guinea. By conducting these national examinations, we are able to recognize strengths and weaknesses of students on various academic areas, to select students for further studies, to issue certifications for student academic attainment, and last but not least, to improve the quality of curriculum and pedagogy through policy development.

In terms of international assessments, our country is in the process of introducing early grade reading assessment (EGRA) in schools. While we have funding from the World Bank to support initiatives to improve literacy levels and to implement assessments, the main challenge that we are facing is the lack of technical expertise in constructing assessment tools. We need to consult external experts on this but it would have been better if capacity had been developed among our staff to carry out the assessments and analysis.”

In response to the need for technical support and assistance in conducting large-scale national assessments of learning in developing countries, the NEQMAP Secretariat is looking into how best relevant support can be provided. Countries that consider that targeted technical support in regard to assessment issues is needed may wish to contact the NEQMAP Secretariat for information.

For more information, please contact Ramya Vivekanandan [r.vivekanandan(at)] at the Education Policy and Reform Unit (EPR).

Written by: Antony Tam [kh.tam(at)]

Related Links:

• Capacity Development Workshop "Introduction to Large-scale Assessments of Learning"

• Network on Education Quality Monitoring in the Asia-Pacific (NEQMAP)