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Making Best Use of Assessment to Improve Learning

In reflecting upon the United States, Kathryn Parker Boudett as Director of the Data Wise Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education recently noted that schools and education systems are “drowning in data” on student performance. This is no less true in the countries of the Asia-Pacific region, regardless of income level.

In a background paper for the 2015 Education for All Global Monitoring Report (GMR), Benavot and Koseleci (2015) highlighted that 69 percent of countries of the region had carried out a national assessment by 2013, as compared to only 17 percent in the 1990s. In addition, an increasing number of countries in this region are participating in international assessments such as PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS. However as noted in a recent policy brief published by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) and UNESCO Bangkok on the use of large-scale assessments of learning to inform education policy, there is little or no impact of such assessments on policy in many countries of the region .

Why is this? Despite a long history of education research all around the world, education policy is notoriously difficult to inform on the basis of evidence. Looking specifically at the Asia-Pacific region, a number of challenges seem to be prevalent. In many countries assessment programmes are not integrated into policy processes, and policymakers themselves are not involved in the design and implementation of these programmes. Efforts are not made to collect information relevant to policy concerns, while reporting often does not target policymakers in accessible and relevant language. In addition, the media and general public are sometimes not appropriately targeted in dissemination and communication efforts, despite their key influence in facilitating the use of assessment results for policymaking. UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) Director Silvia Montoya highlighted this concern in a recent blog post on the GMR World Education Blog, noting that “we must re-think the way that learning assessment data is disseminated and with what purpose.” Finally there are often concerns about the technical quality of assessments and a perception of insufficient institutional capacity to analyze data and link results with policies.

In an attempt to address these challenges and to support countries of the region in conducting more and better analyses of existing learning assessment data with a view to identifying learning enablers for the purposes of policy making, UNESCO Bangkok via the Network on Education Quality Monitoring in the Asia-Pacific (NEQMAP) has launched an initiative called Learning Enablers in the Asia-Pacific (LEAP). Supported by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and the Malaysian Funds-in-Trust (MFIT), LEAP aims to develop the capacity of Member States of the region in designing and implementing policies to improve learning based on evidence.

Following a mapping of national practices of collecting, analyzing and utilizing international and national assessment data for policy formulation and implementation, a workshop on “Analyzing and Understanding Assessment for Evidence-Based Policy Making” was held in Bangkok on 14-18 September 2015. Teams from 16 countries of the region participated in the workshop, which was facilitated by colleagues from ACER. UIS also provided important support to the workshop. Following sharing on different national, regional and citizen-led assessments as well as an input from the OECD on PISA, the workshop kept a technical focus, covering the development of analytical frameworks, introductory statistics, hypothesis testing, regression analysis, survey data structure and an introduction to hierarchical linear modeling (HLM). In addition, there were interesting sessions on presentation and usage of assessment results and practical considerations.

On the last day of the workshop, the country teams then produced action plans to guide the national reports that they will be producing, which will consist largely of secondary analysis on existing national and/or international assessment data. Many will be examining their assessment data vis-à-vis gender, location (rural versus urban, differences between different regions or provinces) or socioeconomic status variables. Other countries, such as Bhutan and Maldives, will look at their assessment results in concert with student attitudinal and motivational factors. At present, the country teams are working on their national reports which will ultimately be compiled in a regional synthesis. It is hoped that engagement in the “action research” approach of LEAP will thus contribute to enhanced country capacity in analysis of assessment data and ultimately to better usage of this data for policy to improve learning.

This work is all the more important now after world leaders adopted the ambitious new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York this month. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 focuses on education, notably: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Unlike the Education for All (EFA) goals and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) relating to education, the focus this time is squarely on the quality of education, with a number of targets focused on learning and learning outcomes. These targets are associated with a number of indicators. Given this, the efforts of LEAP and NEQMAP are crucial to building a foundation on which countries of the Asia-Pacific can monitor learning as per the global targets.

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

Written by Ramya Vivekanandan [r.vivekanandan(at)]  

Related Links:

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

• Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)

• UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS)

Analyzing and Understanding Assessment for Evidence-Based Policy Making” Workshop

• New Policy Brief on Using Assessments to Inform Policy

• Why media reports about learning assessment data make me cringe