Assessment for Learning: An international platform to support national learning assessment systems

A new discussion document, titled “Assessment for Learning (A4L): An International Platform to Support National Learning Assessment Systems,” has been released with the goal of catalyzing debate and discussion. This discussion document has been developed as a key deliverable for one of the key result areas of the Learning Metrics Task Force 2.0, namely Assessment as a Public Good. This
result area calls for “developing a strategy for how learning assessment could be supported as a global public good.”  As the Task Force will be sun-setting shortly, this discussion document is not meant to be taken up by the Task Force itself but instead to spark thinking and discussion among relevant stakeholders on the steps needed to support assessment as a global good. You may access the discussion document here and below is a short excerpt. To access the discussion document in Spanish, click here, and to access in French, click here

The global learning crisis and the Sustainable Development Goals

The world is facing a learning crisis. According to the Global Monitoring Report of UNESCO, 250 million children have not learned basic numeracy and literacy skills, even though half of them have spent at least four years in school. As a result, there is a shift in emphasis at the global level from access to education to access and learning symbolized by the Sustainable Development Goal 4: “Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.”

Measuring learning at the heart of improving learning

At the heart of the challenge of improving learning, particularly in developing countries, is the measurement of learning. At the classroom level, measuring learning is critical to the learning process and at the core of teaching practice. At the system level, it is also crucial to measure learning in order to inform policymaking and monitor its results, thereby ensuring appropriate resource allocation and equity of learning among schools, regions, and population groups. In short, measuring learning is key to improving it.

However, it is possible to measure learning without improving learning, as illustrated, for instance, by many countries with persistently poor results in international assessments. In order to be powerful and effective, the results must be used at classroom, school, and system levels to improve learning. This is why national learning assessment systems that ensure that results are used to inform policies and practices are critical for improving learning and thereby achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4.

Dearth of national system capacity to measure learning

However, the current capacity of national learning assessment systems in the majority of developing countries is far from where it needs to be to address the learning crisis. A recent analysis led by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) Secretariat assessed 60 of its member countries and found only two of them to have “established” learning assessment systems, while 15 were rated as “under development,” the intermediate classification used by the study, and the remainder need significant support to even begin the process. Moreover, the use of learning data to inform policy remains a challenge: Another recent study done by the GPE Secretariat shows that among 42 education plans analyzed, only 18, or 43 percent, had identified an evidence-based cause for quality challenges. This is due not only to lack of data, but also to the fact that even when evidence was available, it was not systematically used to inform policy decisions.

A global platform to support national learning assessment systems in needed

In order to deliver the level of capacity-building required to meet these needs, support to national learning assessment systems in developing countries must be scaled up in a coherent and consistent way. Resources should be available so that even the poorest countries are able to access the technical and financial resources needed to develop effective national learning assessment systems in order to improve learning for all.

Therefore, there is a need for a global platform to coordinate and strengthen support to meet the current level of need, especially among developing countries. The platform proposed here would be a global public good. It would aim to fill in the gap both in terms of countries’ capacity to develop effective national learning assessment systems that improve learning, and in terms of the financing that is necessary to do so. Taking a partnership approach, it would help to complement and support existing capacity-building efforts at regional and global levels. It would also support cross-national knowledge-sharing. Such a platform would be crucial to the realization of Sustainable Development Goal 4, Quality Learning, and indispensable for the monitoring of Target 4.1 regarding “relevant and effective learning outcomes” in primary and secondary education worldwide.