In September 2015, the United Nations member states adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including the new global education goal to “ensure inclusive and equitable education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” In the years prior to the adoption of the SDGs, the global education community was busy making sure education and learning were considered a priority on the member states’ agenda.
Recognizing the critical need for better data to improve education quality and measure learning, the Center for Universal Education (CUE) at Brookings and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) convened a high-level task force in 2012 to define a small set of learning outcomes that could potentially be tracked by all countries.
Thus the Learning Metrics Task Force began.
The LMTF worked in two phases. The first phase (LMTF 1.0) focused on catalyzing global dialogue and developing a series of recommendations on learning assessments. The second phase (LMTF 2.0) focused on implementing the task force’s recommendations.
The LMTF started its research by convening experts to help answer three important questions: What learning is important for all children and youth? How should learning outcomes be measured? And how can measurement of learning be implemented to improve education quality? By the end of the first phase in December 2013, the LMTF had held three open consultations and received advice from more than 1,700 teachers, students, academics, government representatives, and education experts from 118 countries, including from more than 50 national education ministers or their representatives.
In the first LMTF report, Toward universal learning: What every child should learn, the task force proposed a holistic framework of seven learning domains for all students from early childhood through lower secondary: physical well-being, social and emotional, culture and the arts, literacy and communication, learning approaches and cognition, numeracy and mathematics, and science and technology.
The second report, Toward universal learning: A global framework for measuring learning, recommended six areas of measurement to fill the global data gap on learning. That was eventually expanded to seven to include the Learning for All indicator, which captures both access and learning outcomes.
The third report, Toward universal learning: Implementing assessment to improve learning, focused on the critical question of implementation, with recommendations for practical actions to deliver and measure progress toward improved learning outcomes.
Report #3: How can measurement of learning be implemented to improve education quality?
A final summary report, Toward universal learning: Recommendations from the Learning Metrics Task Force, outlined a series of recommendations to use existing assessments of learning as well as new and innovative measures to improve learning opportunities and outcomes for all children and youth.
As the task force reviewed its consultations, it became clear that by opening up these debates the LMTF had a responsibility to see these ideas through. At a regional consultation in Nairobi in the final period of LMTF 1.0, participants from Kenyan government offices and civil society said that this was the first time they had all come together to discuss how they measure learning. LMTF opened up the conversation, but what were the next steps?
This sentiment was expressed in other consultations as well. As a group, the task force decided that the work was not finished, and the new partnership that had begun in the task force needed a coordinating mechanism to see it through. Thus LMTF shifted into a second phase: finding practical ways to implement the recommendations.
Five Key Goals in LMTF 2.0
As a result of the consultation process, it was clear that countries wanted sustainable programs, not more projects. The sentiment expressed in the task force’s consultation in Nairobi was repeated dozens of times by LMTF members and working group representatives. Given the importance of kick-starting some of the LMTF recommendations and the demand for the task force to continue, the task force considered what a second phase would look like.
The task force developed five focus areas for LMTF 2.0, based upon the first phase’s recommendations. LMTF opened up for new organizations to join and partner organizations aimed to achieve results in the following areas by the end of 2015:
LMTF 2.0 Outcomes
Technical: Technical indicators needed to be developed through an inclusive process that bridged the best research with the experiences of teachers and governments. Smaller groups of task force members and other experts formed projects such as Measuring Early Learning Quality and Outcomes (MELQO), which sought to generate locally relevant data on children’s learning and development at the start of school in an efficient way, as well as on the quality of pre-primary learning environments with specific relevance to inform national early childhood policy. MELQO tools were designed to have sufficient comparability across countries to inform global monitoring. Through a consultative process designed to draw on the best experiences in measuring early childhood development to date, two modules were developed, one focused on child development and learning at the start of school and the other on the quality of children’s learning environments.
UNESCO furthered work on topics and learning objectives for Global Citizenship Education (GCE) and a working group convened by UNESCO, the Youth Advocacy Group, and CUE developed a catalogue of GCE assessments used at the classroom, local, and national levels.
UIS launched the Catalogue of Learning Assessments, which provides descriptive information on public examinations, as well as national and international assessments in primary and lower-secondary education programs around the world. It also recently launched the to bring together all available data to monitor the Sustainable Development Goal on education.
Institutional: LMTF 1.0 consultations made explicit that assessments often drove national visions for education rather than supported them. To explore the relationships between policy and assessment, the task force launched the Learning Champions initiative in 2014.
The initiative comprised education experts, governmental officials, and teachers from 15 countries, provinces, and cities around the world. Each of the 15 “Learning Champions” joined the LMTF to turn its initial recommendations into a practical reality. The initiative offered a space for the Learning Champions to experiment with new approaches to assessment in their countries, from the classroom the national education ministry, according to their own goals and needs.
The Learning Champions initiative was a major focus of LMTF 2.0, and it is thoroughly described later in the report and the work of each Learning Champion is summarized.
Political: Ensuring that access plus learning made it into the final list of SDG indicators for education was the initial goal of LMTF, and LMTF member organizations such as UNESCO, UNICEF, Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the World Bank, and others in decision-making roles came together to ensure learning was included.
Assessment as a Public Good: The Phase 1.0 consultations demonstrated that cost and capacity are huge barriers to rigorous assessment, and the LMTF member organizations worked to develop a strategy for advancing learning assessment as a public good. With the sunset of the LMTF, two aligned initiatives were proposed that can carry forward the network built by LMTF: Assessment for Learning (A4L)13 of GPE and the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML)14 of UIS. GAML will offer a space for stakeholders to share knowledge and best practices on assessment. A4L’s pilot phase was approved by the Global Partnership for Education’s board of directors in June 2016, will work toward establishing a financing mechanism to support countries’ development of learning assessment.
Knowledge Sharing: Finally, the consultations revealed the education community needed a place to share and communicate about assessment and learning. The LMTF Secretariat continued to serve as a platform for knowledge sharing, and a new generation of task force members entered through an open application process. At the end of 2013, the LMTF initiative was extended for two years, to enable the SDG and Education 2030 Agenda to solidify and identify new structures for collaboration. A4L, GAML, and the IIEP Learning Portal (part of UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning) are three such initiatives structured to facilitate communication in the education and assessment communities. UNESCO also hosted a forum on learning assessments and offered to continue the global convening under the auspices of the Education 2030 Agenda.
With the SDGs in place, the LMTF has officially sunset. In February 2016, the LMTF hosted a final in-person meeting in Livingstone, Zambia, to summarize discoveries and learning from the LMTF and to plan the Learning Champions community’s next steps. This being the largest in-person meeting, with interest exceeding room space, it became clear that while the LMTF is no more, the research and consensus built by LMTF and the community of practice it convened will continue long into the future.
At the meeting, the Learning Champions and LMTF members agreed to carry on the LMTF’s work by leveraging established regional education organizations. Organizations such as UNESCO Bangkok and SEAMEO (the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization) secretariat already have regional networks they can build upon; ADEA (the Association for the Development of Education in Africa) has initiated an assessment network for Africa since the meeting; and other regions have begun meetings and consultations to determine the best process for developing regional assessments suited to their contexts. These regional groups will support individual member countries and each other, carrying on the networking of the LMTF into the SDG era.