Talk with the author: Use of learning assessment data

13 May 2020

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Lars Fortuin / Shutterstock.com
An outside classroom in Mariama Kunda, Gambia.

The data produced by large-scale learning assessments can be a highly valuable tool for educational policy-makers and planners – when they are used effectively. More and more countries understand the importance of gathering and analysing learning assessment data, but the use of these data in policy planning and design is often lacking. This is a big concern, given that data on student learning outcomes can help decision-makers understand the key challenges in the system, monitor the effectiveness of existing policies, and shape future policies for the better.

IIEP has now published two policy briefs focusing on the Gambia and Guinea, which mark the first outputs of a research project on the use of learning assessment data in sub-Saharan African countries.

We asked Ieva Raudonytė, Associate Research Officer at IIEP and author of an IIEP-UNESCO Working Paper on the subject, about the project and its initial findings.

What sort of data should countries aim to collect and analyse, and why?

 

Data can show what students are learning, indicate whether outcomes vary by region, highlight problems in the overall education system, and reveal which current policies are or are not working well. The type of data required will vary from country to country, so it is important to consult educational planners and policy-makers before assessment instruments are designed. The types of background data collected will affect the analysis that can be done later, but some key areas of analysis are the students themselves, teachers, schools, and demographics. A balance must be struck between the richness of the information and the costs incurred in gathering the data.

What positives can be drawn from the situations in the Gambia and Guinea?

 

The Gambia has made multiple efforts to improve its assessment system, as well as the use of its data. An Assessment Policy was developed in 2014 that forms the basis of a regulatory framework for the implementation of assessments and the use of the resulting data. There is also smooth collaboration within the Gambia’s Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, where there are several different departments involved in the management of assessment data. The use of the data in school-level planning has been institutionalized in the Ministry’s activities, largely thanks to strong high-level political commitment to improving the use of learning data in the country. This has been accompanied by enhanced curricula, textbooks, and teacher training at the national level.

Guinea is in the process of developing its national assessment system, and its new Education Sector Plan (Programme Décennal de l’Éducation en Guinée 2020–2029) anticipates significant progress in this regard. The key aim is to develop a regulatory framework for the implementation and use of different assessments, and, crucially, to ensure the regular release of the data collected. Guinea also re-joined the PASEC (Programme d’analyse des systèmes éducatifs de la CONFEMEN) assessment in 2019.

Have you found that there are common barriers that prevent these countries from using the data more effectively in their educational planning?

 

The two countries face quite different challenges because they are in different phases of developing their assessment systems. However, both have had difficulties with timely data dissemination, as assessment results sometimes come late. In addition, assessment reports are often highly technical and thus not sufficiently adapted to the needs of planners, policy-makers, and other stakeholders in the system.

Looking ahead, what can Guinea and the Gambia do to improve their use of learning assessment data? Are there areas of the policy cycle where the data could be better used?

 

Both Guinea and the Gambia performed in-depth analyses of large-scale assessment data in their Education Sector Analyses, and used the data to inform the monitoring and evaluation phase of the planning cycle. However, whereas in the Gambia the assessment data were also used to inform the preparation of the Education Sector Plan and some implementation activities, in Guinea we saw that less use was made of the available data at these two stages of the cycle.

Both of the new policy briefs provide country-specific recommendations, which focus on: strengthening regulatory foundations; conducting assessment data analysis that is more relevant for policy-making; ensuring smooth dissemination and effective follow-up of recommended activities; making assessments more inclusive; and developing national capacities.

Finally, what are the next steps for this project?

 

We have finalized the data collection in the remaining project countries: Ghana, Namibia, Senegal, and Zambia. Policy briefs for these four countries will soon be available, and a comparative analysis will provide overall lessons for other countries in the region and for technical and financial partners involved in assessments. Finally, in the longer term, IIEP Buenos Aires is also preparing to expand the research project to Latin American countries, using a specially adapted methodology.

 

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