Using learning assessment data to transform literacy and learning

07 September 2022


©Felix Lipov/

Amid a global learning crisis, IIEP-UNESCO is releasing a new publication for International Literacy Day: Using learning assessment data for educational planning in sub-Saharan Africa: A comparative analysis. Conducted in six countries in the region, the study seeks to understand why learning assessment data are rarely maximized, even when it is available and could help improve the overall quality of education.

In addition to this research and accompanying recommendations, IIEP is also developing methodological guidelines to help any country in the world make better use of learning assessment data at different stages of the educational planning cycle.

This year, International Literacy Day continues to be marked by an alarming observation. In recent decades, access to school has grown massively, yet hundreds of millions of students are not learning either foundational or relevant skills for the future.

This global learning crisis – recently exacerbated by COVID-19 – is especially acute in sub-Saharan Africa, where nine out of ten children are unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10.

In the aftermath of COVID-19, nearly 24 million learners may not return to formal education, including some 11 million girls and young women.

Faced with this reality, ministries of education and partners must focus on building capacities to better use learning assessment data to transform literacy and learning.

How and why are large-scale learning assessments used?

Student learning outcomes are essential for measuring the extent of the learning crisis and the overall performance of education systems. Several types of large-scale learning assessments usually coexist within a country: international assessments (e.g., PISA-D, TIMSS), regional assessments (such as PASEC or SEACMEQ in Africa), and national assessments.

Although more learning data have become available in sub-Saharan Africa - and more generally in low-income countries - this has not always been followed by their effective use in educational planning. Consequently, assessments cannot meet their promises to improve educational quality.

With research findings from the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Namibia, Senegal, and Zambia, this new IIEP publication by Ieva Raudonytė and Tuamanaia Foimapafisi explores the complex dynamics of how learning data is used. It also offers specific recommendations for ministries of education, national assessment teams, and international partners supporting assessment systems

Data production and data use: two sides of the same coin

Missing capacities to analyze learning data, lack of assessment data integration with other data sources, and missing feedback loops between different administrative levels are all reasons that often explain the limited use of learning data for planning. The absence of a comprehensive policy framework for producing learning data also impedes their effective use, as well as financial and technical barriers, among other factors described in the publication.

This study also sheds light on the factors that facilitate the use of learning assessment data for planning. While a comprehensive national assessment policy is critical to enhance a common understanding of learning assessments, involving relevant national stakeholders in the assessment design is key to make sure that the assessments address their current concerns.

Additionally, the IIEP research reveals that linking learning assessment data to other data sets could provide richer information for users.

For example, in Senegal, learning data coming from at least seven different assessments are analyzed in isolation without mechanisms to capitalize on each other. Moreover, linking learning assessment data to other variables that affect student learning could inform planning decisions such as allocating more financial, physical, and human resources to certain student groups or areas.

Conducting large-scale learning assessments and ensuring effective use of their data are resource-intensive tasks requiring strong financial, human, and technical capacity that is often missing in the countries studied…To improve the use of learning data, capacity development should be the focus.

- Ieva Raudonytė and Tuamanaia Foimapafisi

New guidelines to help improve the use of learning assessments

The development and improvement of learning assessment systems are on many national agendas, beyond sub-Saharan Africa. Drawing from this research project, the three offices of IIEP have engaged in a broader reflection on the use of data in planning and policy-making.

Guidelines are also forthcoming to offer technical guidance and to help governments self-assess their use of learning assessments. A user-friendly checklist is also included to support planners with integrating the use of data at every step of the educational planning cycle.

Use of learning assessment data in education policy-making