The challenges and rewards of measuring global learning after 2015

Written by Ray Adams of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) in a series on the five proposed outcome-oriented post-2015 global education targets on the EFA website.

“In the discussion of post-2015 global education goals, there appears to be general agreement that the assessment of learning outcomes must have a place alongside ensuring equitable access to good quality education. The EFA GMR has calculated that there are 250 million children not learning. It is now time to start looking at these figures in more detail, and across time. We need be able to identify exactly how many children around the world face compromised life opportunities because they do not possess foundational reading and mathematics skills.

Before we venture down this path, however, we need to consider two issues carefully: how to define foundational reading and mathematics skills, and how to use the assessment data that are collected.

At the core of these issues is the development of internationally accepted learning metrics. A learning metric, which describes what learners know, understand and can do in a particular subject area or domain at different stages of their development, is a basic tool for reporting progress in learning. Teachers and curriculum developers can use this information to help plan their pedagogy and materials development.

Learning assessments that repeatedly show that students are performing well below expected or desired levels are seldom helpful, however. In our work at ACER, we are often asked to develop assessments of whether students are achieving the standards specified in a curriculum? Sadly, all too often, the answer is that many students are falling well short of expectations. It is usually difficult to know what to do with such information.

As an alternative, is identify where students are in their progress along well-defined learning metrics. This is the most valuable thing we can do with learning assessment, since the core of developing strategies for improving learning is understanding where students are in their educational progress, not stating how far they are away from where you would like them to be.

A further benefit of learning metrics is that they can reveal information about growth for all learners, regardless of their starting points or backgrounds, which should be a goal for all education systems and practitioners. This is the core of an equitable approach to education. Gathering data about growth over time – for individual students and cohorts of students – is a central element in monitoring educational outcomes.”

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