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If we don’t assess, how will we learn? Assessments are critical to learning, accountability and school improvement

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Young boys studying in IndiaAre assessments and standardized tests critical to measuring the effectiveness of educational systems?  How can communities demand accountability from local schools? Suvojit Chattopadhyay argues that assesments can serve as a lever to improving education.

This is a response to a recent livemint column by Azim Premji Foundation’s Anurag Behar in which he argues that assessments are not a primary systemic lever for improvement in education and that assessments should remain tools that provide feedback to teachers in the classroom. Interestingly, Behar does not make any reference to India’s Annual Status of Education Report (ASER). ASER has been around for a decade, riding on a simple and powerful idea: parents, communities, the wider civil society and policymakers just did not have sufficient information on the levels of learning our public schools deliver.
Unsurprisingly, in an age where social spending by governments is under tremendous scrutiny and aid flows are under pressure, testing and assessments have found currency in many countries across the developing world. It has also helped civil society put pressure on education systems (whether public or private) to focus on learning outcomes, moving beyond a highly limiting obsession with inputs— classrooms, teachers, textbooks, uniforms, etc. To be clear, the argument is not that one can ignore the need for high quality inputs. Indeed, that would be foolish. However, there is now substantial evidence that on its own, investing in inputs will not yield improved schooling outcomes.

Assessments: The "art" of Performance Measurement: How We Can Implement Best Practice Assessments (from the medical profession) in Development

Tanya Gupta's picture

In our last two blogs, we spoke about why measurement is key for development professionals and what should we measure? and about some take-aways from the medical profession on the measurement of competencies and performance. In this blog, we discuss specific ways we can use those lessons and apply them to the development sector.

As we discussed, in the medical world, lessons learned in competency and performance measurement relate to:

  • The focus on competencies, performance, and the space in between

  • Competence being specific to situations and existing on a continuum

  • Assessment as a program of activity that uses multi-source qualitative and quantitative information

  • The importance of the reproducibility of assessments

  • Encouraging the use of a portfolio.

But how can the above be specifically applied to development? Development practitioners can certainly take a page from the medical profession, as the stakes for getting measurement right are no less than bettering the lives of those who live on less than a dollar a day.

The Six A’s of Quality Education

Harry A. Patrinos's picture

Over the past several decades, developing countries have made remarkable progress in achieving quantitative education targets. Since the turn of the millennium, almost 50 million children around the world have gained access to basic education – and most are reaching completion. But as recent PISA data shows, this is not typically the case for qualitative improvements in education. A persistent learning gap remains for an estimated 250 million children who are unable to read and do math, even after spending three or more years in the classroom.

Could Do Better! Some Thoughts on a ‘Report Card’ for Global Learning

Marguerite Clarke's picture

I recently came across a report card from my secondary school days in Ireland. It was an interesting read. My progress in areas as diverse as mathematics, singing, Irish language, and physical education was reported on in the form of marks, grades, and narrative feedback. Some teachers provided little information on my learning. Others went into detail. I was impressed by the number of areas in which my progress had been assessed (less so by my lack of singing ability, which, evidently, had been spotted early on!).

Flash forward to 2013, and there is a conversation raging in the development community about how to measure and report on learning globally. A huge concern is the fact that too often children leave school without acquiring the basic knowledge and skills they need to lead productive lives. To make matters worse, there is a global data gap on learning that is impeding efforts to better understand this crisis and how to achieve learning for all.  

Are Non-Cognitive Gains in Education More Important than Test-Scores?

Jishnu Das's picture

Most educational interventions are widely considered successful if they increase test-scores -- which indicate cognitive ability. Presumably, this is because higher test-scores in school imply gains such as higher wages later on. 

However, non-cognitive outcomes also matter---a lot.

South Africa's Long Walk to Education Equality

Nicole Goldstein's picture

   He wanted to give the next generation a brighter future

All eyes are focused on South Africa this year: it both hosts the World Cup and celebrates its 20th anniversary since the end of apartheid when Nelson Mandela walked those historic steps to freedom.  In post-aparteid South Africa, education promised to hold part of the answer towards creating a fairer society. Development through education – would lead to freedom. The burning question remains - has this been achieved?

In a 2007 World Bank publication, Shafika Isaacs summarized the desired changes South Africa hoped to undertake:


Education, Test-Scores and Other Things That Matter

Jishnu Das's picture

Taking the test: these children in Jaura, India diligently apply themselves to the task in hand


 A lot of my work is on test-scores. Here is a (very partial) list of what we know about test-scores, why they may be important (and why they may not). In future blogs we hope to take up each of these topics in greater detail. We cite the papers we know below.


Test-scores, Enrollment and Growth: Macro Picture

  1. Enrollment and growth are not related according to Pritchett’s classic paper on “Where has all the education gone”. The missing ingredient may well be test-scores. There is a positive association between test-scores and growth as Hanushek and Woessmann argue.


  1. Further work by Hanushek and Woessmann suggests that these effects may be causal. Particularly interesting is the fact that home-country cognitive skills affects the earnings of immigrants to the United States.

From Sumatra to Haiti, the importance of increasing government capacity in responding to disaster

Cut Dian's picture
In Indonesia, a national disaster management agency was set up in 2008 to serve as a guardian of disaster risk management. The agency's important role was clear in the aftermath of a West Sumatra earthquake in 2009.

Mongolia reaches milestone in global assessment of threatened species

Tony Whitten's picture
Red deer from the Mongolia Red List for Mammals.

The Red Books and Red Lists, produced regularly by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, are fundamental tools in the monitoring of the conservation status of the world’s animals and plants. On publication, the news they generate is very significant but generally rather depressing. However, these global Red Lists have their limitations at national levels – when species are nationally very common but globally threatened – or when species are very rare and threatened, with no global conservation concern whatsoever.

Take the Red Deer in Mongolia for example. Globally this is formally of ‘Least Concern’ (pdf) – the lowest category – because it has an enormous range, is managed for hunting in many countries, and effectively protected in others. But in Mongolia, its status is the highest possible ‘Critically Endangered’ (pdf).