Student assessment: Supporting the development of human capital

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At the Annual Meetings of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund in Bali, Indonesia, the World Bank highlighted the importance of human capital for economic development.
Central to the World Bank’s motivation for the Human Capital Project is evidence that investments in education and health produce better-educated and healthier individuals, as well as faster economic growth and a range of benefits to society more broadly. As part of this effort to accelerate more and better investments in people, the new Human Capital Index provides information on productivity-related human capital outcomes, seeking to answer how much human capital a child born today will acquire by the end of secondary school, given the risks to poor health and education that prevail in the country where she or he was born.

The Index seeks to measure the productivity of a future worker using information about the current state of health and education outcomes. While most internationally-comparable data on education has focused almost exclusively on years of schooling, the innovation of Human Capital Index is in combining this type of information with a measure of countries’ education quality, producing quality-adjusted years of schooling. Specifically, the quality of education reflects new work at the World Bank to harmonize student assessment scores, including from major international and regional student assessment programs such as PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS, LLECE, SACMEQ, and others.

The inclusion of student assessment data in the Index underscores the importance of measuring student learning outcomes to craft more effective human capital development policy. Large-scale, system-level student assessments are designed to provide policy-relevant information on the performance of the education system and any related or contributing factors. These assessments seek to answer questions such as: How well are students learning at various levels in the education system? Are there any strengths and weaknesses in students’ knowledge and skills? Do certain subgroups in the population perform more poorly than others? What factors are associated with student achievement? And how do the achievements of students change over time, given changes in the education system?
International large-scale assessments are particularly useful for providing comparative estimates of achievement levels in different education systems. There has been a steady increase in the number of countries participating in international large-scale assessments over the last five decades, in part due to their many advantages, including the ability to benchmark student achievement using common standards and cost-sharing arrangements among participating countries. However, many countries still do not participate in these assessments, and there is an urgent need to educate policymakers, teachers, parents, civil society and the media about the value of collecting internationally-comparable achievement data for diagnostics and monitoring of education systems and education reforms. There is also a need to build the capacity of local assessment specialists to produce valid and reliable assessment data, and to analyze, interpret, and disseminate this data in the most effective manner.
Over the last ten years, the READ Trust Fund program has been leading the effort to help countries strengthen their assessment systems, enabling them to implement international large-scale assessments and other types of assessments more efficiently and effectively. The program partnered with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to support the launch of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) for Development (PISA-D) initiative. The READ team helped participating countries by hosting technical workshops, analyzing capacity needs, developing capacity-building plans, and producing two high-level reports. Through this partnership, countries such as Cambodia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Paraguay, Senegal, and Zambia were selected to participate in the PISA-D initiative. At the country level, the program has directly supported the development of student assessment systems in 12 countries and has provided targeted support for implementation of activities to carry out international large-scale assessments, such as Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) in Armenia, PISA in Vietnam, and PISA-D in Zambia.
The Human Capital Project raises awareness of and increase demand for interventions to build human capital in developing countries. As the World Bank and the global community continue to focus efforts on supporting the development of human capital around the world, valid and reliable information on what children know will be key to understanding whether learning is taking place in classrooms. This will help to identify children’s learning needs and design policies to address those needs, ensuring that current and future generations of children acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to be competitive in the economy of the future. The READ Trust Fund has been contributing to these efforts by equipping countries with strong student assessment systems to ensure effective investment in the learning of their children.


Julia Liberman

Senior Education Specialist

Rachel Cooper

Consultant, Education Global Practice, World Bank

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