What do children and young people need to learn? And how can we measure what they have learned? For the last 18 months, the Learning Metrics Task Force has put these questions to experts and agencies worldwide. Tomorrow it presents its recommendations, as Albert Motivans and Rebecca Winthrop explain.
The Learning Metrics Task Force – jointly run by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics and the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution – has completed a far-reaching consultative process to build consensus on what learning outcomes all children and youth need and how they can be measured. Tomorrow the task force launches its recommendations in New York, in conjunction with the first anniversary of the United Nations secretary-general’s Global Education First Initiative.
One of the seven task force recommendations is to mobilize partners to provide countries with technical, institutional and political support to strengthen their assessment systems, improve learning outcomes and decrease disparities in learning achievement. While almost all countries measure learning in some way, all struggle with getting reliable data on learning and using that data to inform practice.
The United States is a clear example of a wealthy country with a robust testing system that has faced unintended consequences in using assessment data effectively to improve education quality. For example, the national No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 tied student assessments to school funding and closures. A 2006 analysis of learning outcomes found that several states demonstrating annual improvement in state-level tests actually showed declines in learning on a nationally comparable assessment, implying that states lowered their standards in order to retain federal funding.
Through the consultation process, participants in other countries pointed out that while there are hundreds of tools and methods available for measuring learning, there were few opportunities to get advice when navigating this array of tools or to share experiences with other countries.
With an estimated 250 million primary school age children around the world lacking basic reading and writing skills, the global community cannot afford to lose time by leaving countries to grasp for solutions in isolation. Instead, it is imperative to work together to link up the technical expertise and resources required for robust measures of learning, to facilitate knowledge-sharing within and between countries and regions, and to set out an agenda for developing new measures to meet the demands of policy-makers
To that end, the task force also recommends setting up an international, multi-stakeholder partnership on learning to help countries assess and obtain the technical and financial resources required to improve learning measurement and outcomes. Participants would include technical experts, teachers’ organizations, donors, civil society groups, private sector representatives, multilateral agencies, regional bodies, and representatives from national and local government (including, but not limited to, many of the groups already represented on the task force).
Functions of such a partnership might include:
- ensuring better collaboration between existing agencies;
- adapting or developing tools to help countries diagnose the strengths and weaknesses of their assessment systems;
- supporting national communities of practice focused on assessment to garner resources and catalyze action on learning measurement;
- serving as a global clearinghouse for expertise on measurement, by facilitating cross-country sharing, collecting and making accessible research and tools on learning measurement, and linking countries to technical experts;
- sustaining a broad coalition of education and development stakeholders that share a common vision of learning for all.
The task force was clear that its recommendation is not to create an entirely new, independent organization; in fact, some of the above activities are already being carried out successfully by existing organizations. Rather, this global collaboration must work with and build upon existing efforts, particularly by leveraging regional initiatives.
In addition to calling for country-level support, the recommendations of the Learning Metrics Task Force also present a common vision for learning and a series of indicators to track progress at the global level. Armed with consensus on these critical issues, the education community must now take these recommendations forward into action before another generation of young people is left behind.
The task force stands ready to lead the way for learning, and we invite all stakeholders to join the movement. Contact LearningMetrics@brookings.edu to find out how.
Albert Motivans is head of the Education Indicators and Data Analysis Section at the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). Rebecca Winthrop is senior fellow and director, Center for Universal Education (CUE) at the Brookings Institution. UIS and CUE serve together as the secretariat of the Learning Metrics Task Force.