How To Generate and Use Internationally-Comparable Learning Assessment Data
Until recently, many country leaders have been unable to look at their own national literacy and math assessment data and monitor progress against global proficiency standards. While most countries have standards that learners must meet at the end of primary and at the end of the lower secondary education cycle, very few countries set up standards for early grades. And for those that have—how do we know these standards are comparable? The need to establish global standards is critical to reporting on Sustainable Development Goal indicator 4.1.1—"Proportion of children and young people (a) in grades 2/3; (b) at the end of primary; and (c) at the end of lower secondary achieving at least a minimum proficiency level in (i) reading and (ii) mathematics, by sex.” More importantly, it is essential for policy decision-making, at the country, regional, and global levels to improve standards, curricula, materials, teacher training, delivery and assessments.
USAID and its partners have made significant progress in establishing an approach to linking country-level learning assessments to global proficiency expectations so that countries can then set appropriate targets for achieving outcomes in early grade literacy and math.
Establishing Global Standards in Early Grade Reading and Mathematics
USAID partnered with the World Bank, the Australian Council for Education Research (ACER), the Gates Foundation, and the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) to convene experts from around the globe to create a single set of global standards for reading and mathematics in grades 1 through 9. The result of this collaboration, implemented with support from the USAID-funded Global Reading Network, was the Global Proficiency Framework (GPF)—a comprehensive, evidence-based set of proficiency expectations for four levels (Below Partially Meets, Partially Meets, Meets, and Exceeds) at each grade level in reading and math. In other words, the GPF articulates the minimum knowledge and skills that learners should be able to attain in these two subjects, as they advance along their learning progressions.
Why the Global Proficiency Framework Is Important
- It helps countries understand what students should be able to achieve given proper instruction.
- It provides a global common set of performance standards.
- It serves as the foundation for improving in-country alignment between standards, curricula, teaching and learning materials, assessments, and teacher preparation.
However, the GPF on its own is not enough. Since existing learning assessments were not developed with the GPF in mind, we need to find a way to apply the GPF proficiency descriptors to them. That's why USAID supported the development of an alternative, low-cost, rapid approach to link locally implemented assessments to the GPF called Policy Linking for Measuring Global Learning Outcomes (“Policy Linking”).
Linking Local Learning Assessments to Global Standards
Policy Linking is a method used to link locally implemented learning assessments to the GPF through benchmarks that are based on the difficulty of each assessment. Policy Linking is a qualitative, judgment-based method that involves local teachers and experts and is implemented through highly participatory workshops conducted in-country. Less difficult assessments will have higher benchmarks, and more difficult assessments will have lower benchmarks on the common scale in the GPF. Once their assessments are linked to the common scale, countries apply their benchmarks to the score distributions of those assessments to calculate the percentage of their students meeting global minimum proficiency. The result of the Policy Linking process is performance benchmarks based on the local assessments (or in some cases, international, if local assessments are not available).
Advantages of Policy Linking
- It is conducted by local experts, using local assessments.
- It is relatively quick and cheap.
- It is endorsed by the international community.
- It does not rely on current learner performance.
- It allows for national benchmarks in addition to GPF-based benchmarks.
The advantage of the benchmarks derived through the Policy Linking approach is that they boast both local ownership and international comparability. Targets based on these benchmarks can be connected directly to the SDG 4.1.1 (as well as USAID standard indicators), and countries can use the data to report to the UIS. We can finally have valid, reliable, and comparable measures to track learner achievement in reading and math from primary grades through the end of junior secondary school.
Using Data for Decision-Making
Just as important as collecting the right information, data must also be used appropriately. The data on how well the learners in a particular country perform on these benchmarks can be used for a variety of purposes, including:
- Gaining a better understanding of how the education system performs in different content areas or for different learner subgroups
- Setting up performance targets for different grades and subjects, and
- Monitoring changes in performance from year to year.
Governments, in particular, can use benchmarks to establish national performance targets and devise a process for monitoring progress towards achieving them. USAID’s Target Setting Guide outlines the process of collaborative target setting; a step that is foundational to locally-led development. Setting clear targets in reading and math and routinely monitoring progress towards the achievement of these targets helps to ensure higher accountability of education systems to deliver measurable improvements in learning outcomes. These are important steps to ensure that countries are supporting the achievement of SDG Goal 4.1, ensuring that all children complete primary and secondary school and achieve effective learning outcomes.