In today’s rapidly changing economy, simply attending school is not enough. To succeed at work and in life, students must develop foundational knowledge and skills through core subjects like language, mathematics, and science—and they must also learn how to solve problems, communicate effectively, and work in teams. This is essential to develop human capital and dynamic, successful societies.
While access to schooling has experienced a dramatic increase around the world in recent decades, there remains a “learning crisis.” Indeed, over half of the world’s children cannot read a short story by the age of 10, making them ill equipped for success in the changing world of work. In many countries, learning outcomes are not measured at all. Students, families, governments, and teachers cannot make decisions about how to improve education without adequate information on learning outcomes. Moreover, progress on the World Bank’s new Learning Target of halving the share of children who are unable to read can only be tracked if countries commit to systematic measurement of learning outcomes.
Assessment of learning —the process of gathering and evaluating information on what students know, understand, and can do—plays a vital role in making informed decisions at the individual, classroom, school, and system-wide levels. In general, information on learning tends to come from three types of assessment activities:
· Classroom assessment provides real-time information to support teaching and learning in individual classrooms;
· Examinations are used to make decisions about the progress of individual students through the education system (such as receiving a certification of school completion or being selected for university entry); and
· Large-scale assessment monitors learning trends at the system level and provides information to policymakers and practitioners on overall performance levels within an education system and the factors that contribute to that performance. Large-scale assessment tends to fall into one of two categories:
o National large-scale assessments offer feedback on the overall health of a particular education system at a specific grade and/or age level; and
o International large-scale assessments (such as the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)) provide information on the performance of the education system relative to other countries, also at a specific grade and/or age level.
Countries around the world have been working to achieve effective learning assessment systems, in other words, systems that provide timely information of sufficient quality and quantity to meet stakeholder information and decision-making needs in support of improved education quality and student learning outcomes.
The World Bank has been leading the efforts in helping countries strengthen their learning assessment systems to support improved education quality and learning for all. Efforts have ranged from equipping teachers with the latest tools to assess students in the classroom and target instruction to learning gaps, to ensuring that examinations are fair and contribute to equitable access to higher education, to supporting implementation of large-scale assessments to facilitate evidence-based decision-making and attain improvement in learning outcomes at the system level.
As more and more countries express their desire to have timely and accurate information on their students’ learning, there is an urgent need to support these countries in building effective assessment systems, ones that have the requisite policies, structures, practices, and tools to achieve better learning outcomes.
To move forward the learning assessment agenda and to set the stage for more countries to participate in large-scale national and international assessments, the World Bank’s Learning Assessment Platform (LeAP) aims to help countries strengthen their learning assessment systems, enabling them to implement assessment of student learning more efficiently and effectively. Countries around the world are at different stages in creating and building capacity for learning assessment systems, and thus they require support that addresses different needs. LeAP will provide resources, tools, technical support, and the medium for knowledge exchange on the key topics of learning assessment, including an automated SABER-Student Assessment tool, allowing for just-in-time diagnosis of learning assessment systems, and support for policy dialogue and implementation of assessment-related activities, including for pipeline World Bank operations. In this way, LeAP will serve as a one-stop shop for knowledge, capacity-building tools, support for policy dialogue, and technical staff expertise to aid those working toward better assessment for better learning.
The LeAP initiative builds on the portfolio of tools and resources developed over the last 10 years by the World Bank’s Learning Assessment team. Supported by the Russia Education Aid for Development (READ) Trust Fund program, the World Bank has led the efforts in helping countries strengthen their assessment systems. As part of this work, an extensive collection of knowledge resources and tools has been developed at the World Bank to increase capacity of staff and clients on key assessment topics. These resources and tools include the free online Student Assessment for Policymakers and Practitioners eLearning course and the National Assessments of Educational Achievement Series books that are available in multiple languages. In addition, the SABER-Student Assessment resources offer benchmarking tools to evaluate countries’ student assessment systems, as well as more than 60 country reports that provide in-depth analysis of countries’ student assessment systems. Other go-to resources on assessment include case studies on key learning assessment topics and a quarterly newsletter with assessment-related news and resources.
At the country level, the World Bank has provided targeted financial and technical support to improve countries’ learning assessment systems. Under the READ Trust Fund program, for example, 12 countries across four regions - Angola, Armenia, Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Mozambique, Tajikistan, Vietnam, and Zambia – have received grants of over $20m to improve key areas of their learning assessment systems. Examples of impact of these targeted grants are highlighted in the following countries:
· Angola. With support of the READ Trust Fund program, Angola created a strong foundation for its national learning assessment system by establishing an assessment unit in the Ministry of Education and dedicating a line item for assessment activities in the education budget. Angola implemented its first national assessment of early-grade reading (EGRA) with the results of this assessment not only serving as the baseline on learning outcomes in the country, but also putting Angola on the global scale with other countries in the Human Capital Index. Development of the country’s assessment system continued beyond the READ Trust Fund grant support with the assessment-related component in the Angola Learning for All project.
· Tajikistan. The READ Trust Fund program in Tajikistan revolutionized the country’s university admissions system by introducing a standardized unified university entrance examination. Through the creation of a centralized examination for admission to all universities, testing practices and procedures were standardized, and students gained a more equitable access to higher education. Impact of examination reforms supported by the READ Trust Fund grant have been felt especially strongly by certain populations, particularly by females and candidates from disadvantaged locations in the country, who now have a more equitable and transparent access to higher education.
· Vietnam. As part of the READ Trust Fund program, training programs on diverse topics in assessment, such as on the design and implementation of various assessment activities, were developed for key stakeholders in Vietnam. Additionally, in an effort to shift to competency-based (as opposed to knowledge-based) curriculum and assessment approaches, the program supported the adoption of a new competency-based assessment framework, and the groundwork was laid for a new competency-based curriculum. Vietnam’s desire for comprehensive information on learning outcomes solidified the country’s decision to take part in PISA 2012, with the results providing education leaders with a wealth of new information on learning outcomes that has supported evidence-based decision making on education reforms.
Other countries as diverse as Belarus, Cabo Verde, and Colombia have received advisory and operational assistance to support improvements in their student assessment systems.
The activities of the LeAP team are supported through the READ Trust Fund, which is a collaboration of the Government of the Russian Federation and the World Bank Group that focuses on helping developing countries improve their learning outcomes through the design, implementation, and use of robust systems for learning assessment.
The LeAP team has actively collaborated with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), including on the PISA for Development initiative that aims to make PISA more relevant for developing economies. The LeAP team has also supported the United Nations Global Alliance for Monitoring Learning (GAML) Task Force convened to develop approaches to monitoring the learning-related indicators under the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal for Education (SDG 4) (to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all).
In addition, in July 2019, the World Bank Education Global Practice signed a partnership agreement with the UNESCO Institute for Statistics to help countries strengthen their learning assessment systems, better monitor what students are learning in internationally-comparable ways, and improve the breadth and quality of global data on education.