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Use of learning assessment data in education policy: Technical and political barriers

Thu, April 18, 3:15 to 4:45pm, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Street (Level 0), Regency B

Group Submission Type: Formal Panel Session


Although the number of countries conducting national, regional, or international assessments has significantly increased over the past two decades, the use of learning assessment data in policy-making and planning remains limited, particularly in developing countries. Such data are often disregarded or considered only superficially and so fail to constructively inform policy and planning activities. In some countries, the key problem is the unavailability of learning assessment data and/or its low quality, which impedes its use in policy formulation. Nevertheless, it is increasingly available in other contexts and yet is still not used.

This is a crucial issue as the Education 2030 Agenda has placed learning outcomes at the core of the monitoring of international education targets, bringing learning to the forefront of all education debates. Learning assessment systems and the use of their data are therefore important elements in this agenda. The 2018 World Development Report of the World Bank, among many other publications, underlines the importance of assessing student outcomes to inform policies and improve learning. High quality learning data, interpreted together with other reliable evidence, and considered in the light of national contexts, should inform education policies. This does not imply the use of data at all cost, but rather the use of good quality data for the strong overall analysis considering a number of variables and evidence that inform policy-making in specific contexts.

Nevertheless, the use of assessment data as centerpieces of policy is not a neutral technical exercise as it can shape the way education and its ends are comprehended and defined. What we measure matters as the aspects that are explored will determine what governments act on. International organisations and global frameworks have played a key role not only in the expansion of international and regional large-scale assessments but also in the ways their data are used. There is a global pressure for countries to participate in large-scale assessments as well as to adhere to the mind-set that is behind the culture of indicators. A growing body of literature questions how assessments and organisations that manage them exercise soft power in global education governance, how they contribute to defining the end-goals of education as well as ways in which we formulate problems and policies. These questions are particularly sensitive in the context of low-income countries that are subject to a higher influence given increasing external pressures not only to participate in assessments but also to adopt this global mind-set.

Bearing this global picture in mind, the main goal of this Panel Session is to discuss how both technical aspects linked to the assessment methodology as well as factors linked to the political economy of actors and institutional settings influence the use of learning data in education policy and planning. The panel will demonstrate why both sets of aspects are complementary and crucial to consider to have a full understanding of dynamics involved in the use of assessment data. The panel will draw conclusions from an international comparative research study on the theme that will be conducted in a number of Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America countries. This will allow exploring comparative aspects from both regions and discussing what a potential South-South collaboration in this area could be.

The panel will therefore address the following questions:

• To what extent can a lack of learning data as well as its methodological shortcomings explain its limited use in policy formulation in developing countries?
• What are the technical barriers especially related to the competencies of the educational planners that may limit the use the existing learning assessment data in policy and planning?
• What are other factors that impede and facilitate the use of learning data in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America? To what extent are they linked to the political economy of actors and institutional settings?
• How do international frameworks and organisations influence the expansion of assessments and the use of learning data? How do international large-scale assessments influence the global education governance? How is this reflected in the national policy-making?
• How could a cooperation between Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America countries contribute to reinforcing a more effective use of learning data?
• How can initial lessons from Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America inform international and national actors?

Each of the four panel presentations will allow exploring different aspects linked to the use of learning data. The first presentation will focus on the availability of quality learning data and the persisting methodological issues. It will attest to what extent a lack of reliable and comparative learning data is still an issue in multiple contexts and what consequences this has on the use of this data in policy. The second presentation will focus on the technical capacity of educational planners and managers that limit the use of the learning assessment data. The remaining two presentations will then explore how institutional settings and political economy aspects linked to actors’ interplay, stakeholders’ power relations and interests contribute to the observed use of data from two regional perspectives: Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. Lessons will be drawn from the review of the literature as well as pilot studies conducted in a number of selected countries. These presentations will demonstrate how challenges differ in these two settings as well as explore possible venues for cross-regional synergies and collaboration. The panel will provide the first insights into potential recommendations that can be communicated to national practitioners and development partners to improve the use of learning data. The entire panel will show how national realities are influenced by global discourses when it comes to the use of learning data and what influence international frameworks have in these situations.

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