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Learning Assessment: Not a Threat, but a Necessity. How to Take the Best from the Data and Give Priority to the Learning Process

By Jacques Malpel, Conference of Education Ministers of Francophone Countries (CONFEMEN).

The international education community is putting a strong emphasis on service delivery. In the education field, service delivery (although of course necessary) is not sufficient, and evidence shows that the transformation from inputs to learning outcomes has not produced the expected results in terms of quality of education assessment.

In Sub-Saharan African countries around 50% of 5th grade primary students do not reach the minimum level in reading – without which little further learning can be envisaged.

Assessment is key to improving the quality of education and accelerating learning. A global learning goal in the post-2015 development agenda will help to establish a framework by which to monitor and improve learning outcomes for children and youth worldwide. However, measurement should be not be considered in terms of assessing learning for the sake of it, but rather in terms of better understanding the role of factors contributing to the score.

Learning assessment should not be considered as a threat or an external conditionality but as an opportunity

Assessment should not be a threat:  it is the minimum that families, pupils, economic actors (and development partners) are entitled to.  Education systems should be accountable to their contributors – and should show that the intense national and international efforts to support education are not in vain.

The data revolution, as mentioned in the report of the post-2015 UN High Level Panel, should not be presented as a data tyranny. The real challenge is how to make the best use of data and to do proper analysis on what is behind the data.

One example of a large scale approach to learning assessment: The CONFEMEN PASEC

PASEC is CONFEMEN’s Programme for the Analysis of Education Systems. Since its establishment in 1992, it has conducted more than 40 country analyses. In 2014 PASEC will launch a new approach through a regional assessment covering 10 Sub-Saharan countries.[1]

PASEC has a three-pronged approach:

  1. International assessments

A regular assessment programme is held every four years to allow comparisons in time and space. PASEC’s international assessment methodology is based on the comparison of education systems’ performance. Assessments are conducted by national teams on a representative sample of pupils (180 schools, 20 pupils by grade in each school).

About the PASEC approach:

  • It covers the 2nd and 6th grades of primary (as of 2016: 2nd, 6th and 9th grades);
  • The assessment process takes place in school;
  • Enriched questionnaires provide information about the school context; these are very important as they provide information on the factors contributing to the quality (or not) of education;
  • The assessment covers two disciplines: the official language of instruction, as well as Maths. In 2016 more disciplines will be added for the 9th grade.
  1. Enhanced national teams’ capacity on evaluation/assessment methods

National capacities are the cornerstone for sound national evaluations and the PASEC assessment is intended to be part of a national assessment mechanism. Building national PASEC teams’ capacity is an important part of this programme.

  1. Support to countries for the use of assessment results

Promoting dialogue amongst policy makers, education administrators, planners, and education stakeholders at all level (parents, teachers, and local authorities, private sector) is essential to allow:

  • Better ownership of the results;
  • Better use of the results in education policies.

PASEC has set up a technical partnership with SACMEQ (The Southern and Eastern Consortium for Monitoring Education Quality) which has led to sharing tests and methodology between the two programmes. This will allow comparisons between countries and systems when the results are published. The partnership will allow peer learning, peer reviews and joint research.

Jacques Malpel, Coordinator of Programme Analysis of Educational Systems, CONFEMEN (PASEC), Permanent Technical Secretariat, CONFEMEN, Dakar, Senegal. Email:

This blog is based on a presentation made by the author at a NORRAG meeting on “The Brave New World of Data for Education and Development” on 23rd September 2013 in Geneva.

[1] Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Congo, Ivory Coast, Niger, Senegal, Chad, Togo

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1 Response

  1. John Clegg

    In any education system which operates through a language which is not the learner’s first or community language, assessment must bear in mind that assessing subject knowledge in this additional or ‘second’ language (L2) is complex, often unreliable and requires expertise in assessing curricular contents in L2. This is particularly the case where learners have low ability in the medium of instruction – especially its cognitive academic variety (i.e the language of schooling) – as they do, for example, in many countries in Africa where learners learn in a European language from grade 4 or below. Outcomes of subject knowledge assessments in which learners are asked to demonstrate this knowledge in an L2 often give a distorted picture of the state of subject knowledge at the level of both individual learners and national cohorts. It is not, in my experience, common for discussion of assessment in these L2-medium education contexts to be informed by an understanding of the distorting role of the language of assessment.

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