Last month we visited The National Institute of Education Studies and Research (INEP) in Brasil and the Secretariat of Education of the State of Ceará to exchange experiences about the use of evaluations as a tool to improve public policies. Given that Ecuador is also producing more and more information about the effectiveness of its education system, it was very rewarding to confirm the value of assessments, which have become increasingly reliable and more relevant for decision-making. Brazil has a history of measuring student learning and, in recent years, it has developed ways at both central and state levels to link the results of student learning to education policy.As the Amazon River draws from its Ecuadorian affluents, our team, composed by the Ministry of Education and the National Institute for Education Assessment of Ecuador, together with the IADB, nourished our thoughts around three key ideas listed below:
The river is growing, creating new points of confluency
The focus on evaluation is expanding throughout the region in such a way that generates more technical discussion on how to improve the instruments and their use, than on the legitimacy of their existence. Nowadays, new public evaluation institutes exist, some attached to the Ministries and others with different levels of autonomy. In addition, the ones that were already in place are becoming more technical and specialized while improving the dissemination of the evaluation’s results to key stakeholders, so that they can interpret and use the data to guide teaching practices.
At the same time, the evaluation institutes also share many common challenges, such as: the development of instruments, and of testing and analysis methods, the training of specialists in psychometrics and the assessment of learning and skills. They also face the challenge of disseminating test results to promote best teaching practices and the use of new technologies to expedite the implementation of the tests, the publication of results and the protection of instruments and data.
At breaking new paths and having to face so many common challenges, the countries of the region are building various bilateral collaboration opportunities. A clear example was the exchange of experiences between Brazil and Ecuador. However, these could be enhanced at the regional level with sustainable cooperation mechanisms over time. This is something that some of us experienced last week during the “Regional Education Policy Dialogue”, held in the IDB headquarters in Washington DC. The meeting focused on discussing best practices for monitoring the quality of education and the mechanisms of support that could be in place to contribute to school improvement.
The river of information is increasingly connected with policy decisions
One of our interests in this exchange tour was getting to know the process to design and implement the Index of Basic Education Development (IDEB) launched in Brazil in 2007. This index integrates, in a single figure, school performance in terms of student promotion from one grade to the other and skill level. Additionally, it has become a reference in crafting education policies and differentiated interventions in Brazil at central, state and municipal levels. In other words, the results of the evaluation are used not only to know how the education systems are ranked compared to others, but also to make the necessary adjustments and prioritization of policies and interventions.
The experience of the Ceará State points out that education policy success also involves defining clear goals and metrics that can be understood by the stakeholders of the education system. For example, Ceara’s literacy program seeks to establish a literacy standard that ensures that all second-graders have minimum reading capacities to continue their learning throughout the next grades. This program has been a key instrument to the IDEB progress in the Ceará State.
Meanwhile, Ecuador is also taking important steps. At the moment, it is designing the Index of Institutional Performance (INDI) which will entail four dimensions: (i) students’ academic path; (ii) the results of student learning; (iii) school climate; and (iv) the dispersion of these variables within each institution to improve quality and equity at the same time. This index will allow, among other things, to focus the Ministry´s efforts on specific vulnerable areas and struggling schools.
All in the same boat!
Let’s keep supporting our teachers and those responsible for the education system! In other words, the starting point is assuming that all the actors of the education system are on board the same ship to sail towards improving student learning. Therefore, corrective measures towards schools and teachers should be kept as a last resort. This was one of the major recommendations given to us last week in Washington, DC, by Mary Jean Gallagher, Vice Minister of the Office of Student Achievement in Ontario, which is the Canadian province whose performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has improved more over time. We believe that one of the most important functions of student evaluations is to become mostly a formative assessment, and it should seek to improve everyday processes and not serve exclusively the purpose of “grading” or “ranking” schools.
The experience of several countries also signals that, although student assessments and performance indexes contribute to gearing the dialogue, these efforts should not be the only reference in the design and implementation of public policies in order to avoid strategies and incentives that lead to undesirable results. For example, the narrowing of the curriculum or “teaching for the test”, when instruction focuses only on content and strategies to pass the assessment.
For all these reasons, we are now eager to learn about the results of the Third Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study (TERCE), which have been published today and see how they will guide our education policies and practices. We invite you to follow these results with us and share your comments!
Co- Authors :
Harvey Sanchez. Executive Director. INEVAL
Wilson Ortega. Subsecretary of Support, Monitoring and Regulation of Education. MINEDUC
Arturo Caballero. Coordinator of Educational Research. INEVAL