Evaluation and assessment is for everyone

by Deborah Nusche and Claire Shewbridge
Analysts, Directorate for Education and Skills

Some may ask if all the time, money and effort invested in evaluation and assessment is worth it. The terms evaluation and assessment may strike fear into the hearts of some students, teachers and parents. Are they not just a way to control and constrain what goes in the classroom? Is this just not more unnecessary work for us? What on earth do they have to do with student learning?

A three-year comprehensive review of evaluation and assessment approaches around the world was brought to its grand finale in Oslo last week. The idea of the international meeting was for the OECD to put its own advice into practice: after conducting a major review of policies, do not put the results on a shelf but put them to good use. Bring stakeholders together, discuss the results of the evaluation exercise, and identify strategies to go forward. Already, over the past three years, countries that were reviewed by the OECD have done this on a national level and the results have been pretty impressive.

The main purpose of the OECD’s review was to investigate how these could be embedded in teaching and learning processes themselves, to improve student learning and give helpful information for all those involved:

Students need to be clear about what they are aiming to learn and how they can evaluate their own progress. Engaging students as active participants in assessment will help them develop capabilities in analysing their own learning and becoming self-directed learners. The representative of the European School Student Unions said it very clearly at the conference: Students do not want to be ‘passive objects’ of evaluation and assessment, they want to be actively involved, not just in their own assessment, but also in the evaluation of their teachers and schools.

Teachers also need assessment information that is reliable and consistent across schools in order to understand student strengths and weaknesses in relation to expected standards, to target future teaching and improve classroom instruction. They need feedback on their own performance to guide their professional and career development, and they should contribute to the self-evaluation of their schools.

School leaders can use school self-evaluation processes to steer whole-school improvement and provide accountability information to their communities, employers and the educational administration.

Parents typically want to know how their children are doing and how schools are helping them achieve. Providing evaluation and assessment information to parents is key to building strong school-home partnerships and can facilitate school choice.

Policy makers need aggregated information to monitor the performance of schools and education systems and ensure that national education goals are met and society at large also needs credentials about the quality of education and the achievement of standards in the education system.

Bringing the pieces together 
But if so many actors within the education system are involved in designing and using assessment and evaluation, is there not a risk that too many cooks spoil the broth? Most countries have a whole range of provisions for student assessment, teacher appraisal and school evaluation that have developed quite independently of each other. A key concern is to bring all these pieces together in a coherent framework to create synergies for learning. The OECD Review gives some ideas on how to do so:

  • Take a comprehensive approach: All the components of assessment and evaluation – student assessment, teacher appraisal, school evaluation, school leader appraisal and education system evaluation – should form a coherent whole. This will generate synergies, avoid duplication and prevent inconsistency of objectives.
  • Align evaluation and assessment with educational goals: Evaluation and assessment should align with the principles embedded in educational goals. 
  • Focus on improving classroom practices: To optimise the potential of evaluation and assessment to improve what is at the heart of education – student learning – policy makers should promote the regular use of evaluation and assessment results for improvements in the classroom.
  • Build consensus: Ensure that all the stakeholders are involved early and understand the benefits. 
  • Place students at the centre: Students should be fully engaged with their learning and empowered to assess their own progress. The development of critical thinking and social competencies should also be monitored.

OECD Review on Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes
Synergies for Better Learning: An International Perspective on Evaluation and Assessment
Photo credit: © AKS – Fotolia.com

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