The A4L legacy: Increased capacity for improving learning assessment systems

GPE has successfully concluded its Assessment for Learning (A4L) initiative, launched in 2017. An independent evaluation of the initiative provides a review of the results achieved under A4L, an analysis of whether and how the initiative contributed to its goals and a consideration of what worked well and what hindered impact.

February 01, 2021 by Lindsay Read, Ministry of Education and Higher Education of Lebanon, Kate Anderson, Unbounded Associates, and Ramya Vivekanandan, Global Partnership for Education Secretariat
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5 minutes read
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A teacher works with his student in Nepal. Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
A teacher works with his student in Nepal.
Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

Ensuring all children learn is a top priority for GPE, with improved and more equitable learning outcomes as the first of the three goals in GPE’s 2020 Strategic Plan. GPE has recognized the critical role measurement plays in improving learning outcomes by supporting countries to strengthen their learning assessment systems over the last several years. Driven by a requirement that countries applying for an implementation grant have a system or mechanism in place to monitor learning outcomes or plan to use GPE funding for this purpose, a large majority of GPE implementation grants include support for learning assessment activities.

A key mechanism for supporting learning assessment systems was the Assessment for Learning (A4L) initiative. It was launched in 2017 and GPE has now successfully concluded A4L. An independent summative evaluation of the initiative conducted in 2020 provides a review of the results achieved under A4L, an analysis of whether and how the initiative contributed to its goals and a consideration of what worked well and what hindered impact.

Supported by two foundations (Porticus and Dubai Cares), A4L complemented GPE’s grantmaking efforts, aiming to strengthen learning assessment systems and promote the holistic measurement of learning at the national and global levels. The initiative focused on three major areas:

  1. Development of a diagnostic tool for national learning assessment systems. The GPE Secretariat contracted the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) to design and launch a diagnostic toolkit – the Analysis of National Learning Assessment Systems (ANLAS) – to systematically gather and assess information about a country’s learning assessment system, in orderto inform the education sector planning process. The tool was piloted in three GPE partner countries – Ethiopia, Vietnam and Mauritania.
  2. Support to regional assessment networks. The GPE Secretariat provided direct support to two regional assessment networks – the Network on Education Quality Monitoring in the Asia-Pacific (NEQMAP) and the Teaching and Learning Educators’ Network for Transformation (TALENT), in sub-Saharan Africa. Through this support, networks hosted multiple workshops to build capacity for learning assessment, produced research and learning products related to the measurement of learning and facilitated the sharing of knowledge and expertise.
  3. Support for the measurement of 21st century skills. Recognizing an increasing global and national focus on measuring skills beyond core academic subjects of literacy and numeracy, the GPE Secretariat undertook a landscape review of 21st century skills (21CS) to elucidate the role GPE could take in supporting partner countries to embed 21CS into their education systems. The Brookings Institution, along with NEQMAP and TALENT, made valuable inputs into this work.

The A4L evaluation looked at the extent to which the initiative achieved its intended outputs, outcomes and goals, how relevant the project was at country and global levels, whether the activities were implemented as planned, to what extent the initiative catalyzed support for learning assessment systems on the part of GPE, and whether targeted financing is a valuable modality to support GPE’s work in specific thematic areas. The evaluation team’s methodology included a review of project documents, a web scan of relevant articles and mentions and semi-structured interviews with 46 project stakeholders.

Useful tools but a need to tailor ANLAS to country contexts

Regarding ANLAS, the evaluation lauded the thoughtful selection of the three pilot countries in alignment with their sector planning processes and based on interest and demand. This was found to have contributed to these countries undertaking a comprehensive analysis of their learning assessment systems and developing thoughtful recommendations for improvement, which are now informing further planning and action. This piloting process resulted in the development of a robust and comprehensive tool in ANLAS, now available as a global public good in English, French and Spanish.

Nonetheless, the evaluation noted that the demand for such a tool may be limited, given that many countries are already aware of the major shortcomings in their learning assessment systems and may not be inclined to undertake such a detailed and time- and resource-intensive exercise. As such, it may be worthwhile to consider how ANLAS can be adapted into a “light” or “screening” version, particularly for countries with more nascent systems.

Effective knowledge sharing and need for ongoing technical support

The evaluation also noted that A4L’s support to the NEQMAP and TALENT networks filled a significant gap and provided a valuable platform for countries to engage in peer learning and sharing of best practices and intervention strategies. Country-level stakeholders who participated in the networks’ activities placed high value on this engagement, noting that it provided opportunities to gain technical knowledge and learn from countries facing similar challenges in a structured and systematic way.

However, the pathway between the efforts of these networks and longer-term impact at the country level is unclear. Regional workshops (by design) tend to be one-off, short events with limited participation, and as such this limits their effectiveness as a vehicle to support long-term impact at the country-level. The evaluation recommended that GPE should support deepened regional capacity-building efforts on LAS with ongoing, just-in-time technical support and amplify the research and knowledge products generated by NEQMAP and TALENT. The regional hubs being supported by the Knowledge and Innovation Exchange (KIX) initiative can be leveraged for this purpose.

Highlighting 21st century skills

The landscape review on 21CS was commended for effectively signaling GPE’s interest in the issue of 21CS to country partners and the global community. It also raised awareness and stimulated internal discussions within GPE, which contributed to GPE’s new strategic plan (GPE 2025) making a strong reference to 21CS, including in its goal “to accelerate access, learning outcomes and gender equality through equitable, inclusive and resilient education systems fit for the 21st century.” The evaluation nonetheless flagged the need for better synergies and coordination between the different initiatives and actors working in the area of 21CS.

Finally, the evaluation also lauded the leadership and management of A4L at the GPE Secretariat and noted that the targeted funding from the two foundations was instrumental and catalytic in allowing GPE to build a thematic program in learning assessment systems. This has allowed GPE to meaningfully participate in global and regional discussions related to learning assessment and to support continued global efforts to strengthen LAS, notably through KIX.

Taking A4L lessons forward in GPE 2025

Now that A4L has concluded, GPE will work to build on this foundation to strengthen learning assessment systems worldwide. As suggested by the evaluation, there will be a continued need to leverage the activities and tools from the initiative to build further capacity at the country level. The partnership’s new strategy (GPE 2025) and operating model support this by prioritizing learning, requiring and incentivizing the use of learning data and enabling diagnostics and data on learning assessment.

For further information on A4L and/or the evaluation, please contact Ramya Vivekanandan

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