Assessing student proficiency in reading and mathematics on a global scale
The "Meet the Education 2030 Data" series explains the global and thematic indicators that will be used to monitor Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) and the Education 2030 targets. It offers a starting point for readers interested in more in-depth information. The UIS will add new indicator briefs as data become available.
Five of the ten* education targets under SDG 4 focus on learning outcomes, including Target 4.1. This target calls upon the international community to measure the quality of learning in primary and lower secondary education.
This target takes aim at the very purpose of education: learning. While it is fairly easy to monitor targets about completion or enrolment, measuring learning is enormously difficult. Moreover, this has never been done on a global scale.
How can we assess the extent to which learners across the world have acquired a minimum set of competencies necessary for lifelong learning?
Two new indicators are being developed to help address this question. Indicator 4.1.1 will measure learning proficiency in reading and mathematics in primary and lower secondary education. And Indicator 4.1.2 will track the extent to which countries conduct learning assessments.
In this brief we cover indicator 4.1.1.
Indicator 4.1.1 will measure the percentage of children in primary education and at the end of secondary education reaching at least a minimum proficiency level in reading and mathematics.
A number of hurdles must be addressed before countries will be able to produce these data, including finding agreement in the global education community on common definitions of minimum proficiencies, or baselines, in these key subjects.
While many countries already collect data on basic competencies, the data are rarely comparable. The standards for reading proficiency for a child in Japan at the end of primary education may be quite different from what is expected of a child in France. The purpose of common measures of learning is not to erase such differences, which may be based on cultural context, but to create a scaffold, or framework, for each learning domain, based on agreed learning outcomes at each of the points of measurement.
The maps below provide a global snapshot of current data: average proficiency rates in reading and mathematics in early primary education, at the end of primary education and at the end of lower secondary education, based on national and cross-national assessments conducted between 2010 and 2015. These data are not internationally comparable, but represent the next step of UIS work.
To bridge the gaps, the UIS has established the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML) to ensure that quality data are used to track progress and inform policies to improve the learning outcomes of all. Instead of developing a new global assessment, the Alliance will link existing assessments through a common measurement framework.
The first step towards comprehensive and comparable data on learning will be to create learning scales in reading/literacy and mathematics/numeracy — subjects for which assessment data are already widely available.
For example, all children learn math in school, but teachers, curricula and education systems may vary the emphasis they put on certain mathematical concepts. Universal learning scales in reading and mathematics will provide commonly-agreed reference points against which to gauge a learner’s proficiency at each of the three milestones – early primary education, end of primary education and end of lower secondary education.
Ideally, the data being collected by countries will be disaggregated by sex, wealth quintile and location so that it will eventually become clear which children are falling behind.
Once the scale has been agreed on, the UIS will work with partners to develop global reporting metrics that can be used for monitoring.
Throughout this process, the GAML will also provide guidance on standards and methodologies to ensure that countries and regions remain engaged in the overarching goal of creating reliable, globally-comparable data that will help countries set relevant learning goals (i.e. meaningful in a national context) that can be tracked over time.
What will the data tell us?
Governments, teachers and parents all want to know whether their children are adequately prepared to be productive members of society, particularly in today’s globalised labour market. These data will provide a way to compare student performance in subject matters necessary for lifelong learning.
Proficiency data will also shed light on where education policies, learning strategies or types of teaching may be yielding better results, providing a starting point for policy reforms.
Measures of learning by themselves can only provide an incomplete picture of the quality of education in a country; however, they do offer insight that can help countries set their own policies and targets to ensure that no one is left behind.
Proportion or percentage of students who have achieved above the minimum threshold of proficiency defined for large-scale (sample representative) learning assessment:
Performance above the minimum level, PLtn,s,above minimum = p
where p is the percentage of students in a national or cross-national learning assessment at stage of education n, in subject s in any year (t-i) where 0 ≤ i ≤ 5, who has achieved the level of proficiency that is greater than a pre-defined minimum standard, Smin. The minimum standard is defined by global education community taking into consideration regional differences.
Notes for the maps:
* Seven targets and three means of implementation