Last week I swapped islands for 48 hours, traveling from the Dominican Republic to Jamaica, where I had the distinct pleasure of participating in a consultation for the third phase of the Learning Metrics Task Force. The LMTF—co-convened by the Center for Universal Education at Brookings and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics—aims to change the global conversation on education to focus on access plus learning, with an eye towards influencing the post-2015 development agenda. You can keep posted on recommendations from each stage of the consultation process here. The consultation at the Inter-American Development Bank Kingston office convened high-level education officials from various Caribbean states; I attended as a member of the Implementation Working Group.
The conversation was lively and focused mostly on the discussion guide previously prepared by the Working Group, which meant that much of our time was spent understanding the ways in which learning is measured at various levels in different countries. Of course, as with any discussion among experienced education professionals, the tension between policy (measurement and evaluation of learning) and practice (teaching and learning processes) was highlighted often. Perhaps this tension was best summarized by one of our colleagues (in her grandmother’s words): “You can’t make a pig fat by weighing it.” Indeed, education planning, measurement, and assessment are more often governed by the mantra what gets measured gets done. Such a statement preferences the measurement as an end in itself, implying that actions to produce that measurement will automatically follow. This idea says nothing, however, about the quality of those actions and the validity or reliability of the measurement. Are we working towards the right goals? Are we measuring what we think we are measuring? Are our actions leading to the desired outcomes? We are all too familiar with perverse incentives to distort actions and results because of the pressure attached to measurement!
The more compelling idea (a pig isn’t fat because you weighed it!) reminds us that the sheer act of measurement does not guarantee that the processes needed to achieve the desired outcomes are in place. Identifying desired learning outcomes and selecting appropriate measures to assess that learning is the right place to start (just ask any highly qualified teacher who is lesson planning!) We must know what students should be learning and how we know they are learning before we design the activities that foster desired outcomes. This is what the LMTF is currently doing through the three-phase consultation. The true litmus test for the project will be in its ability to connect policy with practice, to build capacity for the learning competencies to be achieved through high quality learning experiences. As was mentioned in the Caribbean consultation, the project’s theory of change must include this crucial link to ensure that a conversation on access plus learning is more than a conversation.
The project has significant policy weight behind it, and hundreds of policymakers and practitioners have actively participated in consultations. There is currently substantial international attention around issues of teacher quality and the teaching profession. The LMTF can capitalize on this movement—perhaps through strategic partnerships or through the proposed advisory board—so that the teaching and learning process remains at the front and center of the conversation. The project thus far has done an excellent job of facilitating dialogue around the basic framework to ensure that all children are learning. Desired learning outcomes are being identified and measurement methods to assess achievement of those outcomes are being defined. The greatest challenge will come as we “fill in the activities” and support countries not only in their ability to measure learning (which is important), but the ability to “do well” on valid and reliable measures thanks to well-prepared teachers, high quality teaching, and safe, productive learning environments. It’s the teaching and learning process that counts.
I would love to hear from others that have participated in previous consultations. What were your key takeaways? What are the next steps beyond the third phase?