In April 2013, the OECD published a 600 page report on the evaluation and assessment of students in primary and secondary schools. The experience of 28 OECD countries is analysed with a focus on student assessment, teacher appraisal, school and system evaluation. An international comparative evaluation of schools systems is provided, as well as an analysis of current policies across OECD countries. The report also presents a framework for making assessments and shows examples of evidence-based policy options. One of the remarkable findings is that strong contrasts between OECD member states still exist; for instance in Denmark and Sweden, pupils in primary schools are not given any marks, while in Hungary, Italy or Poland, numerical marks are the key instrument for formal reporting.
Increasingly, indicators are gaining importance as those in charge of education systems become interested in student performance, and even more because such data enables international benchmarking. The reason for this focus, the report argues, is the growing reliance on educational standards in school design, content and performance. At the same time, as monitoring capabilities increase, policymakers introduce educational standards for student achievement at different stages of their learning. A further factor influencing the demand for evaluation and assessment in education systems is the current social and economic challenges which OECD countries are facing. As spending and budgets decrease, there is an increasing demand for evidence-based decision-making. The report highlights several trends, including the expansion of evaluation in school systems, owing notably to the drive to make schools more accountable and equitable. Assessment and evaluation activities are also becoming more varied, and range from external school evaluation to self-evaluation. Also worth noting is the increasingly wide use of such indicators across school systems and internationally.
Although many recognise that evaluation and assessment frameworks have a key role to play when it comes to building fair school systems, fulfilling these objectives is a significant policy challenge. It is complicated to develop an objective student assessment system (i.e. an assessment which is fair to all types of students, and which establishes a balance between summative assessment – which summarizes the knowledge of students at a particular time – and formative assessment – by which learning is adapted throughout to improve outcomes), and a school evaluation system that ensures that the quality of learning and teaching remains central. Educational inequality is still one of the major challenges. A 2012 OECD report on equity and equality in schools suggested that almost one in every five students did not reach the basic, minimum level of skills required to function in society. Assessment accompanied by feedback is recommended, as well as training for teachers on how to evaluate their own teaching efforts to improve classroom practices and student outcomes. The impact of reduced school failure on broader social and economic development is significant.