Original publication: February 2016
Author: ELTE University, Budapest, Hungary: Prof. Dr. Gábor Halász
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2BCt3nJ

Background and aim

Since the middle of the last decade the improvement of efficiency and effectiveness of education systems has become a major strategic goal of the European Union. Strengthening assessment and evaluation has been increasingly seen as a key instrument to achieve this goal. The questions of (1) what role the European Union should play in developing national educational evaluation systems, (2) what kind of assessment and evaluation instruments it should develop and implement through direct community level programmes or actions and (3) how the EU should cooperate in this area with major international players, such as the OECD, are now among the major strategic questions of the education and training sector at the level of the European Union. This study, prepared at the request of the Committee on Culture and Education of the European Parliament, aims at exploring the possibilities of further developing the system of educational evaluation in the European Union with a special focus on the cooperation between the EU and relevant external agencies, especially the OECD. The targeted audience of the study is the community of national and European policy experts and decision makers.

 

Main conclusions

The European Union has had a long and relatively rich history of supporting member states and cooperation between them in the area of educational evaluation. This has been reinforced by the emergence of education policy coordination mechanisms following the adoption of the Lisbon agenda in 2000 and by the use of measurable indicators for policy coordination, as well as by the increasing stress on evidence based policy making. The analysis provided by this study suggests that the development of European cooperation in the field of educational evaluation could follow two major lines in the future. One is the further development of already existing European level assessment and evaluation tools and instruments, and the other is providing more support to the member states to develop further their own national educational evaluation systems.

Most of the data supporting policy coordination, and particularly the instruments used to produce them, can be used also for educational evaluation purposes. This makes the European Commission a major actor in educational evaluation in Europe even if this has not been the primary goal and if the responsibility for operating educational evaluation systems rests with the member states. There is a permanent pressure on the European Commission to improve continuously the instruments and tools it uses for policy coordination and, indirectly, for educational evaluation. This makes necessary both the development of internal capacities and an intensive cooperation with external players, such as international organisations active in this area. The scarcity of resources and also the increasing burden on member states related to domestic data collection, necessitate the establishment of a good division of work between internal and external agencies.

The most important partner of the EU in the field of developing indicators, collecting data and analysing them is the OECD. There is already an enhanced cooperation between the European Commission and the OECD in the field of indicator development and policy evaluation/analysis, and it can be expected that this cooperation will become even more intensive in the future. After two decades of cooperation in the field of developing and using indicators to evaluate the performance of national education systems there

are more similarities than differences between the approaches used by the EU and the OECD, in spite of the fact that the latter is a global organisation with several of its most influential members being non-European states, and in spite of the different political environment in which the OECD and the EU institutions operate.

The launching of major new, regular surveys at the level of the EU, based on school, teacher or student level data collection (such as, for example, the PISA or the TALIS survey of the OECD) and covering each member state seems not to be a realistic expectation because of high costs and the inherent risks associated with conceptualisation, the development of appropriate measurement instruments and willingness or readiness of member states to participate in such surveys. Such surveys can be justified when the area to be measured is of particularly high political importance (such as, for example, the development of European key competences for lifelong learning or the fight against early school leaving and for inclusive education) and when the distance between the specific European needs and the already existing external surveys is too large. The examples of such surveys show that they can be successful only if these conditions are met, and, as a consequence, a sufficient number of member states might be expected to support the initiative. On the basis of existing initiatives and experiences and taking the relevant political priorities into account entrepreneurial competences is the area where a European survey based on school and pupil level measurement seems to be the most promising.

In certain areas the EU has already provided policy support for the development of national educational evaluation systems which has demonstrated that consensus can be created at expert level through relevant pilot projects and this can lead to common policy actions in the field of educational evaluation as an area of high level political sensitivity.

Member states can be supported to develop further their national educational evaluation systems through the provision of financial and technical assistance to develop new assessment and evaluation instruments at European level. In this field the European Union has not yet become a major actor: the only major exception is the successful survey of language competences. There might be a major development potential in this area if the EU creates appropriate frameworks in which national technical expertise in educational assessment and evaluation can be continuously shared and developed further.

Recommendations

On the basis of the analysis a number of specific recommendations have been formulated by this study (for a more detailed elaboration of the recommendations see the last chapter of this document):

  • The European Commission should initiate a systematic reflection and debate on educational evaluation
  • The development of a European educational evaluation policy should take into account the multilevel and diverse nature of educational evaluation
  • The European Commission should pursue the indicator development work preferably in those areas which are not yet covered by other international organisations (such as the OECD or the IEA)
  • The development and the use of indicators for policy coordination purposes should be conceived so that, if possible, they could also contribute to the development of the educational evaluation system at European level
  • Synergies between the development of national educational evaluation systems and the implementation of common European policy priorities in education should be strengthened
  • The further development of European level direct measurement tools should be guided by the strategic considerations, endorsed both by the Parliament and the Council, such as the development of transversal competences
  • The creation of a European survey based on direct school and pupil level data collection in the field of entrepreneurial competences should be considered
  • In each relevant competence area specific approaches are required based on earlier development work and the experiences of earlier pilot initiatives
  • The European Commission should coordinate better the activities of those OECD Member States which are members of the European Union
  • The European Commission should continue to support the participation of non-OECD member countries in OECD programmes with a potential to produce good quality data for relevant existing or possible EU indicators
  • The cooperation between the European Commission and the OECD should be framed by a regularly renewed formal agreement endorsed by the relevant political decision making bodies
  • The member countries of the EU should be continuously supported in their efforts to establish and operate comprehensive evaluation and assessment frameworks in line with the relevant European education policy priorities and with the relevant OECD recommendations
  • The evaluation of national assessment and evaluation systems and policies could be included into the regular monitoring of the performance of national education systems
  • The European Commission should support initiatives aimed at introducing new innovative solutions into national educational evaluation systems in the member states

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/573-424

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