Learning Divides : Using Data to Inform Educational Policy
UNESCO Institute for Statistics
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Three premises underlie the approach taken in this report. First, the development of children’s reading skills needs to be the primary focus of educational monitoring systems. It is a pre-requisite for the development of strong academic skills at the lower and upper secondary levels and is essential to school completion and social justice (Beswick, Sloat and Willms, 2008; Snow, Burns and Griffin, 1998; Willms, 2006). Second, the literature on classroom and school effects has provided the knowledge we need to build informative educational monitoring systems. We do not require the large-scale national or international studies to continue with the quest for school effects, with numerous measures of classroom and school factors. Instead, we need these studies to focus on a small number of factors, to measure them in greater detail and to track them longitudinally. Third, the results from the large international studies, combined with national studies and small controlled experimental studies, can provide educational administrators with information for setting achievable goals, for allocating resources and for assessing the effects of policies that alter one or more of the structural features of schooling. This research is not a call for the abandonment of large-scale international studies; indeed, many of the examples used in this report are based on PISA data. The majority of low- and middle-income countries have not yet participated in an international assessment and would benefit by understanding how well their students fare compared with students in other countries. Moreover, the results of comparative studies often serve to increase a country’s political will to invest resources in education (Singer and Braun, 2018). Instead, it is intended to shift attention away from the rank-ordering of countries in their outcomes or making causal claims based on cross-sectional data.