The Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes

 

The OECD is developing a feasibility study for assessment of higher education outcomes that will allow comparison between higher education institutions across countries. This is done in the context of massive growth in higher education, and increasing international attention to comparisons between institutions.

 

Existing international comparisons and rankings of higher education institutions focus on research, to complement this the OECD would like to develop a measure that gives due weight to teaching and learning. If successful this assessment would provide stakeholders like higher education institutions, governments, students and employers with better information on what undergraduate degree students know and can do. A motivation in this work is that this information could contribute to higher education institutions’ knowledge of their own teaching performance, and thereby provide a tool for development and improvement. This work was initiated at the OECD Ministers of Education meeting in Athens in June 2006.


International experts have been consulted in seeking to define the scope of the task. Three meetings have been held and summary records of these meetings have been made public. A combined summary record of the meetings will soon be published. The main points discussed at the third meeting in Seoul in October 2007 were the design and implementation of a feasibility study.


The work of the experts was presented to an informal meeting of OECD Education ministers in Tokyo in January 2008. The topic of the meeting was evaluation of higher education in the broader sense. The importance of establishing valid and reliable measures of learning outcomes was underlined and the OECD’s work to assess the feasibility of an international study on assessment of learning outcomes was welcomed. The Chair’s Summary from the Ministerial meeting is available on the OECD web site.

 

The OECD is developing a feasibility study for assessment of higher education outcomes that will allow comparison between higher education institutions across countries. This is done in the context of massive growth in higher education, and increasing international attention to comparisons between institutions.  The object of the study is to determine whether an international assessment is scientifically and practically possible. The assessment will be done at an institutional level. It is expected that the assessment will be based on a written test of the competences of students who are almost at the end of a Bachelor programme. During the following months the OECD will be taking forward the development of the assessment instrument. This is a crucial step in the process and will involve further discussions with testing experts world-wide. 


Expert advice is that the feasibility study should look both at transverse critical thinking and problem solving skills that are necessary for success in both academic and business contexts, combined with a subject specific test relating to one or at most two disciplines. To test the latter the OECD will decide on one or two areas – likely candidates are engineering and economics, although bio-technology is also a possibility.


It is of key importance that an assessment has high validity. Constructing an assessment that is valid across institutions, cultures and disciplines presents numerous scientific and practical challenges. Amongst these are how to take account of: the diversity of institutions; differences between national systems of higher education; variations in the duration and content of programmes; cultural and linguistic diversity; and accounting for the value added by institutions. The practical and operational challenges of how to motivate students and institutions to participate, and ensuring fair assessment of the results, also have to be addressed.


The feasibility study will be conducted in 2009 and we are in the process of appointing a project manager whose first task will be to secure funding for and institutional commitment to the feasibility study.
Further updates on this work will follow.

 

Papers

Assessment of Learning Outcomes in Higher Education: A Comparative Review of Selected Practices - OECD Education Working Paper No. 15

Information note: Proposed feasibility study


Contact person: ahelo@oecd.org

 

See also AHELO related websites

 

Related Documents

 

Proposed OECD Feasibility Study for the International Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO)

Proposed OECD Feasibility Study for the International Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO)

 

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