Executive Summary

Despite evolving attitudes over the past ten years in Flemish education, there is room to improve the availability and use of data at the school level. The current government plans to introduce central standardised tests in 2024. Based on a feasibility study, considerations of different scenarios for standardised tests are ongoing, including purposes, reporting and administration. The Flemish department of education and training invited the OECD to consult with stakeholders on their motivations and concerns. Presenting stakeholder feedback and supporting evidence in six interrelated domains of a research-based strategic education governance framework, the analysis identifies several lessons for the further work.

Prioritising clear and active communication: The high-level forum can serve as an authoritative communication channel and also collect feedback in a timely and transparent way from key stakeholders. There is opportunity to more actively involve stakeholders in the next stage of development, such as to provide input into clarifying the purpose(s) and uses of the standardised tests. This will enable stakeholders to take up their roles and responsibilities in preparing for the introduction of standardised tests.

Committing to stakeholder involvement and ensuring key voices are heard: An important lesson is to take stakeholder involvement seriously at every stage of the policy development. Mobilising awareness, support and feedback channels for school leaders will be critical. Supporting a student survey on their expectations of standardised tests will empower student voice and provide pertinent insights.

Organising contributions from the educational field to support the university centre: There is motivation for involvement in test development and opportunity in establishing a coalition of test development partners across educational networks. The university centre can facilitate this by providing clear guidance on scheduling and expected time commitments.

Developing, sharing and consolidating common goals and how standardised tests will support these: The OECD case study has found a shared concern on the overall quality of education in Flanders and a body of evidence to support this. Such widespread recognition is pivotal and presents an opportunity to create a common vision for the role of standardised tests. There is strong support for standardised tests as tools to support school quality development and it is important to consider safeguard measures to this effect, including to ensure schools are encouraged to continue to develop and innovate their practice.

Taking a long-term perspective and adapting to changing contexts and new knowledge: There is value in refining and evolving the standardised tests development through concrete experiences in the educational field. This brings opportunities for professional learning and development through the collaboration of the research community (test developers) and schools. The first administrations of the standardised tests will generate much knowledge on how to optimise the use of results at the school level. An opportunity to clarify initial expectations is to ensure a coherent approach and communication from the Flemish education inspectorate and the pedagogical advisory services on how to use these results for school development as part of the broader view of educational quality (the ‘OK’ quality framework).

Coordinating action and learning from experiences in the educational field: There is value in providing coordinated guidance from the central authorities, based on systematic input from the educational field, on the expected use of the standardised tests and the associated time and resource requirements for teachers and schools.

Ensuring technical capacity for standardised test development and administration: Strong credibility for the university centre as a centre of scientific expertise will provide fertile ground for gaining regular feedback from the educational field during test development. There will need to be a careful evaluation of schools’ capacity to administer digital tests and due attention to field trials.

Laying foundations for the systematic use of standardised test results by professionals, with attention to:

Skills - There is a need to give adequate attention to the capabilities of teachers and other school staff to work with the results of standardised tests and other assessments. There is opportunity in committing to investment in professional development and in ways that can support collaborative practices in schools.

Availability - The rapidity of results feedback will play into their perceived value and relevance for educators. Notably, this would support students’ expectations for the standardised tests to bolster the culture of feedback to students on their progress more generally.

Organisational processes - School leaders will drive the preparation of the necessary processes and structures to create the space for effective use of the standardised tests. This can be supported at the system level by preparation of common guidance material for schools – a process that will need to engage school leaders and teachers and mobilise the expertise of pedagogical advisory services.

Interaction - The design and development of feedback from the standardised tests will be strengthened by the direct interaction between researchers and schools. Importantly, this presents an opportunity to promote horizontal collaboration and learning across the different educational networks.

Standards - The development of guidance material for schools will provide a common anchor for expectations on the use of standardised tests, clarifying how they are connected with the existing central anchors of the attainment targets and the broader ‘OK’ quality framework. There are roles here for the Flemish education inspectorate and the pedagogical advisory services to document expectations of how schools can interpret and position the data from the standardised tests in a broader array of evidence.

Ensuring the ‘fit’ of accountability instruments: The OECD case study has noted the perception of ‘accountability’ in Flemish education as a matter of internal responsibility and great resistance to the public availability of school performance information. There is opportunity to place standardised tests within the strengths of the current accountability system that focuses on dialogue and deepening an understanding between available data and links to ideas for improving practice.

Enhancing critical reflection on substantive expectations: Data from standardised tests will provide an objective and external perspective for school development, with appropriate mechanisms for designing data use and interpretation by teachers and school leaders to support informed practice and strategic planning. The inspectorate can confer a valuable perspective to schools on how they use the results.

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