copy the linklink copied!Assessment and recommendations

copy the linklink copied!Introduction

Serbia’s education system performs well compared to other countries in the Western Balkans. There have been improvements in access to education and Serbia has undertaken major institutional reforms in recent years, such as the introduction of achievement standards at the end of compulsory education, teacher standards and a school evaluation framework. However, progress has not benefitted all population groups equitably and a large share of students in Serbia continue to leave school without mastering the basic competencies needed for further education and life. Addressing these educational challenges is crucial to the country’s economic development, social prosperity and European integration.

As Serbia works to develop a new national education strategy for 2030, it needs strong evaluation and assessment systems to detect and address areas of low and inequitable performance. In particular, Serbia should develop reliable measures on the extent to which students are meeting national learning standards. Plans for a new national assessment and final examination (Matura) at the end of upper secondary school are positive steps toward providing data on student achievement and results can inform teaching and learning practices across the country. However, these reforms require adequate funding and capacity, which are currently jeopardised by Serbia’s overall low level of public expenditure on education. Improving students’ learning will require developing school level agency to use quality teaching and learning practices. This means strengthening school leadership, modernising the teaching profession and providing the support schools need to prepare their students for success in a creative and knowledge-based economy.

copy the linklink copied!Main trends

Nearly all children in Serbia now participate in compulsory education

Serbia has high levels of participation in compulsory education, which covers primary and lower secondary levels (from age 7 to 14). Net enrolment at the primary level is equivalent to the OECD average and at 97%, the enrolment rate in lower secondary education is higher than the average across OECD countries (91%) and in the Western Balkan region (90%) (UIS, 2019[1]). Moreover, the majority of students in Serbia continue from lower secondary to upper secondary schools. As such, participation in upper secondary education increased steadily in the past decade, reaching an 87% net enrolment rate in 2016. This is higher than the EU (82%), OECD (79%) and regional (78%) averages, which have experienced declining enrolment (Figure 1).

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Figure 1. Net enrolment rates in upper secondary education, 2008-16
Figure 1. Net enrolment rates in upper secondary education, 2008-16

Source: UIS (2019[1]), UNESCO Institute for Statistics, (accessed on 14 June 2019).

Learning outcomes remain relatively stable for students in lower-secondary education

National data on student learning outcomes in Serbia is limited. However, results from international assessments reveal that the average learning outcomes of students in lower secondary education (referred to in Serbia as second cycle of primary education) have generally remained stable, with slight overall improvements since the country first participated in the 2006 cycle of the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Between 2006 and 2012, Serbia was one of the few countries in the Western Balkans region to improve average performance across all PISA domains – reading, mathematics and science. The largest improvement during this period was in reading, where mean performance increased by 45 points, mostly from 2006 to 2009. In general, Serbia also decreased its share of low performers (students who score below Level 2 on the PISA scale) across all PISA domains since 2006. The overall decrease in the share of low performers was particularly significant in reading, going from 51.7% in 2006 to 32.8% in 2009. However, results from PISA 2018 show a slight decrease in learning outcomes since 2012, especially in reading and science. Today, fifteen-year-old students in Serbia continue to perform more than 1 year behind their peers in OECD countries across all subject domains, particularly in science (49 score point difference).

Participation and outcomes vary considerably

There is significant variation in both participation and outcomes in the Serbian education system. Although enrolment rates have increased considerably, these vary across socio-economic groups and regions. This is true for all levels of education, especially non-compulsory levels. For example, only 7% of students from the poorest families enrolled in pre-primary education in 2008, compared to 64% of those from the wealthier households (Pešikan and Ivić, 2016[2]).

With respect to learning outcomes, students from disadvantaged backgrounds in Serbia performed around two years behind their peers from wealthier families (73 score point difference) in the reading domain of PISA 2018 (see Figure 2). While this gap is not as large as the one found across OECD countries (average difference of 89 score points), it is larger than neighbouring Croatia and Montenegro, which have a 63 and 55 score point difference, respectively (OECD, 2019[3]). Despite this, 13.2% of students in Serbia from disadvantaged backgrounds are considered “resilient” (able to beat the odds and achieve high performance levels in PISA), compared to the OECD average (11.3%) (OECD, 2019[3]). Other dimensions according to which student outcomes in Serbia vary include:

  • Geographic location: Similar to other countries in the region, there are geographic disparities within Serbia. Students in rural areas are less likely to participate and complete school. In 2013, the drop-out rate from primary education was 1% in urban areas, compared to 14.25% in rural areas (Pešikan, 2015[4]). Learning outcomes also tend to be lower in rural areas: students attending schools located in Serbian cities scored on average 122.3 points higher in the PISA test of reading than students attending schools located in rural areas (OECD, 2019[5]).

  • Roma background: While there are large discrepancies between official census data and estimates, there are indications that Serbia has one of the largest shares of Roma people in the Western Balkans region. Some estimates reveal that the Roma community represents as much as 8% of the total Serbian population, below North Macedonia (9.7%) but higher than the share in other neighbouring countries (Council of Europe, 2012[6]). In terms of education, Roma children are far less likely than Serbians to participate and progress in school and higher education, especially when living in poverty. Only 37% of Roma students complete compulsory education and around one in five Roma students are enrolled in upper secondary education, compared to 89% of Serbian students (UNICEF, 2015[7]). Moreover, a study by UNICEF, which examined an unweighted sample of around 25 cases, found that only 4.7% of children from the poorest families among Serbia’s Roma settlements attend secondary education, compared to nearly 40% of those who come from more advantaged socio-economic backgrounds.

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Figure 2. Mean performance in reading by national quarters of the PISA index of economic, social and cultural status (PISA 2018)
Figure 2. Mean performance in reading by national quarters of the PISA index of economic, social and cultural status (PISA 2018)

Source: OECD (2019[3]), PISA 2018 Results (Volume II): Where All Students Can Succeed,

Teachers are not all well prepared to teach

Teachers in Serbia are not all well prepared to address the equity and quality issues in their country’s education system. This is partially because the requirements for entry into initial teacher education are not selective enough and the quality of programmes varies significantly. For example, some teachers enter the profession without having received any practical training in schools during their initial teacher education. Such gaps in pedagogical experience often go unaddressed as teachers continue in their careers because participation in professional development remains low, despite being mandatory. Lack of financial support and dissatisfaction with professional development offers help explain why many Serbian teachers do not complete all of their required professional development credits (Figure 3). This presents challenges in terms of updating teaching practices in line with Serbia’s new curriculum and evidence about approaches that help students learn.

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Figure 3. Percentage of mandatory training completed
Share of surveyed teachers reporting not having completed a percentage of the mandatory 100 credit points of professional development, by reasons for non-completion
Figure 3. Percentage of mandatory training completed

Source: IEE (2017[8]), Izveštaj: Ispitivanje Potreba za Stručnim Usavršavnjem [Report: Examining the Needs for Professional Improvement], Institute for Improvement of Education.

Education spending is chronically low

Serbia’s level of public expenditure on education has remained historically low and mostly unchanged over the past decade. The country’s share of total government expenditure allocated to education also remained low and mostly unchanged over the past decade (10% in 2007 and 9% in 2015) similar to OECD countries (12.7% in 2007 and 13% in 2015) (UIS, 2019[1]). Nevertheless, per student spending in Serbia has increased for all educational levels in recent years, partly because of the country’s declining student population. Serbia has tried for more than a decade to introduce a per-capita funding formula for education, which most OECD countries have used to distribute resources more responsively to schools’ contexts and needs (OECD, 2017[9]). However, the government has never fully implemented school financing reforms, making it difficult for small and socio-economically disadvantaged schools to meet the needs of their students.

copy the linklink copied!Evaluation and assessment in Serbia

This review analyses how policies for assessing student learning, appraising teachers, evaluating schools and evaluating the performance of the education system as a whole can be used to improve student outcomes in Serbia. The review draws upon the OECD’s analysis of policies and practices for evaluation and assessment in over 30 education systems to identify how Serbia can raise the quality of teaching and learning in schools (see Box 1). In undertaking this review, the OECD team identified three interrelated, systemic issues to address to strengthen evaluation and assessment in Serbia’s education system.

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Box 1. OECD reviews on evaluation and assessment

The OECD reviews show how the components of evaluation and assessment – student assessment, teacher appraisal, school evaluation, school leader appraisal and system evaluation – can be developed in synergy to enhance student achievement in primary and secondary education (Figure 4).

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Figure 4. Interactions within the evaluation and assessment framework
Figure 4. Interactions within the evaluation and assessment framework

This work has highlighted three hallmarks of a strong evaluation and assessment framework:

  • Setting clear standards for what is expected nationally of students, teachers, schools and the system overall. Countries that achieve high levels of quality and equity set ambitious goals for all, but are also responsive to different needs and contexts.

  • Collecting data and information on current learning and education performance. This is important for accountability – so that objectives are followed through – but also for improvement, so that students, teachers, schools and policymakers receive the feedback they need to reflect critically on their own progress and remain engaged and motivated to succeed.

  • Achieving coherence across the evaluation and assessment system. This means, for example, that school evaluation values the types of teaching and assessment practices that effectively support student learning and that teachers are appraised on the basis of the knowledge and skills that promote national education goals. This is critical to ensure that the whole education system is working in the same direction and that resources are used effectively.

Source: OECD (2013[10]), Synergies for Better Learning: An International Perspective on Evaluation and Assessment,

Building capacity for school improvement

Strong school leadership is key to defining a school’s goals, supporting the professional development of teachers and collaborating with staff to improve learning (Schleicher, 2015[11]). School leaders need training and support to accomplish these tasks effectively. In Serbia, school principals and leadership staff have some autonomy in how they allocate their school’s budget and manage instruction; however, the majority of school leaders never receive formal training on key areas of their work, such as instructional leadership. This limits the ability of school leadership staff to become proactive agents of improvement in Serbian schools.

While Serbia has guidelines on the key functions of school leaders, such as appraising teachers or conducting school self-evaluation, these are outdated and not fully aligned with recent education policies. Without sufficient training and guidance, it is not surprising that the country’s school principals are not using evaluation and assessment to set clear strategies for teaching and learning in their schools. For example, regular teacher appraisal does not systematically inform the professional development plan of individual teachers, student assessment results do not guide instruction and school self-evaluation is not an embedded part of the school planning cycle. Chronic underfunding and little external support (i.e. lack of coaching opportunities or participation in peer learning) further exacerbate these issues, limiting the capacity of schools to enact meaningful changes in their policies and practices.

This review makes several recommendations about how Serbia could develop school leadership capacity. At the national level, this review recommends placing school improvement at the centre of Serbia’s new national education strategy by setting clear goals for strengthening the leadership competencies of school principals and better co-ordinating the agencies responsible for providing schools with technical support. In particular, the roles of Serbia’s Institute for Education Quality and Evaluation (IEQE), the Institute for Improvement of Education (IIE) and Regional School Authorities (RSAs) should be reviewed to ensure greater alignment among their respective work programmes and functions. Opportunities for coaching and mentorship in areas such as school leadership, student assessment and school self-evaluation should also be provided. Finally, the Serbian Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development (hereafter the ministry) should ensure that schools have adequate public funding to organise professional learning opportunities for their staff and implement school improvement plans.

Modernising and professionalising teaching

Preparing students to compete in 21st century economies requires teachers who are knowledgeable, skilled and motivated to continue improving. Over the past 15 years, Serbia has introduced several reforms related to the teaching profession. Flagship policies include a merit-based career structure, adoption of teacher standards and a master’s in education programme. While these reforms aim to increase the attractiveness of the teaching profession and encourage teachers to develop their competencies throughout their careers, they have yet to catalyse real change in teaching practices. For example, very few teachers apply for higher positions along the merit-based career structure. Moreover, results from external school evaluation over the past five years show that the overall quality of teaching and learning in Serbian schools remains low. Teachers continue to use knowledge-based and teacher-centred approaches that do not align with the expectations of the country’s new curriculum and learning standards.

Several structural barriers have contributed to this situation. Serbia’s merit-based career structure does not define clear expectations for advancement nor does it incentivise teachers to apply for promotions. For example, there are no links between promotions and salary increases. Moreover, the initial training teachers receive does not prepare them sufficiently for the job. In particular, the content of programmes taught in Serbian education faculties is often outdated and subject teachers (in Grades 5 to 12) receive very limited training on pedagogy. Serbia also has difficulties attracting talented and motivated young people to become teachers. This is partially because the base salary of Serbian teachers is lower than teacher pay in many other countries and compared to salaries for other professions within the country. A general oversupply of teachers, caused by demographic decline, has led to fewer employment opportunities for teachers and an increase in the number of part-time jobs. This affects the quality of education and further hinders Serbia’s capacity to hire new talent into the profession.

This review makes several recommendations about how Serbia can modernise and professionalise its teaching workforce. Strengthening the incentives for teachers to develop and seek higher responsibilities will be important. Making better use of appraisal to consolidate the competencies of beginner teachers and inform professional development throughout their careers, can help raise the quality of teaching and learning even further. Serbia should also monitor the quality of initial teacher education more closely and keep providers accountable for equipping their graduates with the competencies needed to become good teachers. Appraisal of candidate teachers can help here, by linking the allocation of scholarships and initial teacher placements based on performance.

Prioritising national education goals and monitoring progress

The Strategy for Education Development in Serbia 2020 (hereafter the strategy) marks an important shift in the way Serbia develops education policy: from a culture based on political negotiations over legislation, towards one that draws on evidence and focuses attention and accountability on addressing the challenges facing the country. However, while the abundance of goals and targets interspersed throughout the current strategy provide great ambitions for Serbia’s education system, they offer little prioritisation of what issues are most important for the future. As Serbia prepares for its next medium-term strategy, which will outline the country’s vision for education to 2030, the ministry should distil its ambitions for education into a small set of high priority goals that can help steer improvement in Serbian classrooms, schools and the education system as a whole.

This review provides recommendations on how building stronger foundations for system evaluation will help Serbia to focus and align education reforms with main priorities to improve student learning. In particular, evaluation tools such as the new national assessment are critical to better understanding the extent to which students in Serbia are meeting national learning standards and helping teachers make informed professional judgements to meet the individual needs of their students. Serbia will also need to strengthen the functionality of the Unified Information System of Education (UISE) so that relevant and reliable data can be easily accessed by policymakers and other stakeholders to inform education policies, measure progress and maintain focus on national education goals.

copy the linklink copied!Improving the value of school-based assessments and central examinations for teaching and learning

The primary purpose of student assessment is to determine what students know and are capable of doing. This can help teachers improve their practice and inform decisions about student placement, especially when opportunities are limited. Serbia is working to reform school-based assessment practices and centralised examinations to serve this purpose. For example, learning standards and new curricular plans are using competency-based and student-centred approaches to modernise teaching and learning. In addition, there are plans to introduce a new centralised State Matura examination in June 2021. This exam will certify the completion of secondary school and become the main criterion for selection into tertiary education through a new admissions system. However, the success of these reforms will require improvements in their design and plans for implementation.

As Serbia seeks to make education more learner-centred, student assessment practices both in schools and nationally must reinforce this goal. To do this, the ministry needs to address several factors that currently limit the educational value of student assessments. First, teachers and students require more support to shift their attention from grades towards learning. Ensuring a better balance between school-based formative and summative assessments can help. There is also a need for further reflection on the design and implementation of the new Matura exam at the end of upper secondary school. While there is a legitimate desire to advance this landmark reform quickly, the new Matura will have significant implications for students and universities and, therefore, must be carefully piloted and prepared to design a sound and trusted instrument. Parallel measures to strengthen the technical quality and implementation of the central examination at the end of basic education (Grade 8) would further reinforce public confidence in the country’s examination system while ensuring a more positive backwash on teaching and learning in schools.

Policy issue 2.1. Ensuring a better balance between formative and summative purposes in school-based assessment

In Serbia, there is a marked imbalance between school-based assessment for learning (formative assessment) and assessment of learning (summative assessment). On the one hand, there are frequent summative assessments because teachers must assign a minimum number of numerical marks to all students each year. This has high stakes for students since cumulative grade point average (GPA) influences their options for upper secondary and tertiary education. By contrast, formative assessment in Serbia is underdeveloped, largely because summative assessment weighs so heavily, but also because the purposes of formative assessment are poorly understood, valued and practised. For example, while there is a law mandating that teachers administer initial diagnostic assessments at the beginning of the school year to all students, it is unclear whether teachers are using these results to adapt their instructional practices and focus on individual student needs. This imbalance can have negative consequences as it generates pressure for students and parents to focus on getting good marks rather than authentic learning. Moreover, some teachers and schools may respond to this pressure by inflating student grades.

Serbian teachers also receive little guidance and training on how to use assessment to inform teaching and learning. This is especially important if the ministry expects teachers to align their assessment practices with the new competency-based curriculum, which requires teachers to evaluate complex outcomes that are hard to visualise and judge reliably. Results of external school evaluations show that teachers struggle with assessing student learning in more than half of Serbia’s schools (IEQE, 2017[12]). In response, the ministry identified improving teacher assessment literacy as a professional development priority for 2017-20.

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Box 2. Recommended actions for ensuring a better balance between formative and summative school-based assessments

Recommendation 2.1.1. Revise the student assessment framework to encourage a shift in focus from marks to learning. Serbia needs to revise its national framework for student assessment to ensure that teachers have the space to use assessment in a more formative manner. Revising the legal requirements around summative assessment and requiring teachers to provide students with descriptive feedback based on performance levels in the new curriculum could help improve the educational value of marking. The ministry should also consider replacing Serbia’s traditional 1-5 marking scale with a longer common scale, as this would give teachers greater scope in differentiating how they report classroom outcomes. The success of these reforms will rely on clearly communicating core principles and definitions for student assessment that teachers can use to inform their everyday practice.

Recommendation 2.1.2. Strengthen the support provided to schools in conducting formative assessment. The central government needs to provide schools with more support on how to use assessment results to inform teaching and learning practices. To do this, the Exam Centre could develop nationally standardised initial tests for key transition grades and gradually develop a pool of test item examples for all grades and subjects. This would help improve the quality of teachers’ diagnostic judgements, providing a basis for more differentiated responses to the individual needs of learners. The ministry also needs to give teachers better guidance on how to integrate formative assessment approaches within their regular classroom activities. In particular, how to provide feedback in a way that is sensitive, constructive and motivational, but also how to engage students in setting and monitoring their own learning goals. Encouraging the use of student portfolios can help achieve this aim.

Recommendation 2.1.3. Develop teachers’ assessment literacy. Serbia needs to improve the quality and practical value of teacher training on assessment. Primarily, the Institute for Improvement of Education and the ministry should ensure that all practising teachers who demonstrate weaknesses with respect to their assessment literacy receive free and mandatory training to help them reach a minimum level of competency. School principals should also receive guidelines, tools and training on how to appraise and develop teacher assessment literacy. Finally, to support this, the ministry should clarify what assessment competencies teachers should have and how these might develop throughout the teaching career.

Policy issue 2.2. Planning for the successful implementation of a new final examination (Matura) at the interface of upper secondary and tertiary education

The plan to introduce a new final examination (Matura) at the end of upper secondary education is a vital reform that promises to enhance fairness, transparency and efficiency in decision-making at this critical juncture in a student’s education and life. Specifically, the Matura intends to certify the completion of upper secondary school and inform student selection into tertiary education. The associated introduction of a new admissions system aims to allocate university places and scholarships based on student choice and merit. Within this new system, results from the curriculum-based Matura will provide the main measure of aptitude, largely replacing the current selection tests administered by individual tertiary institutions.

Preparing adequately for the implementation of this reform will be crucial to its success. However, with less than two years until the first cohort of students is expected to take the Matura (in June 2021), many design aspects still need to be defined. For example, it remains unclear exactly how the new common admissions system will allocate students to tertiary programmes. The ministry also needs to decide the administrative and marking procedures for the Matura exam. Technical quality and public trust are essential for any high-stakes examination, and Serbia runs significant risks if it moves forward too quickly with this reform, before designs are finalised and instruments piloted.

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Box 3. Recommended actions for introducing a new final examination (Matura)

Recommendation 2.2.1. Develop the concept of the new system of student admissions into tertiary education. Serbia has yet to define exactly how the new admissions system will use Matura results to help allocate students to tertiary programmes. To improve the efficiency and transparency of this process, the ministry should consider introducing a common admission system (CAS) that takes into account student preferences, university entry requirements and achievement scores. The CAS’s rules and procedures need to be clear for all stakeholders. The algorithm behind the system should consider various inputs and result in a unique offer that matches students with available places. The Common Admission System should also be used to centrally distribute the state scholarships.

Recommendation 2.2.2. Review and complete Matura’s examination model. The design concept of Serbia’s new Matura needs to include clear procedures for scoring, scaling and reporting student results. There also needs to be an agreement on test items, which should include a combination of multiple-choice and open-ended questions to assess more of the curriculum. This review also recommends that Serbia consider revising the current policy on mathematics testing. Mathematics should be a compulsory exam for all students. However, the exam should be offered at two levels, which would help ensure that all students have attained basic functional numeracy while simultaneously offering some students – for example those who require advanced mathematics for university – an option to take a more difficult exam.

Recommendation 2.2.3. Set up sustainable administrative and information-technology systems to implement the Matura. Serbia needs to clarify the administrative process and infrastructure for the Matura and CAS before the launch of the Matura in 2021. This will require identifying the agencies and actors responsible for key implementation tasks and ensuring they are sufficiently resourced and trained. This review recommends the IEQE Exam Centre lead the overall Matura process, including administration of the CAS. In particular, the Exam Centre should review the CAS information and technology system to ensure it accommodates the additional subjects and electives that will be covered in the new Matura. Securing sustainable funding from the central government for the Matura will be crucial to covering the core human, technical and physical resources required for its effective implementation in the long term.

Recommendation 2.2.4. Set a realistic timeframe for implementation and build public understanding and support for the new system. Serbia should delay the implementation of the Matura by at least two years and set a new target date for 2023. This revised timeline will give the ministry and the IEQE more time to consult with key stakeholders and address outstanding gaps in the exam’s design. Extending the implementation timeframe will also allow Serbia to conduct proper two-stage piloting, set up the required administrative and information and technology systems and establish a communications campaign to effectively disseminate results.

Policy issue 2.3. Strengthening the technical quality of the central examination at the end of basic education

The central examination that students take at the end of basic education (Grade 8) has served its dual purpose well since its creation in 2011. First, it certifies students’ completion of basic education and, second, it provides scores that are used to automatically place students into general secondary and vocational education and training (VET) schools, taking into account their “wish list” of desired schools. However, almost a decade after its introduction, the exam would benefit from some refinement in terms of its design and administration.

Despite efforts by the IEQE Exam Centre to include more diverse item types, Serbia’s Grade 8 exam relies primarily on items that assess the reproduction of facts and the use of routine cognitive procedures, mostly at lower and intermediate levels of difficulty. The exam also makes little attempt to assess the transversal competencies emphasised in the learning standards. In addition, there are specific well-recognised concerns with the combined test of biology, chemistry, geography, history and physics, which does not provide a valid measure of student achievement for each of these five subject domains.

While procedures are in place to ensure the proper implementation of the Grade 8 exam, there is still some evidence of malpractice. For example, schools do not always administer the test procedures correctly and there have been cases of school staff deliberately giving their students the right answers. This problem does not appear to be widespread, according to analysis by the Exam Centre. However, the lack of public information on the extent of malpractice and of visible measures to address recognised weaknesses contributes to a climate of mistrust. Building public confidence in the quality and integrity of the “little” Matura will be important for supporting Serbia’s examination reforms at the end of upper secondary school.

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Box 4. Recommended actions for strengthening the technical quality of the central exam at the end of basic education

Recommendation 2.3.1. Develop the exam to measure a wider range of competencies and levels of achievement. Serbia’s Grade 8 exam has a limited number of test items and a short scoring scale. This makes it difficult to assess a wide range of competencies reliably. The IEQE Exam Centre should consider increasing the overall number of test items, especially at more advanced levels, to better measure competencies across the ability range. Replacing the combined test with more valid assessments of specific subjects, such as a test of natural sciences and a combined test of history and geography, could be a better way to measure student competencies in specific domains. In addition to changes in the exam’s design, the ministry should also invest in developing the capacity of associate teachers and staff within the IEQE to ensure they understand how to assess higher-order competencies and write test items that require students to use these skills.

Recommendation 2.3.2. Build public confidence in the examination system. The ministry and the IEQE Exam Centre should take measures to improve trust in the Grade 8 exam results. Appointing exam supervisors from other municipalities (to avoid bias), introducing greater penalties for malpractice, increasing the number of schools from which tests are reviewed and targeting schools for review where past irregularities were observed are some of the ways in which Serbia could achieve this goal. It is also important to provide more information to the public about improvements in the exam’s administration.

copy the linklink copied!Promoting and supporting good teaching

Serbia has taken important steps to professionalise the teaching workforce, notably through the introduction of a merit-based career structure in 2004. However, the use of teacher appraisal to inform promotion and professional development remains nascent compared to OECD and neighbouring countries. For example, schools receive no guidance on how to use appraisal to encourage professional development and the merit-based career structure does not bring gains in terms of salary or professional recognition, weakening its potential as an incentive for teachers to develop professionally and take on new roles. Serbia will also need to address several structural issues in order to promote and support good teaching, such as low teacher salaries and having a large, ageing teaching workforce.

Policy issue 3.1. Providing teachers with stronger encouragement and incentives to develop their practices and seek higher responsibilities

Serbia was one of the first countries in the Western Balkans to set up a merit-based career structure for teachers. However, some important design gaps are limiting the system’s potential to effectively reward performance and provide teachers with incentives to update their skills, knowledge and practice. Serbian teachers receive no guidance on the type of competencies they need to demonstrate to advance in their career. Moreover, years of experience has a bigger role in determining salary increases than performance or level of responsibility. As a result, Serbia’s merit-based career structure fails to incentivise teachers to gain new competencies and apply for higher positions.

The complexity of the promotion process also discourages many teachers from applying to higher positions. Advisors, who are responsible for teacher promotion appraisals, lack training and there are no common tools or guidelines to ensure the process is consistent and fair. Moreover, teacher councils within schools do not have a mandate for teacher appraisal but often play a significant role in teacher promotion. This limits objectivity and may lead to rewarding loyalty instead of competency. Serbia needs to revise the teacher promotion process to make sure it rewards good teaching and encourages professional development. This can help improve teacher motivation and teaching quality in the education system and, through this, help improve student learning.

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Box 5. Recommended actions for providing stronger encouragement and incentives for teachers to develop their practices and seek higher responsibilities

Recommendation 3.1.1. Make sure that expectations and responsibilities at each level in the career structure are well defined and clear for teachers. Serbia should revise its teacher standards to define clearly the competencies expected at each step of the career structure. This will help teachers better understand what competencies they need to develop to advance to higher positions. The new teacher standards should include illustrations of desired teaching practices and set an expectation of continuous development and improvement. Once Serbia defines teacher competencies by career level, it will be important to make sure that teachers receive adequate opportunities to develop these competencies. This means that the list of professional development opportunities, prepared by the Institute for Improvement of Education (IIE), should clearly indicate the competencies targeted by each training programme. School principals, pedagogues and psychologists should also receive sufficient guidance on how to orient teachers to the right programmes aligned with their career goals.

Recommendation 3.1.2. Revise the appraisal for promotion procedure to ensure fairness and independence. As the ministry revises Serbia’s teacher standards, it will also need to provide advisors with guidelines on how to assess teacher performance against these. In particular, advisors should receive clear directions on how to conduct classroom observations and interview teachers in a way that captures a teacher’s competencies accurately and reliably. Developing tools, such as indicators and descriptors, would be particularly helpful. To ensure fairness, similar criteria should be used to appraise all teachers and the appraisal process should be carried out by advisors from an RSA that is not attached to the teacher’s school. The ministry will also need to provide advisors with training on providing feedback to teachers and school principals on how they can help improve teaching.

Recommendation 3.1.3. Strengthen the link between teacher performance and reward. There are almost no rewards or recognition for good or excellent performance in Serbia’s teacher career structure. Rewards, both financial and symbolic, can play an important role in inspiring teachers and encouraging them to improve. Teacher salaries in Serbia increase based on years of experience, which partly explains the low numbers of teachers seeking promotion. The ministry should make sure there is a decent salary increase between different levels of the teaching career structure. Financial incentives should be progressive enough to reward performance and the starting salary should be sufficient to attract and retain talented teachers. The ministry might also explore alternative ways to ensure that good teaching performance is recognised and valued, such as by providing more public recognition to exceptional teachers or giving schools a small grant that they can distribute to teachers as a reward for good performance.

Policy issue 3.2. Improving the developmental value of regular in-school appraisal

Serbian schools have a lot of flexibility in how they organise and use the results of regular teacher appraisal, with each school being required to set up its own classroom observation strategy as part of its annual professional development plan. However, there is no national framework for this process, which often leaves Serbian schools without a clear sense of purpose or appropriate methods to develop teacher appraisal. As a result, the quality of teacher appraisal varies significantly among schools. Another factor that contributes to the lack of consistency in the quality of the regular appraisal process is that school principals and pedagogues have limited initial training and continuous professional development on how to conduct appraisals and how to provide constructive feedback on teaching practices. This undermines the legitimacy and value of the appraisal process and leads some teachers to perceive classroom observation by the school principal as a control mechanism instead of a formative process.

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Box 6. Recommended actions for improving the developmental value of regular in-school teacher appraisal

Recommendation 3.2.1. Develop clear guidelines and tools for in-school appraisal. The Institute for Improvement of Education (IIE) should develop national guidelines for in-school appraisal that clearly define the purpose of this practice, identify the sources of evidence that can be used to evaluate different teacher competencies, and explain effective ways to conduct classroom observations and teacher interviews. Appraisal results should identify a teacher’s level of competency against the revised teacher standards and feed into their individual professional development plan. These results should also inform the overall school development plan and the principal’s decision to validate a promotion appraisal.

Recommendation 3.2.2. Invest in developing in-school capacity for appraisal. Serbia should invest in improving the appraisal capacity of pedagogues and school principals already in service. These actors should have opportunities to develop their appraisal competencies through practical training programmes, peer learning and coaching activities and by using an online platform to exchange good practices and materials. Teachers should also be helped to reflect critically on their own training needs. To this end, the IIE should encourage school principals and pedagogues to use the self-appraisal tool in discussions with teachers about their performance. They could also offer teachers a training module on self-appraisal to explain why this process matters and how it can help develop their practice and foster a sense of self-efficacy.

Policy issue 3.3. Making sure that professional development opportunities meet the needs of teachers

Improving the teacher appraisal system needs to go hand in hand with improving the quality of continuous professional development. Without this link, the regular appraisal process risks being perceived as a meaningless exercise by the teaching profession and is less likely to enhance teaching performance (Danielson, 2007[13]). In Serbia, the results of regular teacher appraisals do not systematically inform professional development. Instead, teacher councils determine development areas and there is no expectation that teachers receive training to help address gaps in the skills and knowledge identified through the appraisal process. Moreover, the IIE commission in charge of accrediting training programmes does not use appraisal results as a source of information to determine its focus areas.

The take-up of professional development in Serbia is very limited compared to OECD countries (OECD, 2014[14]). This is partly because teachers and schools lack financial resources for training and because there is some dissatisfaction with current training offers. Professional development in Serbia mainly takes place outside of schools in seminars or workshops and does not seem to focus on some key skills gaps, such as the use of learning standards. This suggests a need to provide teachers with more opportunities to learn and develop their competencies within the school setting. While there is an emerging culture of in-school collaboration and peer learning among Serbian teachers, several hurdles, especially lack of funding and limited national guidance, prevent these practices from creating systemic change.

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Box 7. Recommended actions for making sure that professional development opportunities meet the needs of teachers

Recommendation 3.3.1. Use information from appraisal to identify teacher development needs. Serbia needs to make better use of information from the teacher appraisal system to improve the quality of professional development programmes and address serious weaknesses in teaching practices. To this end, the Institute for Improvement of Education (IIE) should receive funding to develop a systematic process for collecting information about the professional development needs of teachers across schools and on a regular basis. Asking advisors, school principals and pedagogues to complete a simple questionnaire about training priorities and triangulating results of teacher appraisals with evidence from national assessments and external school evaluations could help achieve this goal. School principals should also have the authority to require teachers who do not meet satisfactory benchmarks in key competency areas to undertake training to improve their practice. Ideally, this training should be free of charge for both the school and teachers.

Recommendation 3.3.2. Develop in-school professional development opportunities and peer learning. Organising in-school professional development activities and encouraging collaborative learning among teachers requires funding. Most schools in Serbia must fundraise or find other means to cover the costs of professional development activities for teachers, creating inequities between schools in rich and poor areas. External school evaluation should check that central funds allocated for in-school professional development and peer-learning activities respond effectively to the needs of teachers. The IIE should support schools in this effort by providing guidance and training on different types of professional development activities. The IIE should also encourage teachers to upload and share lesson plans and assessment examples on an e-learning platform, which will require long-term funding for maintenance and development.

Policy issue 3.4. Preparing and selecting a new generation of teachers

Countries with strong education systems invest significantly in attracting and selecting talented and motivated candidates into the teaching profession and providing them with adequate training to become effective teachers (Schleicher, 2015[11]). Serbia is still far from having a quality initial teacher preparation model that meaningfully selects trains and supports new teachers. The quality of initial teacher education in Serbian universities is low, in particular for subject teachers who work in Grades 5 to 12. In fact, many new subject teachers enter the classroom without having received pedagogical training or classroom experience gained through a teaching practicum. The lack of programme-specific accreditation criteria and quality standards contributes to significant heterogeneity in the content and quality of courses and makes it harder to align initial teacher education with recent reforms to the school curriculum. Moreover, the accreditation commission does not have enough resources to organise follow-up checks to verify that essential requirements are in place.

Once in school, novice teachers do not always have access to adequate feedback and opportunities to develop their practice. While Serbia has a mentorship programme targeting novice teachers, mentors themselves do not receive any training on how to observe classroom practice and provide feedback to their mentees. In addition, the ministry has not updated its guidelines for teacher mentorship since 2007. Therefore, these guidelines do not align with recent reforms, such as the introduction of teacher standards.

Difficulty recruiting new teaching graduates into the position is also holding back efforts to modernise teaching practices in Serbia. The general oversupply of teachers, limited number of available posts and freeze in public service hires have exacerbated this issue. As a result, Serbia has almost completely stopped recruiting new teachers. Nevertheless, shortages persist in some subject areas, such as mathematics, physics and foreign languages, where private sector jobs requiring these skills tend to be more attractive. Serbia needs to recruit talented new teachers to raise the level of qualifications among the teaching workforce and implement new ideas and teaching approaches that align with the curriculum (i.e. learner-centred, competency-based and inclusive education).

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Box 8. Recommended actions for attracting new teachers

Recommendation 3.4.1. Select and provide in-school support to motivated and talented new teachers. The Serbian ministry needs to improve the quality assurance of teacher education programmes and ensure that selection into the profession is fair and based on teachers’ competencies. Setting accreditation criteria, developing guidelines for the design and duration of teaching practica and limiting state-funded places in initial teacher education to the best-qualified candidates can help achieve this goal. The ministry should consider introducing a national qualifications exam to ensure that teacher candidates have met minimum requirements after completing their initial education. Since the quality of initial teacher education varies and opportunities for practical training are limited, Serbia should strengthen the mentorship programme for novice teachers. To this end, the Institute for Improvement of Education (IIE) might introduce mandatory training for all appointed mentors, update the mentorship manual based on new standards for novice teachers and create a network of mentor teachers who work with several schools. Feedback from mentors can help make the appraisal process for new teachers more formative and inform the decision on whether a new teacher should pass their probation period. Serbia should consider involving RSA advisors in the probation decision to ensure a fair external judgement of teachers’ practices in the classroom.

Recommendation 3.4.2. Revise the allocation of human resources to make sure that new teachers are hired. The ministry needs to set up a strategy to address the oversupply of teachers and facilitate the recruitment of new teachers, especially in subject areas where there are already teacher shortages. Appraisal results can be used to help manage the numbers of newly licensed teachers, orient experienced teachers towards other positions, such as pedagogues, and inform a scheme for early retirement that Serbia should consider introducing. To attract and retain teachers in specific subjects, the ministry could offer a fixed number of scholarships to better control teacher supply and anticipate needs in these areas; however, this should be conditional on working in the teaching profession for a minimum number of years. Developing a fast track in the career structure and introducing alternative pathways into the profession could also help retain talented teachers and attract mid-career professionals from the private sector.

copy the linklink copied!Developing schools’ capacity for improvement

School evaluation serves the dual purpose of helping schools improve their practices and keeping them accountable for the quality of their work. Serbia has made a strong push in the past two decades to develop both an external school evaluation system and school self-evaluation. External school evaluation in Serbia has many positive elements and self-evaluation is required on an annual basis. However, gaps and tensions in these processes prevent Serbia from making the most of evaluation to help schools improve their teaching and learning practices. In particular, schools receive a limited amount of technical follow-up and school evaluation reports are commonly perceived as summative rather than formative.

This is a concern since schools often lack the capacity to use evaluation exercises to define and implement improvement plans on their own. For example, school principals in Serbia do not receive adequate training on how to play their role as instructional leaders and chronic underfunding leaves many schools reliant on parents, non-governmental organisations or the private sector to fund their school development plans. This suggests a need for Serbia to strengthen external and self-evaluation and embed these processes in a larger framework of school improvement.

Policy issue 4.1. Developing external evaluation into a meaningful process for school improvement

On paper, Serbia has one of the most advanced external school evaluation systems in the Western Balkans. The evaluation process, developed with the help of the Standing International Conference of Inspectorates (SICI) and the Dutch Inspectorate, reflects many features of mature school evaluation systems in OECD countries. However, in practice, external school evaluation has done little to trigger improvements within Serbian schools. This is partly because of the perception that external school evaluation is primarily a rating exercise and does not give schools quality feedback. However, the process also faces challenges caused by limited resources and capacity, combined with a lack of external technical support.

If external evaluation is to serve as a real catalyst for change in school practice and policy, Serbia will need to reinforce its capacity for evaluation. Currently, responsibilities for external school evaluation are divided between the IEQE, a semi-independent agency that develops evaluation resources, and advisors in RSAs, who are responsible for implementation. As a result, there is no single entity responsible for leading external evaluation and ensuring its overall quality and effectiveness. In addition to strong leadership, meaningful external evaluation requires schools to have the right guidance, capacities and incentives to take action in response to evaluation results. The feedback currently provided to Serbian schools is limited to numerical scores and a description of performance against each indicator. Schools rarely receive external follow-up support from RSA advisors, even those that identified as weak or very weak. This leaves schools to determine and implement improvement efforts without sufficient resources or support.

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Box 9. Recommended actions for developing external evaluation into a meaningful process

Recommendation 4.1.1. Institutionalise and invest in capacity for external evaluation. Serbia needs to strengthen the external evaluation process to provide a more independent perspective on school quality. To do this, the ministry should consider establishing the Institute for Education Quality and Evaluation (IEQE) Centre for Quality Assurance of Educational Institutions as an independent agency responsible for overseeing and implementing external school evaluation. At a minimum, the centre should have its own dedicated, sustainable funding stream to carry out this mandate. This would enable the centre to train, license and contract individuals of various profiles to staff evaluation teams. Importantly, the persons responsible for evaluating schools should not be the same individuals tasked with helping to implement recommendations or providing other forms of ongoing technical support, as this can create conflicts of interest.

Recommendation 4.1.2. Review how evaluation results are reported and used to support school improvement. The ministry and relevant agencies need to provide schools with useful feedback, as well as more support, to plan and implement change in response to evaluation results. In particular, the Centre for Quality Assurance should consider revising the template for school evaluation reports to include quality descriptors that give meaning to numerical evaluation scores. The template could also include a short summary of findings and benchmarks of contextualised performance data. Serbia will also need to ensure that school principals are adequately prepared to plan school improvement and motivate the school community behind collective follow-up action. Schools that do not meet minimum quality standards during external evaluations should receive additional resources and support to help them improve. A differentiated approach to external school evaluation for both the schools that are struggling and those that perform exceptionally well and follow-up can help ensure that weak schools have frequent opportunities to demonstrate progress and reward those that show strong improvement.

Policy issue 4.2. Supporting schools to develop a culture of self-evaluation and learning

School self-evaluation has been mandatory in Serbia for almost two decades; however, it has not yet led to a culture of continuous learning and improvement in schools. This is in large part because of the limited guidance and support that schools receive on how to engage in meaningful self-evaluation. For example, the school self-evaluation manual does not reflect the new school quality standards introduced in 2011 and updated in 2018. Other challenging factors include the limited capacity for instructional leadership in schools and lack of financial resources to support schools in implementing improvement activities.

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Box 10. Recommended actions for supporting schools to develop a culture of self-evaluation and learning

Recommendation 4.2.1. Provide schools with guidance on how to evaluate quality and use the results to inform development plans. To embed self-evaluation in Serbia’s school improvement culture, schools need clear direction as to what quality learning looks likes and tools to evaluate their practices in relation to standards and benchmarks. This might involve updating the school self-evaluation manual to include simple prompting questions that highlight core areas to evaluate. The IEQE Centre for Quality Assurance should also monitor the quality of school self-evaluation processes through external school evaluation and provide training to schools that are facing difficulties in this area. Finally, the government should also allocate sufficient funding and human resources for the centre to provide schools with the technical support they need to make the most of the self-evaluation process and drive improvement.

Recommendation 4.2.2. Develop school leadership for improving the quality of their schools. Most principals in Serbia do not receive training in school leadership before or during their first years in this role. As such, the ministry should consider introducing free and mandatory initial education for principals. Developing an independent School Leadership Academy to manage the initial training, certification and continuous professional development of school principals could help achieve this goal. This institution could also conduct research on improving leadership practice, raising the visibility of school leadership and strengthening the professionalisation of principals. A mentorship programme for new school principals could also help provide support and guidance on how to undertake instructional leadership duties and provide meaningful feedback to teachers. Serbia should make use of the external evaluation process to identify leadership capacity gaps and recommend professional development opportunities for school principals. For example, the centre should include school leadership capacity as a core indicator for external evaluation.

Policy issue 4.3. Putting school improvement at the centre of the national education strategy

For school evaluation to contribute meaningfully to the improvement of student learning nationwide, it needs to be part of a broader national effort to build schools’ capacity and agency by aligning external support, funding, monitoring and accountability systems. Despite Serbia’s efforts to improve school quality, policies remain fragmented and relatively weak. This is in part because the separate agencies responsible for school improvement at the national level are poorly co-ordinated. Schools also lack access to the type of financial and technical resources that would enable them to improve their teaching and learning practices.

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Box 11. Recommendations for putting school improvement at the centre of the national education strategy

Recommendation 4.3.1. Develop a national strategy for school improvement. The ministry should put developing school agency for improvement at the centre of its new Education Strategy 2020-30. The strategy should propose that schools form professional leadership teams, comprised of the principal, deputy principal and pedagogue, to drive improvement efforts. An action plan should help organise policies related to professional learning (e.g. School Leadership Academy, mentorship). Finally, the ministry and relevant agencies should develop collectively a unique platform to store resources for school improvement. This can help create a better understanding of the interlinkages between school evaluation, school planning and teaching and learning practices. Locally, the RSAs could encourage schools to collaborate and share experiences through regular events, school exchange visits and the online platform.

Recommendation 4.3.2. Make sure that schools are provided with sufficient financial resources to implement their improvement plans. Providing schools with sufficient financial resources and support should be a central component of Serbia’s school improvement strategy. The ministry should consider introducing a central targeted grant to help schools implement their improvement plans, in particular for schools that performed poorly in the external evaluation and those located in low socio-economic areas. These funds should be accompanied by external technical support and monitoring.

copy the linklink copied!Building stronger foundations to evaluate national education performance

System evaluation is central to improving educational performance. It holds the government and other stakeholders accountable for meeting national goals and provides information that can help with the development of more effective policies. Serbia has established some of the basic components of system evaluation. For example, a national education strategy provides a reference for planning and the ministry works with external partners, such as universities, to conduct research and evaluations. However, the country generally struggles to make information about public sector performance widely available (OECD, 2017[15]). In Serbia’s education system, this is partly because of important gaps in the evaluation infrastructure. Specifically, the lack of a national assessment of student learning and a fully functioning education management information system (EMIS) leaves Serbia without an adequate evidence base to guide and monitor policy reforms, making it difficult to understand the main issues stalling educational improvement.

Developing a stronger evaluation system will be crucial as Serbia works towards developing its new post-2020 education strategy. If carefully designed and implemented, the new national assessment can provide valuable information about the extent to which students are meeting national learning standards. Encouraging policymakers to access and interpret administrative and assessment data when developing education policies can help address systemic issues and lead to a better understanding of where and why students are falling behind in their learning, despite high levels of school participation. Aligning these reforms can help the Serbian education system improve from being a good regional performer to an excellent one.

Policy issue 5.1. Using the new education strategy to focus on achieving national priorities

Serbia’s current education strategy is ambitious and extensive. It includes a diagnosis of the country’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) across the education sector and offers some quantitative targets that align with those established by the European Union’s (EU) 2020 Strategy. However, the multiplicity of objectives and lack of prioritisation has made it difficult to determine where to concentrate reform efforts, especially in the context of limited resources for education. Moreover, the progress indicators included in the action plan are not always relevant and lack specific targets. This further weakens accountability since it is difficult to provide snapshots of progress. The multiplicity also presents a risk in terms of policy alignment and co-ordination. As Serbia works to develop its next education strategy, the ministry should focus on identifying key national priorities and developing an action plan better designed to steer implementation.

There is also a need to establish stronger links between the education strategy and resources. This was a considerable challenge for the current strategy, which was based on the education budget, increasing to 6% of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2020 when, in reality, education spending fell across the duration of the strategy. While the Serbian Ministry of Finance prepares annual budgets within a three-year medium-term framework, the timelines for preparing these is too tight for a proper assessment and debate of programmes (OECD, 2017[15]).

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Box 12. Recommended actions for using the new education strategy to focus on achieving national priorities

Recommendation 5.1.1. Identify national priorities for the new strategy. Serbia needs to prioritise the strategic issues for its new education strategy. To do this, the ministry should task the Institute for Education Quality and Evaluation (IEQE) with conducting an evaluation of the current strategy and triangulating the findings with other sources of evidence about the performance of Serbia’s education system and future trends. Based on this, the ministry should establish a limited number of national goals that are ambitious but achievable. Defining these in clear and measurable terms that are easy to communicate can help mobilise stakeholders across the system to work together toward improving education in Serbia. For example, goals to raise learning outcomes and improve educational equity could help concentrate efforts on key system challenges that are important for individuals and socio-economic development. Consulting the public about the new strategy’s development and keeping them informed about progress is important to help support transparency and accountability.

Recommendation 5.1.2. Develop action plans and a monitoring framework with measurable targets. Once Serbia has prioritised a set of strategic issues and identified clear national goals for education, it will be important to operationalise these goals through concrete actions and specific, measurable targets. Developing action plans that align activities with these would help stakeholders better understand what they are working towards and direct change. Serbia should also ensure the action plan is financially viable. This will require robust discussion with the Ministry of Finance to develop a realistic budget.

Recommendation 5.1.3. Monitor progress in building accountability for achieving educational goals. In order to maintain the impetus for system improvement, hold the government accountable for progress and ensure alignment across different policy areas, the ministry should strengthen the role of the special working group created to monitor the new education strategy and action plans. In particular, Serbia should consider having the Minister lead the working group and establishing a regular timeframe to report on achievement (at a minimum every two years), which would provide more leadership and stability to the group’s work. The ministry could also develop a performance dashboard for its website to report on progress.

Policy issue 5.2. Enhancing the availability and use of evidence for accountability and policymaking

High-quality and accessible data are integral to system evaluation and accountability. The Serbian government has two key bodies that are responsible for collecting and managing education data. The first is the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia (SORS), which collects and processes statistical data for national and international reporting. The second is the education ministry, which collects a wider range of information and manages the Unified Information System of Education (UISE). While the UISE is Serbia’s official EMIS, it operates in parallel to the SORS but does not follow international definitions and procedures for collecting data. Moreover, high staff turnover within the ministry and limited budgets make it difficult to develop and improve the UISE system in order to conduct system evaluation. These factors prevent Serbia from establishing a unified source of reliable information about the education system and creates an unnecessary reporting burden for schools.

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Box 13. Recommended actions for enhancing the availability and use of evidence for accountability and policymaking

Recommendation 5.2.1. Strengthen the use of data and evidence in policymaking. Serbia should conduct a systematic mapping of available, problematic and missing education indicators across various databases. This would support public accountability vis-à-vis national education goals and help the ministry identify data gaps to orient the future development of Serbia’s Unified Information System of Education (UISE). Developing a formal data dictionary and sharing protocol could help improve the quality of education data and encourage actors to rely on the UISE for desired information. To maximise the analytical potential and policy relevance of education data, the ministry should consider using civil identification numbers instead of separate student identifiers. Of course, managing civil identification numbers should be done carefully, with strict protocols about who can access data, how they can access and use it and when data should be anonymised to protect student privacy.

Recommendation 5.2.2. Build the capacity to use data and evidence in policymaking. To strengthen the use of data and evidence in policymaking, Serbia needs to build the capacity of technical staff and key actors across the system. Primarily, this involves re-establishing the ministry’s analytics group, which is no longer operational but has a mandate to collect and analyse education data and policies. The IEQE’s capacity should also be strengthened so that it can fulfil its growing mandate to support Serbia’s system evaluation efforts. Finally, the ministry should ensure there is a reliable budget for the research community to produce evidence that can feed into the policymaking process.

Recommendation 5.2.3. Use data and evidence to create a stronger culture of public accountability. Serbia should consider developing a data portal for schools that includes information about student profiles, school context and learning outcomes, allowing users to make contextualised comparisons across schools. This could link to the UISE system, making real-time administrative and learning outcomes data accessible to a wider range of education actors. The portal could encourage greater use of data to monitor educational progress, promote the exchange of good practices and support the evaluation efforts of schools and RSAs.

Policy issue 5.3. Developing the national assessment to support system goals

National assessments that provide regular and reliable data on student learning outcomes can inform education policy, support strategic planning and help drive system improvement (OECD, 2013[10]). In Serbia, system evaluation has relied on periodic international assessments and the final exam of compulsory schooling (Grade 8) to provide information on student learning. This has been the case since 2006, when the country conducted its last national assessment with funding support from donors. As a result, timely and reliable information about the extent to which students in Serbia are meeting national learning standards is very limited, as is information on the factors associated with differences in learning outcomes.

In 2017-18, the IEQE piloted a new national assessment for students in Grades 7 (basic education) and 11 (the third year of upper secondary). Results will be available in 2019 and discussions are currently underway about how these findings can help establish a new national assessment system. At present, Serbia is considering plans to introduce a sample-based assessment in Grade 6 to support system monitoring. However, there is no clear commitment to include the development of this tool in the country’s education strategy and action plans. Moreover, while the IEQE has some of the infrastructure and staff capacity needed to administer large-scale student assessments, this needs to be strengthened if a regular cyclic programme of national assessment is put in place. Currently, there appears to be no increase in funding planned for the IEQE, which is also responsible for introducing the new State Matura.

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Box 14. Recommended actions for developing the national assessment

Recommendation 5.3.1. Consider the design options to align the national assessment with its stated purpose. Serbia should create a steering committee, under the minister’s leadership, to develop the new national assessment. The committee should be responsible for determining the purpose(s) of the assessment in relation to the national education strategy and for taking decisions on its consequent design and implementation. Specifically, the committee should consider issues related to the grade and subject of the assessment. In addition to Grade 6, Serbia should consider assessing a sample (later a full cohort) of Grade 2 students in mathematics and language, which would strengthen the formative value of the data. Eventually, the committee should consider a sample assessment in Grade 10 (the second year of upper secondary), which would serve inter alia to test items for the Matura and cover a range of curriculum domains. Another important consideration is the mode of delivery since moving toward a computer-based assessment in the future would help reduce human error, lower integrity breaches and deliver results more quickly. Finally, the committee should consider what type of test items to include, ensuring that questions are challenging enough to assess higher-order skills and do not encourage memorisation.

Recommendation 5.3.2. Disseminate and use results from the national assessment to inform education policy. Serbia should reflect now, at the design stage, on how it plans to report assessment results to different audiences. This is key to ensuring the assessment supports improvements in teaching and learning, informs policymaking and continues to have the capacity and resources needed for its implementation. In addition to a national report of assessment results, Serbia should consider developing other outputs, such as infographics, factsheets, short briefs or a website to report assessment results. To promote the responsible dissemination and use of the results, Serbia should clearly communicate the context of the assessment, its objectives and provide a description of achievement and correlations according to relevant background information.

Recommendation 5.3.3. Ensure the sustainability of the national assessment. Serbia should include the development and implementation of the national assessment as an indicator in the new national education strategy 2030. This was absent from the current 2020 strategy but would highlight the importance of having a national assessment to support system evaluation and improvement efforts. It would also help ensure sustainable multi-year financing. Having the minister head the national assessment steering committee could provide leadership to explain the assessment’s value when results are released, ensure adequate financial support is received and direct the efforts of RSAs, schools and teachers to implement the assessment instrument.


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