copy the linklink copied!Assessment and Recommendations

copy the linklink copied!Introduction

Albania has made improvements in access to education and in raising learning outcomes over the last two decades, moving from one of the lowest performers in the Western Balkans to one of the fastest improvers. Recent reforms include the development of a competency-based curriculum framework, teacher standards and a school evaluation indicator framework. Most recently, Albania has restructured key agencies responsible for school support and external evaluation, in an effort to further deconcentrate central functions and improve service delivery. However, disparities in opportunity and outcomes persist across population groups. Albania has one of the highest rates of dropout in the Western Balkans, and a large share of students in Albania continue to leave school without mastering basic competencies needed for work and life. Addressing these educational challenges is crucial for improving Albania’s economic development and competitiveness as it looks toward joining the European Union (EU).

This review looks at how educational evaluation and assessment can support this agenda. It provides recommendations intended to help set priorities for modernising evaluation and assessment systems and improving student learning, while also informing the development of Albania’s new national education strategy in 2020. Strengthening these systems will help Albania detect and address gaps in learning and ensure all students graduate with relevant competencies. In particular, Albania will need to improve initial teacher selection and preparation to ensure teachers are prepared to engage with the new curriculum and use assessment results to inform their practice. Albania will also need to ensure in-service teacher skills are up-to-date by providing incentives and opportunities for professional growth and by fostering collaborative learning. The ongoing review of the national assessment and examinations system will also be important to improve reliability of results and bolster teachers’ ability to assess their students and modify their practice. These reforms will require strengthening school leadership and the capacity of schools to engage in self-evaluation. Albania will also need to further develop its education management information system (EMIS) to establish a central source for educational data and build the capacity of institutions to use it as a tool for evidence-based policy-making and strategic planning.

copy the linklink copied!Main trends

Enrolment in primary education has increased to EU and OECD levels, but participation in secondary education remains low

Since 2009, enrolment rates at the primary level have trended upward (UIS, 2020[1]). The net enrolment rate in primary education in Albania in 2017 was 96%, comparable to that of OECD countries on average (96%) and the EU (96%). At the lower secondary level, the Albanian net enrolment rate (86%) in 2017 was below that of the EU and the OECD (91%). Upper secondary education net enrolment rates have also remained below the OECD and EU averages and below the rates in Montenegro and Serbia (see Figure 1), reflecting in part the comparatively high dropout rates in Albania.

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Figure 1. Net enrolment rates in upper secondary education
Figure 1. Net enrolment rates in upper secondary education

Source: UIS (2020[1]), UNESCO Institute for Statistics, http://data.uis.unesco.org/ (accessed on 16 January 2020).

Many students lack basic skills, but learning outcomes have improved over time

Data from OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) indicate that a large number of students in Albania are not acquiring the basic competencies needed to participate fully in a knowledge-based society upon completion of compulsory education. Over half of 15-year-olds in Albania lack basic reading skills (52.2%) and 2 in 5 lack basic numeracy skills (OECD, 2019[2]). This compares to 22.6% and 24.0% on average in the OECD respectively. Moreover, 29.7% of students are not demonstrating basic proficiency in any of the three domains (reading, mathematics and science), a share more than double the OECD average (13.4%) though below neighbouring countries such as Montenegro (31.5%), North Macedonia (39%) and Kosovo (66%) (see Figure 2).

However, learning outcomes are improving: the average three-year trend in mean score in all three PISA subjects is positive and significant, with particularly rapid improvements in mathematics. Importantly, the gap between the highest- and lowest-achieving students is closing, with improvements in the bottom of the performance distribution outpacing improvements at the top in every subject.

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Figure 2. Share of low achievers in all three core PISA subjects (below Level 2)
Figure 2. Share of low achievers in all three core PISA subjects (below Level 2)

Source: OECD (2019[2]), PISA 2018 Results (Volume I): What Students Know and Can Do, https://doi.org/10.1787/5f07c754-en.

Participation and outcomes vary by disadvantaged groups and regions

Data from PISA 2018 show students from more disadvantaged backgrounds (bottom quarter of PISA’s index of economic, social and cultural status) in Albania performed about two years (61 score-point difference) behind their more advantaged peers (top quarter) in the reading domain (see Figure 3). While this gap is not as large as that found across OECD countries (average difference of 89 score points), it is slightly larger than neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina (58) and Montenegro (55) (OECD, 2019[3]). Despite this, 12.3% of students in Albania from disadvantaged backgrounds are considered academically resilient, compared to an OECD average of 11.3% (OECD, 2019[3]).

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Figure 3. Mean performance in reading by national quarters of the PISA index of economic, social and cultural status (PISA 2018)
Figure 3. 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, https://doi.org/10.1787/b5fd1b8f-en.

Similar to other countries in the region, educational outcomes tend to be lower in rural areas. For example, average educational attainment in rural regions is about two years of schooling lower than in urban regions (Psacharopoulos, 2017[4]). With respect to learning outcomes, data from PISA 2018 indicate that, in all three domains, students from rural schools in Albania have lower mean scores than students from urban schools (OECD, 2018[5]). While students from urban schools outperform students from rural schools in most OECD countries, the difference in reading performance is lower in Albania (difference of 33 points) than on average across OECD countries (difference of 43 points). National assessment and examinations data show a similar pattern, with students from cities outperforming students from rural areas.

Participation and outcomes also vary by ethnic background, and are particularly low for Roma and for Balkan Egyptians. Among Roma and Balkan Egyptian persons aged 7-20, roughly 1% and 5% respectively have completed secondary education (UNESCO, 2017[6]). For Roma specifically, the school dropout rate is about 50% (Psacharopoulos, 2017[4]), and by some estimates over half of Roma children aged 6-16 have never been enrolled in school (UNESCO, 2017[6]).

Spending on education is low

As a percentage of GDP, expenditure in education in 2016 was lower in Albania (4.0%) than on average in the OECD (5.4 %) and the EU (5.1%) (UIS, 2020[1]). The share of total government expenditure that Albania allocated to education in 2016 was 13.6%, higher than in the EU (11.8%) and slightly higher than on average in OECD countries (13.2%). Over the last two decades, education spending as a percentage of GDP and as the share of government expenditure has been increasing in Albania, peaking in 2016, the most recent year for which there is international data.

Below a certain expenditure threshold, data from PISA 2015 indicate that higher education spending is significantly associated with higher scores on PISA (OECD, 2016[7]). Results from PISA 2018 for Albania and other European and OECD countries indicate that Albania remains in a low spending and low results trap (see Figure 4). While there is scope for Albania to achieve better results with the resources it invests, increased funding will be important for achieving significant gains in learning outcomes.

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Figure 4. PISA 2018 results and government expenditure on lower secondary education
Figure 4. PISA 2018 results and government expenditure on lower secondary education

Note: Internationally comparable data on cumulative expenditure per student for Albania is unavailable.

Source: UIS (2020[1]), UNESCO Institute for Statistics, http://data.uis.unesco.org/; OECD (2019[2]), PISA 2018 Results (Volume I): What Students Know and Can Do, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5f07c754-en.

copy the linklink copied!Evaluation and assessment in Albania

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 Albania. The review draws upon the OECD’s analysis of policies and practices for evaluation and assessment in over 30 education systems to identify how Albania can raise the quality of teaching and learning in schools (see Box 1). In undertaking this review, the OECD team identified three interrelated, systemic priorities to address in order to strengthen evaluation and assessment in Albania’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 5).

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Figure 5. Interactions within the evaluation and assessment framework
Figure 5. 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 policy makers 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[8]), Synergies for Better Learning: An International Perspective on Evaluation and Assessment, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264190658-en.

Modernising and professionalising teaching

Teachers play a central role in helping students develop the skills needed to be competitive once they enter the labour force and become engaged citizens. To take on this important task, teachers need to be motivated, knowledgeable and competent educators. This requires external support and guidance from governments and school leadership. Such support is particularly important in Albania where a major reform of the curriculum since 2014 has changed the expectations of teachers’ roles. For example, teachers are now expected to use student-centred approaches to support learning in their classrooms. However, many teachers in Albania continue to use a traditional teacher-centred approach to teaching, and interviews with teachers show a limited application of some of the most innovative aspects of the reform such as formative assessment and teaching of twenty-first century skills.

Several structural barriers have contributed to this situation. First, the teacher career structure does not encourage professional growth. Teacher promotion is based primarily on number of years of work experience and the results of a written exam rather than demonstrated higher levels of competency. Second, initial teacher preparation does not adequately prepare new teachers. There is no mechanism for assuring the quality of initial teacher preparation programmes, and a 2015 reform meant to update the initial teacher education curriculum has not been implemented. Additionally, the onerous process to enter the teaching profession and a lack of support in the first years of teaching, such as mentoring or training, may also discourage many talented candidates from entering the profession. Notably, this process requires teachers to undergo a one-year unpaid internship after graduating initial teacher education. Improving teachers’ skills once they are in school also presents challenges. Schools are not provided with a budget for the professional development of their staff, which limits their capacity to organise in-school professional learning activities.

This review makes several recommendations about how Albania can modernise and professionalise teaching. The Ministry of Education, Sports and Youth (hereby, the ministry) will need to revise the teaching standards to ensure that levels of competency are differentiated for each career level and used to inform appraisal for career advancement, initial selection into the profession and regular in-school appraisal. Supporting newly employed teachers through an induction programme and mentorship will also be important for ensuring quality candidates enter and remain in the profession. In-service teachers will need further external guidance and support, particularly in the area of assessment practice, to engage in the student-centred practices demanded by the new curriculum reform. Strengthening the role of school principals in helping teachers develop will also be important. This should include support for engaging in formative appraisals and using appraisal information to identify teachers’ training needs. Albania will need to ensure that schools have discretionary funding to use for staff professional development and strengthen the quality of professional learning networks, in part, to better support teachers’ in-school learning.

Ensuring access to quality education in rural and remote areas

Albania faces significant challenge in providing quality education for students in low-density rural and mountainous areas where 40% of the population live. Learning outcomes as measured by the national assessment and examinations and by PISA are lower in rural areas than in urban centres. Moreover, the decline in student population is particularly acute in rural and remote areas, making it difficult for the ministry to ensure the delivery of quality education services such as training for teachers or support for school improvement. Many schools in rural areas lack instructional materials and struggle to meet their basic infrastructure needs (e.g. heating), which are funded by municipalities (Gjokutaj, 2013[9]; OECD, 2016[7]). Albania is also facing difficulties in attracting teachers to work in rural and remote areas. While there is a surplus of teachers nationally, many rural areas are facing shortages. The difficult working conditions and limited training on how to teach in a rural context may explain why teachers are reluctant to work in these areas. The government has tried to address some of these issues by providing additional subsidies to staff working in rural schools such as subsidies for transport. The ministry is also reviewing how schools are funded in order to take further account of schools’ socio-economic context and is planning to facilitate schools’ access to discretionary grants and private funding. However, to address issues of quality in rural and remote areas teachers and schools will need further support in changing their educational practices.

This review makes several recommendations about how Albania can ensure that students in rural and remote areas have access to quality education. Strengthening financial and non-financial incentives for both new and experienced teachers to work in rural areas will be important. This should be complemented with the provision of relevant training, for example, on teaching multi-grade classes that can improve the quality of teaching and learning in these settings. Regional directorates should prioritise technical support in those schools where external evaluation indicates quality and performance are lowest. The development of the new EMIS provides an opportunity to ensure better data on indicators such as student socio-economic background and school funding and performance are collected and used to inform management of resources and planning for improvement. Support for changing teacher and school practices could also be strengthened by expanding structured networking opportunities and exploring the possibility of consolidating schools into either hubs or clusters of schools.

Providing reliable information on student progress against national standards

In Albania, teacher classroom assessment judgements about student learning against national standards tend to lack reliability, as teachers lack access to standard measures and do not typically engage in moderation exercises within or across schools. Nationally reliable external benchmarks can help teachers detect and address learning gaps as they emerge and can be used as a point of reference for making accurate judgements about student progress (OECD, 2013[8]). A national assessment, in particular, provides reliable data on student learning outcomes that are comparable across different groups of students and over time. However, in Albania, the national assessment, the Assessment of Primary Education Pupils’ Achievement (VANAF), does not provide comparable results at the system level because marking and moderation procedures are not standardised across the country. As a result, there is no nationally standardised measure of student achievement before Grade 12 when students take the State Matura Exam. While Albania participates in PISA and results from TIMSS and PIRLS will soon be available, international assessments cannot measure how well students are meeting the national curriculum standards nor do they provide schools with granular information about their students’ performance.

This review recommends measures that Albania can take to improve the reliability of the VANAF and its use to inform classroom practices, as well as system-level policies. In particular, Albania needs to improve the marking and moderation processes of the VANAF so that it is comparable across regions. Albania should also consider prioritising a census-based assessment in early grades to identify potential learning difficulties before they become problematic later on. This is particularly important for identifying gaps in achievement of national standards and modifying classroom practices to redress them early on. Teachers will need support in analysing contextualised and disaggregated results, as well as in using relevant benchmarks to compare their students’ performance.

copy the linklink copied!Improving student learning outcomes through student assessment

The primary purpose of student assessment is to determine what students know and are capable of doing. This information is then used to help students advance in their learning. In Albania, recent assessment reforms have sought to improve student outcomes by introducing methods shown by research to help strengthen student agency and deepen learning. For example, teachers are encouraged to use information from regular assessments (e.g. continuous assessment) to inform their teaching and develop a culture of self-reflection among their students through the use of student portfolios. However, teachers need more support in implementing these strategies effectively and in diagnosing and addressing learning gaps as students progress through schooling. To make better use of assessment to improve learning, Albania will need to provide teachers with training opportunities and materials on classroom assessment practice. To further support this aim, Albania will also need to review the national examination system - the National Basic Education Examination and the State Matura Examination - to improve its ability to provide information on what students know and can do with respect to the new curriculum, as well as to strengthen its positive backwash effect on teaching practices in schools.

Policy issue 2.1. Supporting teachers to make better use of assessment to improve student learning

As part of recent curriculum reforms, Albania has introduced an ambitious assessment framework that encourages teachers to assess their students regularly and use the results to inform teaching and learning. However, teachers have struggled to use assessment practices such as continuous assessment and portfolio assessment for more formative rather than summative purposes, as envisioned by the assessment framework. Several factors have contributed to this limited shift in classroom practice. For example, while learning outcomes are described by curriculum stage, teachers receive little guidance on student learning expectations by grade level. Definitions of formative assessment and continuous assessment in national policy documents also lack clarity. In some cases, national policies in areas such as teacher appraisal and school evaluation contradict the developmental intent of the national assessment framework and continue to reinforce a predominantly summative assessment culture in classrooms.

In order to make better educational use of assessment, teachers need to have access to quality supports such as clear guiding documents, tools and training (see Box 2). However, current resources are not sufficient to help teachers develop their skills in areas such as diagnostic assessment and portfolio assessment. New teachers face particular challenges, with most entering the profession ill-prepared to apply the new assessment framework. There is currently no quality assurance mechanism to ensure that initial teacher education programmes adequately cover key aspects of assessment literacy, such as how to provide effective feedback to students. Once in school, teachers’ access to continuous professional development on assessment is limited and insufficient to remedy these gaps. In particular, while in-school subject teams engage in discussions around assessment practice, they receive very little guidance on how to work together meaningfully to improve their practice.

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Box 2. Recommended actions for supporting teachers to make better use of assessment to improve learning

Recommendation 2.1.1. Revise and further clarify national assessment policies. The ministry needs to ensure that the assessment practices expected of teachers are clear and understood and that teachers receive support on how to implement them in their classroom context. First, the new Agency for the Assurance of Quality in Pre-University Education (hereby, the Quality Assurance Agency) should develop expected learning outcomes by grade level, building on the learning achievement outcomes by curriculum stage. These should be accompanied by exemplars of marked student work and student-level data from the national assessment (VANAF). This will help teachers and students to better understand what they are working towards and to calibrate their judgements with external benchmarks. Second, the Quality Assurance Agency should do more to support and promote the use of formative assessment, for example by developing a formative assessment toolkit for teachers and launching a communication campaign. Third, the ministry should ensure that teachers have the space to use assessment more formatively by reducing the frequency of summative marking and setting a maximum of six marks that are used to calculate the final yearly mark. Finally, monitoring and accountability tools such as teacher appraisal and school evaluation processes should be revised to reinforce the formative intent of national assessment policies. School principals should review regularly teachers’ assessment practices and provide feedback on how to develop in this area. Schools should be held accountable for the quality of assessment practices and their use in advancing student learning.

Recommendation 2.1.2. Provide teachers with guidelines and tools to help them improve their assessment practice. Teachers need support in developing their assessment practice and in particular their capacity to design reliable tests, provide meaningful feedback to students and use the information from assessment in their teaching. The Quality Assurance Agency should revise the student report card template to include a space for written feedback and provide guidelines for teachers on how to deliver written feedback against grade-specific learning expectations. Teachers should also be supported in using new assessment types, including diagnostic assessment and portfolio assessment to inform teaching and learning practices. The Educational Services Centre (ESC) should encourage teachers to evaluate their students’ competencies at the start of the year or a new learning unit by providing sample diagnostic assessment questions. The ESC might also consider developing fully standardised diagnostic assessments for key transition grades to help teachers assess more reliably their students’ competencies against the expected learning outcomes. This should be accompanied by examples of how to use assessment results to inform lesson planning and support differentiation of instruction. The use of portfolio assessment could also be strengthened by providing further guidance and training on how to create high-quality tasks and develop criteria for marking these tasks. To stimulate more reflection by students on their portfolio tasks, the ministry could also look toward introducing a portfolio defence at the end of key curriculum stages.

Recommendation 2.1.3. Ensure that teachers have access to quality training on assessment and incentives to participate in such training. Inadequate preparation and training on assessment and the use of results to improve learning limits teachers’ ability to engage in these practices. In order to ensure teachers entering the profession are prepared, the Quality Assurance Agency should define the key features of quality preparation in assessment and require that these be addressed in initial teacher preparation programmes. Initial teacher preparation programmes should also be mandated to include opportunities for practical experience in designing and implementing assessments. The Quality Assurance Agency should also provide mandatory and free training on key elements of the assessment framework for in-service teachers. Teachers should be required to set annual objectives on assessment and school principals should regularly evaluate assessment practices in their schools. School principals should also be responsible for ensuring that teachers who do not meet the minimum level of competencies receive additional training and coaching. In-school teacher collaborative learning on assessment can also help develop assessment literacy. The Quality Assurance Agency should clearly define topics such as formative assessment and reliability of grading on which both professional networks and subject teams should focus, encouraging a connection and follow-up between what is discussed in both settings. Schools should be encouraged to select a teacher to serve as an assessment co-ordinator, who would organise moderation sessions and facilitate discussions on assessment practice. To support these activities, the Quality Assurance Agency will need to expand the online supports available to teachers and ensure guidelines and tools are easily accessible.

Policy issue 2.2. Ensuring the reliability and validity of the exam system

While both the National Basic Education Examination (Grade 9) and the State Matura Examination (Grade 12) are relatively fit for purpose and compare positively in terms of design to exams in other Western Balkan countries, they would benefit from continuous improvement to increase their reliability in assessing students’ learning and to promote improved assessment practices in classrooms. The National Basic Education Examination, for example, does not provide nationally comparable results because of variations in the quality of administration and marking of tests across the country. Individual local education offices administer and mark the exam, and conditions in testing centres do not always meet minimum standards. Additionally, local education offices have struggled to recruit qualified teachers to serve as test markers. One way to improve exam reliability is to follow the shift of the State Matura Examination to on-screen marking (see Box 3). This could be a stepping stone to the introduction of computer-based assessments in the medium term for both exams. The design of the National Basic Education Examination could also be improved to strengthen the reliability of exam results and bolster teachers’ assessment practice.

While the State Matura Examination provides nationally comparable results, the exam’s quality could be further improved to better assess students’ learning achievement and inform teaching and learning practices in classrooms (see Box 3). For example, while a few items in the mathematics test appear to have some real-world context, most of these items do not ask students to use mathematical concepts to solve problems they might encounter in real life. Moreover, few teachers are involved in the development of test items, which limits the impact on wider classroom practice. Additionally, the current fixed pass/fail cut-score neither allows Albania to produce comparisons over time nor to link results to expected levels of achievement found in the curriculum.

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Box 3. Recommended actions for ensuring the reliability and validity of the exam system

Recommendation 2.2.1. Reinforce the reliability of the National Basic Education Examination and review its design. The ministry and the ESC should revise the exam design and its administration to ensure it fairly assesses students’ learning. The ministry needs to ensure that teachers selected to be test markers and administrators are motivated and have the necessary competencies for the role. To do so, the ministry should provide incentives for evaluators such as adequate remuneration and the incorporation of the role of evaluator into the teacher career structure. The ESC should design training and ensure the training is effectively delivered by individual local education offices. In addition, the ESC should be given a mandate for quality control to ensure conditions and security measures in testing centres are adequate. These measures will require additional resources for the ESC. The design of the exam should also be reviewed by the ESC to improve reliability and ensure it reflects the competencies set forth in the new curriculum. This should include: increasing the number of test items of medium difficulty, particularly in the mathematics test; revising free-response items to enhance discrimination in the middle of the range; and ensuring the exam includes a significant number of tasks set using authentic data and real-world contexts relevant to students. Finally, a school-based project component to the exam could be introduced. This would allow for the assessment of a wider range of competencies, such as Albania’s key competencies for lifelong learning, and would also serve to strengthen teachers’ classroom assessment practice.

Recommendation 2.2.2. Review the design, administration and scoring of the State Matura to improve the exam’s quality. The ESC should provide more training to item-writers to ensure test items ask students to apply their knowledge in practical contexts that are relevant to young people. A broader pool of teachers should be incentivised to participate in this training in order to build capacity across the system. The quality of the examination system could be further strengthened by broadening the use of on-screen marking, which can improve test quality and efficiency, and by looking toward the implementation of computer-based assessments, whose advanced features facilitate the development of complex and innovative test items. Finally, as part of the ongoing review of the quality of national examinations, the ministry should consider eliminating the fixed pass/fail cut-score and moving either to a norm-referencing or criteria-related approach to standard-setting. This would allow Albania either to compare achievement over time (norm-referencing) or to make judgements about absolute levels of achievement with respect to national learning expectations (criteria-related).

copy the linklink copied!Supporting teachers’ professional growth

Teacher appraisal can be used to identify teachers’ training needs and encourage them to continuously develop their competencies. However, in Albania, appraisal processes are not designed in this way. Notably, promotion within the teacher career structure is based primarily on years of service and an exam that does not authentically measure teaching competence. To support professional growth, Albania will need to revise the appraisal for promotion process and the teacher career structure to require teachers to demonstrate that they have developed more complex knowledge and skills in order to assume new responsibilities at a higher career level. Albania will also need to improve initial teacher preparation and selection to ensure that new teachers are well-prepared and supported to become effective in their first years of teaching. To further support teachers’ ongoing professional growth, Albania will need to convert the regular appraisal of teachers from a largely administrative process into one that is formative and invest more in teachers’ continuous professional learning. In particular, Albania will need to build the capacity of professional learning networks, which have now been established in each local education area, to facilitate collaborative learning among teachers and help them change their practices in the classroom.

Policy issue 3.1. Encouraging teachers to improve their competencies throughout their career

Albania’s teacher career structure does not encourage and reward professional growth. Teachers who are promoted to a higher qualification category receive a salary increase but they are not expected to demonstrate higher levels of competency or take on new duties. Promotion is based on years of experience, the accumulation of accredited continuous professional development credits on any topic, and an appraisal process that is primarily exam-based. The exam assesses teachers for the same minimum level of knowledge and skills throughout their careers. While this type of appraisal may be appropriate for entry to the profession, it does not meaningfully assess readiness for career advancement. Moreover, salary progression is based more on teachers’ years of experience than on high performance or the assumption of additional responsibilities. The roles teachers can take on throughout their careers, like mentor or subject team head, are not remunerated. Salary progression is also relatively flat. Teachers in Albania are rewarded significantly less for their experience and efforts than teachers in OECD and neighbouring countries (OECD, 2018[10]). Albania needs to revise both the career and salary structure to make sure that they incentivise teachers to continuously develop their competencies (see Box 4). It also needs to revise the appraisal for promotion process to ensure that it adequately assesses teachers’ readiness for higher responsibilities within the new revised career structure.

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Box 4. Recommended actions for encouraging teachers to improve their competencies throughout their careers

Recommendation 3.1.1. Create a teacher career structure that encourages teachers to develop higher competency levels. The ministry and the Quality Assurance Agency should develop a teacher career structure that incentivises teachers’ continuous professional learning and rewards effective performance. This could take the form of a differentiated career structure consisting of two tracks: a teaching track and a leadership track. This type of career structure would help teachers better prepare for and gain more responsibility in teaching or school leadership. This differentiated career structure would also help address the current lack of structured career progression and professional learning for school principals (see Policy issue 4.4). Each track would consist of career levels connected to roles and responsibilities that increase in complexity as teachers advance in their careers. The Quality Assurance Agency should consult with teachers to revise the teaching standards to define the competencies they will need at each career level. Finally, the Quality Assurance Agency should use the revised teaching standards to inform the development and accreditation of continuous professional development opportunities. This will help orient teachers towards training programmes to strengthen their competencies in key areas needed for their career advancement.

Recommendation 3.1.2. Revise the appraisal for promotion process to ensure teachers’ readiness to take on new roles and responsibilities. Albania should create a new appraisal for promotion process that assesses whether teachers have developed the competencies they need for advancement in the new career structure recommended by this review. This appraisal process should be based on authentic sources of evidence of teachers’ performance at each career level, like classroom observations, interviews and portfolios, rather than an exam. Given that the appraisal has high stakes for a teacher’s career, appraisers should be independent, highly-proficient educators who are well-trained for their role. Albania should consider contracting external appraisers with high levels of competency in pedagogy to replace the local Portfolio Evaluation Commissions. Albania should also establish a new committee of teaching experts within the Quality Assurance Agency to manage the appraisal process and the training and selection of external appraisers. In the long term, Albania might consider establishing a separate professional self-regulatory body for teachers to take responsibility for the teaching standards and requirements for certification and promotion.

Recommendation 3.1.3. Plan carefully for the implementation of the revised career structure. Albania will need to develop a plan to support implementation of the new career structure, given the scale of the change and its impact on teachers. This should include revisions to the teacher salary scale. The ministry should work with teachers’ unions and other relevant stakeholders to develop new salary levels that connect to different career stages to reward teachers for taking on additional responsibilities. Albania will also need to consider carefully how to place teachers in the revised career structure, including re-classifying existing teachers to the new career stages. This re-classification could be voluntary, with teachers opting to undertake the new appraisal for promotion process, or mandatory. Albania could establish a higher career level to incentivise the ongoing development of the large number of teachers who have already reached the top of the present career structure.

Policy issue 3.2. Improving the initial preparation and selection of teachers

Albania is making significant efforts to improve the initial preparation and selection of teachers. For example, the ministry is currently in discussion with initial teacher education providers to set curriculum standards for initial education. In addition, Albania has introduced more selective entry requirements to initial teacher education programmes at the bachelor’s degree level to try to improve the calibre of entrants. However, other factors could mitigate efforts to attract talented candidates into the profession and ensure that they are well-prepared. New curriculum standards for initial teacher education have yet to be implemented despite entering into law in 2015, and reform efforts may not sufficiently address the quality of the practice teaching component. Candidates must wait at least five or six years before they are eligible for their first paid teaching position, given that they are required to complete a year of unpaid internship after their studies. Finally, due to an oversupply of teachers, few teaching positions are available for new graduates. Despite the oversupply, admission quotas to initial teacher education programmes have not been adjusted for some time.

While Albania is addressing initial teacher selection and preparation, efforts have not been made to develop the teaching skills and self-efficacy of newly employed teachers (see Box 5). Research suggests that effective induction supports for new teachers, like mentorship, can help improve school and teacher performance and positively impact student achievement (OECD, 2014[11]). In Albania, new teachers become responsible for their own classroom for the first time in a school environment for which they have not been prepared and without the benefit of a mentor. New teachers in rural and remote schools face particular challenges they are not sufficiently prepared or supported to address. These gaps in support limit new teachers’ capacity to develop quickly and become effective in their roles.

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Box 5. Recommended actions for improving the initial preparation and selection of teachers

Recommendation 3.2.1. Ensure that initial teacher education programmes develop the competencies novice teachers need at the start of their careers. To improve the quality of initial teacher preparation in Albania, the ministry and the Quality Assurance Agency should work with the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education to develop specific accreditation criteria for initial teacher education programmes. These should be based on the competencies of novice teachers articulated in revised teaching standards. As part of the accreditation process, providers should be required to demonstrate how their programmes will help students develop these competencies. New accreditation criteria should also include standards to assure the quality of the practicum, one of the most important elements of initial teacher preparation. All accreditation criteria should be clearly communicated in guidelines for providers.

Recommendation 3.2.2. Convert the internship into an induction programme for newly employed teachers. Albania should replace the internship with an induction programme for teachers in their first year of teaching. This will make entry to the profession less onerous and provide novice teachers with essential support when they assume responsibility for their first classroom. Key elements of the programme should include mentorship and other professional learning activities, such as relevant courses and seminars, to develop novice teachers’ effectiveness and self-efficacy. Albania will also need to take steps to ensure that mentors can provide essential support to novice teachers.These should include mandatory mentor training and guidelines. The ministry should support mentors’ and novice teachers’ work together through funding for release time and clear direction to schools about how teaching loads should be reduced.

Recommendation 3.2.3. Modify the internship appraisal into a probation appraisal and an appraisal for registration that are based on evidence of teaching and learning practices. Albania should establish a new appraisal process to confirm novice teachers’ readiness to move to the next stage of the new career structure as fully certified teachers (see Recommendation 3.1.1). As another appraisal with high stakes for teachers’ careers, it could be similar to the new appraisal for promotion process described in Recommendation 3.1.2. Contracted external appraisers would confirm that novice teachers have met the requirements for full registration. At the same time, the school principal should conduct an in-school appraisal of novice teachers that leads to feedback. This should follow the regular appraisal process (see Recommendation 3.3.1), with some modifications, like closer monitoring to ensure that any problems novice teachers are experiencing are addressed quickly.

Recommendation 3.2.4. Revise requirements for initial certification and placement to assess the competencies of new graduates. Replacing the internship with an induction programme for newly employed teachers would have an impact on Albania’s requirements for certification and placement. With this change, new graduates of initial teacher education programmes would take the state exam as a requirement for initial certification to confirm that they have attained a minimum level of competencies before entering the classroom. The ministry should work with the ESC and other partners to review and revise the exam to reliably assess these competencies. Revisions should include the addition of questions on the pre-tertiary curriculum. Other certification requirements should include obtaining a master’s degree in education from an accredited initial teacher education programme and successfully completing a practicum that meets quality standards (see Recommendation 3.2.1). This will support Albania’s push for greater quality assurance at the tertiary education level and also ensure that new graduates have a minimum level of practical teaching experience. In addition, the ministry should revise criteria for initial employment to ensure that they are objective and relevant to assess the competencies of newly certified recent graduates. For example, relevant criteria would relate to teaching and interpersonal competencies evidenced during candidates’ studies, like assessments or references from the practicum placement. To create greater efficiency, Albania should also explore whether state exam results could be used to inform initial employment decisions instead of requiring novice teachers to also take the Teachers for Albania test.

Recommendation 3.2.5. Manage admission to initial teacher education programmes to attract talented candidates and anticipate demand from the school system. The ministry should consider working with initial teacher education programme providers to set minimum requirements for entry to the master’s degree programmes that prepare future secondary teachers. The bar for entry to all initial teacher education programmes, whether for a master’s degree or a bachelor’s degree, should be based, in part, on labour market analysis and forward planning projections of teacher supply and demand. The ministry should review and refine its current forecasting model and labour market data. This will help the ministry to adjust admission quotas to address the oversupply of teachers for certain curriculum subjects and school levels.

Recommendation 3.2.6. Incentivise teachers to work in hard-to-staff areas and provide them with more supports to be effective. Albania’s rural schools experience more staff shortages and poorer student learning outcomes than city schools. New teachers are more likely to find employment opportunities in these hard-to-staff areas. Albania should provide sufficient preparation and support to help new teachers and experienced teachers be effective in addressing the challenges these schools face. For example, the Quality Assurance Agency could expand networking opportunities for rural teachers to combat isolation. The ministry could also incentivise talented and motivated teachers to work in hard-to-staff areas. For example, the ministry should proceed with introducing incentives that were originally proposed in 2015-16, such as allowances for rent, free continuous professional development courses, and priority in transferring to their next teaching position.

Policy issue 3.3. Ensuring that regular appraisal informs teachers’ professional development

Effective regular appraisal plays a crucial role in supporting teachers’ ongoing professional development by providing feedback on practices and helping teachers identify their training needs (OECD, 2013[8]). In Albania, teachers’ annual appraisal by their principal or deputy principal is, instead, more of an administrative process (see Box 6). For example, the appraisal includes an assessment of the teacher’s annual plan, which consists primarily of numerical targets. Teachers are required to maintain a portfolio, but it contains only administrative material rather than evidence of their teaching practice that can be used to assess their competence. Classroom observations, which principals conduct on a weekly basis, do not systematically lead to feedback to support improvements to teachers’ practices. Appraisal results are also not connected to participation in continuous professional development. In addition, while the Quality Assurance Agency plans to develop guidelines to improve consistency in the implementation of the appraisal and to encourage use of the teaching standards, at present, appraisers do not receive preparation or guidance for their role.

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Box 6. Recommended actions for ensuring that regular appraisal informs teachers’ professional development

Recommendation 3.3.1. Make the regular appraisal process developmental. Albania should make changes to the main elements of the regular appraisal process to better support teachers’ continuous professional growth. Firstly, the ministry should ensure that principals use the revised teaching standards to assess whether teachers are developing competencies to be effective at their career level (see Recommendation 3.1.1). Another key element of the appraisal process should be classroom observations that lead to feedback. The Quality Assurance Agency should develop guidance to help schools conduct these effectively. Albania should also replace teachers’ annual plan with an individual development plan that encourages teachers to set goals for their development in consultation with their principal. Teachers should use a portfolio to provide evidence of the teaching and learning practices that demonstrate their work towards these goals (e.g. lesson plans, student assessments). Most importantly, Albania should ensure that regular appraisal is connected to participation in continuous professional development.

For example, the Quality Assurance Agency should develop tools to help principals and teachers identify professional learning opportunities that will address teachers’ needs based on their appraisal results.

Recommendation 3.3.2. Provide more guidance to teachers and school principals on how to undertake a formative appraisal. The Quality Assurance Agency should proceed with developing guidelines to ensure schools can consistently implement a formative regular appraisal process. In addition, the Quality Assurance Agency should develop tools to help principals make judgements about teachers’ performance and help teachers reflect on their own practices and set goals. These could include videos that illustrate teaching practices at different stages of teachers’ careers. The Quality Assurance Agency could revise its website so that schools can easily access these resources online. Principals and deputy principals, as the primary appraisers, will need sufficient preparation and guidance to conduct regular appraisals. The Quality Assurance Agency could work with the School of Directors to develop relevant training and supports for them.

Policy issue 3.4. Strengthening the collaborative professional learning activities that have the greatest impact on teachers’ practices

Collaborative professional learning that includes job-embedded development opportunities is most effective at sustaining improvements to teachers’ practices (Schleicher, 2011[12]). Albania has established structures to support this type of professional learning. These take the form of two groups: local professional learning networks and school-based subject teams. While these groups meet on a regular basis, Albania has not invested sufficiently in building their capacity to develop teachers’ practices (see Box 7). For example, school subject teams receive no external financial or technical support for their work. More generally, teachers’ continuous professional development in Albania is underfunded. The Quality Assurance Agency’s predecessor, the Education Development Institute, lacked the resources to provide an adequate amount of training to teachers on education priorities. Schools do not receive any funding to address the continuous professional development needs of their staff.

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Box 7. Recommended actions for strengthening the collaborative professional learning activities that have the greatest impact on teachers’ practices

Recommendation 3.4.1. Strengthen professional learning at the local and school level. Albania needs to further develop professional learning networks as a primary training resource for teachers and school subject teams. The Quality Assurance Agency should provide resources and guidance to help networks function as effective professional learning communities. Albania should establish a connection between the work of the networks and the school subject teams to ensure teachers put what they learn into practice. For example, the ministry should require school subject teams to follow up on network meetings by conducting related active learning activities, like trying out and observing new teaching strategies in the classroom. Albania will need to provide external support to subject teams to ensure that they can conduct these activities effectively. For example, the Quality Assurance Agency and local education offices should offer guidance to teams, while the ministry and the Quality Assurance Agency should strengthen the role of the subject team head through careful selection and preparation. The school principal should also play a key role in supporting the work of the subject teams and teachers’ professional growth in general.

The School of Directors should ensure that training for principals covers their role in building a collaborative work culture (see Chapter 4), while the ministry should help principals develop timetables to support teachers’ professional learning.

Recommendation 3.4.2. Devote sufficient resources to teachers’ continuous professional development. The ministry should provide more funding to the Quality Assurance Agency to fulfil its mandate. Resources should be sufficient to cover the development and delivery of more training for teachers on priority areas, as well as the development of new resources and tools to support professional learning and teacher appraisal, as recommended in this chapter. The ministry should also provide earmarked funding to Albania’s schools to use, at their discretion, for teachers’ continuous professional development.

copy the linklink copied!Supporting school evaluation for improvement

A number of features of Albania’s school evaluation system compare favourably to practices in OECD countries. For example, schools are required to conduct regular self-evaluations, and external school evaluations focus on assessing the quality of instruction through classroom observations. However, some aspects compromise the quality of evaluations and their use to inform school improvement. Notably, for a number of years, very few external school evaluations have been conducted. Albania re-organised its school evaluation system in 2019 with the intent of enhancing capacity to conduct external evaluations and better supporting schools to improve. But, as a result, there is now no single body that has a clear mandate for assuring the integrity of external school evaluations. New regional external evaluators will likely be tasked with helping improve the practices of schools they have evaluated, which may compromise the objectivity of the evaluation process. While schools conduct regular self-evaluations, gaps in training, tools and data have limited their capacity to conduct them effectively. Schools view them as an additional administrative requirement rather than integral to their ongoing development.

Systemic challenges in Albania also prevent schools from using evaluation results to meaningfully improve. These include chronic underfunding and funding disparities, as well as limitations in school leadership. Consolidating responsibility for external school evaluation within one central body, providing technical supports and financial resources to schools, and developing principals’ instructional leadership through the new School of Directors will be important to helping schools act upon evaluation findings.

Policy issue 4.1. Consolidating responsibility for an independent external school evaluation system focused on school quality

Several new or planned features of Albania’s school evaluation system pose risks to its quality. Since the government re-organisation of 2019, responsibility for overseeing and implementing external school evaluation is split between different bodies: the Quality Assurance Agency, which manages the school evaluation framework, guidelines and training; and external school evaluators in regional education directorates who fall under the jurisdiction of the ministry’s new executive arm, the General Directorate of Pre-University Education (hereby, the General Directorate). In addition, regional school evaluators will have conflicting responsibilities if they are also required to support schools in response to their evaluations. This is inconsistent with their need to remain objective and could impede their ability to develop supportive relationships with schools (see Box 8).

The Quality Assurance Agency is reportedly in the process of revising the school evaluation indicator framework and delivering training to regional evaluators. These were weaknesses in the past. The indicator framework developed in 2011 was lengthy and dense, encouraging its use as a checklist rather than an in-depth evaluation tool. Inspectors with the former State Inspectorate of Education did not use the same indicators for all full school inspections. As a result, findings could not be consistently compared across schools. Inspectors were also viewed as lacking in objectivity. They received significantly less training than their counterparts in other European countries.

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Box 8. Recommended actions for consolidating responsibility for an independent external school evaluation system focused on school quality

Recommendation 4.1.1. Ensure the integrity of external school evaluations. Albania should make the Quality Assurance Agency the sole authority responsible for external school evaluation and make school evaluation a dedicated priority area within the agency’s broader mandate. This would elevate school evaluation as a core governance function, help to ensure the quality of evaluations, and allow for an objective perspective on national education policies. The ministry should, among other things, provide the Quality Assurance Agency with a separate, sustainable budget for school evaluation. The Quality Assurance Agency should have direct authority over regional school evaluators as part of its mandate, including recruitment, certification and deployment. Regional evaluators should not have the conflicting mandate of both evaluating and supporting schools. To help separate these functions and ensure sufficient capacity to conduct evaluations, the Quality Assurance Agency should recruit and contract regional evaluators with relevant competencies, like highly-qualified teachers and principals, to supplement evaluation teams. The Quality Assurance Agency should provide training to evaluators that is lengthier and more practical and specific to the evaluator role than what was offered to inspectors in the past. To encourage evaluators to conduct their responsibilities with integrity, the Quality Assurance Agency should update and enforce the former State Inspectorate of Education’s ethical standards for evaluators.

Recommendation 4.1.2. Review and revise the school evaluation framework. The Quality Assurance Agency should refine its school evaluation indicator framework into a core set of roughly 10 to 15 indicators. These should cover areas that are most important to school quality, including the quality of teaching and learning; student learning progress; the quality of instructional leadership; and the school’s self-evaluation practices and the extent to which they focus on teaching and learning. The indicators should also better address equity, including progress and outcomes for different student groups. The same core indicators should be used for all full school inspections to facilitate comparisons across schools. Albania might also consider supporting school evaluation and improvement by developing a national vision of what a good school looks like. To make the evaluation process more efficient and reliable, evaluators should be able to access as much information about a school as possible directly from the ministry’s EMIS once it is more fully developed.

Policy issue 4.2. Ensuring that external evaluations support school improvement

Albania has lacked follow-up procedures after external school evaluations. These are essential to ensure that schools convert evaluation findings into improvements (see Box 9). For example, schools in Albania are not required to develop action plans that describe how they will improve their practices to address evaluation results. Albania plans to provide more support to schools through re-organised regional education directorates. Historically, there have been no systematic technical or financial supports in place to help schools act in response to evaluation findings. This has been a significant gap, especially given the inequities of Albania’s education system. Rural schools and schools in lower socio-economic areas, in particular, lack funding to enact measures to improve teaching and learning.

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Box 9. Recommended actions for ensuring that external evaluations support school improvement

Recommendation 4.2.1. Require follow-up to external school evaluation results. The Quality Assurance Agency should require all evaluated schools to develop action plans in response to external school evaluation results. Albania should also consider gradually introducing a differentiated approach to external school evaluation. This could mean evaluating schools that receive poor overall results on an external evaluation more frequently than schools that receive good or very good results. This would focus Albania’s resources and attention on the schools that need the most oversight and support and reward schools that are performing well.

Recommendation 4.2.2. Provide stronger regional support for school improvement. The ministry should create positions for school support staff in the regional education directorates to work with schools to develop and implement their action plans in response to external evaluation results. School support staff could include specialists from curriculum and quality sectors and programme development sectors in the former regional education directorates/education offices, as well as other highly-proficient educators who are recruited and trained for the role. To provide support that is located even closer to schools, the ministry should consider establishing similar roles in the new local education offices that are co-ordinated by the regional education directorates. Given financial and human resource constraints, the ministry might organise these local school support staff into teams that work with schools across several local education office areas, overseen by the regional education directorates. This would make the provision of support both efficient and responsive to schools’ needs.

Recommendation 4.2.3. Target support to low-performing schools. Albania needs to provide more support to schools that are struggling to meet quality standards. For example, school support staff should provide intensive technical support to schools that receive poor results on their external school evaluations. This support could take different forms, from helping schools with budgeting to arranging training for teachers. The ministry should also consider providing targeted funding to schools in socio-economically disadvantaged areas to help finance improvement measures. These technical and financial supports are more likely to have an impact if combined with a school-to-school networking initiative. Albania should pair schools with sufficient or poor inspection results with very good schools to encourage learning and improvement.

Policy issue 4.3. Helping schools conduct self-evaluation for improvement

Schools in Albania conduct annual self-evaluations, but they view the process primarily as an administrative task rather than an essential component of the school development planning cycle that is intended to inform improvements (see Box 10). The school principal leads the school development planning process but their role in school self-evaluation is more ambiguous. This contributes to the disconnect between the two processes. Schools also lack practical supports to help them conduct effective self-evaluation activities for improvement. There is no relevant training for school staff. The school self-evaluation guidelines lack information about effective practices and tools. In addition, schools do not have access to data that would allow them to compare their practices and performance with schools in similar circumstances for self-evaluation purposes. While Albania has introduced school performance cards to draw comparisons between schools using data indicators, the cards do not currently provide fair and accurate measures of school quality.

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Box 10. Recommended actions for helping schools conduct self-evaluation for improvement

Recommendation 4.3.1. Help schools integrate school self-evaluation into the school development planning process. The Quality Assurance Agency should conduct research with schools to uncover why there is a disconnect between school self-evaluation and development planning. Results should inform the creation of new school self-evaluation resources and training and possible changes to school processes. One area that should be addressed is the role of the principal. Effective school self-evaluation relies on strong school leaders who can drive their staff to conduct regular self-evaluation activities and follow through with improvement measures. The Quality Assurance Agency and the ministry should clarify in all relevant guidelines and policy documents that principals should always belong to a school’s self-evaluation team and be involved in conducting its core activities. The School of Directors should describe the principal’s role in leading school self-evaluation in revised school leadership standards and ensure that the standards are used to inform principal certification, recruitment, appraisal and training.

Recommendation 4.3.2. Build capacity for school self-evaluation. Schools in Albania need resources and training to help them conduct self-evaluations effectively. The Quality Assurance Agency should revise the school self-evaluation guidelines to be more practical and supportive. For example, the guidelines should help schools focus on a few simple self-evaluation questions and core indicators. Schools could also share self-evaluation tools and practices on a new online platform. The Quality Assurance Agency should work with the School of Directors to develop mandatory school self-evaluation training for principals. Training should also be offered to school staff. In addition, Albania should consider offering schools external support for self-evaluation, like coaching from the school support staff described above.

Recommendation 4.3.2. Support schools to make better use of data. The ESC should provide schools with granular data from national exams and assessments to help schools compare their students’ results and evaluate their own instructional practices. To encourage schools to use the data in the school performance card for their own development, the ministry should discontinue its use to publicly rank schools. Instead, the school performance card should be an internal self-evaluation tool. It could take the form of an electronic template pre-filled with national and regional benchmarks to which schools can add their own data. The ministry and the Quality Assurance Agency should work closely with the General Directorate and the ESC to improve the school performance card indicators. This process should ensure that indicators are limited to those that are relevant to school quality and address contextual factors that impact performance. Data in the EMIS, once further developed, should be used to populate the cards to reduce the reporting burden on schools. The ministry and ESC should create a school portal or “view” in the EMIS so that schools have easy access to this data. The portal should allow schools to benchmark their performance against schools with similar characteristics. This will provide a fair comparison of like schools and reveal whether schools with similar backgrounds are obtaining different outcomes.

Policy issue 4.4. Supporting school-level capacity for improvement

A lack of financial resources prevent schools in Albania from acting upon external and school self-evaluations (see Box 11). Schools are chronically underfunded and central funding is not distributed equitably. Schools in low socio-economic areas, in particular, struggle to meet their basic needs and are not in a position to finance improvement measures.

Limited school leadership capacity has also hindered school improvement (see Box 11). School leadership has been viewed as a temporary administrative role for teachers in Albania. For example, principals maintain a teaching load and they often return to teaching after short periods as school leaders. They have not been encouraged to develop instructional leadership competencies to shape teaching and learning in their schools. Recognising the need for stronger school leaders, Albania has established a School of Directors to develop measures like mandatory pre-service training and certification procedures.

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Box 11. Recommended actions for supporting school-level capacity for improvement

Recommendation 4.4.1. Provide schools with sufficient financial resources, including school improvement funding. To reduce inequities in funding distribution, the ministry should adjust how schools are funded to take into account contextual variables that affect schools’ needs. Regional and local education units should be required to use a formula to distribute funds to schools. To address schools’ lack of basic necessities, like heating, the ministry should work with municipalities to review the process of funding school building maintenance costs, which are the responsibility of local government. The ministry might consider creating an infrastructure fund for schools when municipal funding is insufficient. The ministry should also consider introducing a discretionary grant programme to help schools implement improvement activities. Priority could be given to schools that receive poor external school evaluation results and are located in low socio-economic areas.

Recommendation 4.4.2. Develop the role of the principal as instructional leader. Developing a cadre of strong school leaders is an important, long-term investment. As a priority, the School of Directors should ensure that new pre-service training for principals is of high quality. For example, it should be practical and cover all essential school leadership areas, including instructional leadership. To attract educators to the principal role, the training should be free-of-charge or subsidised. Another priority should be abolishing principals’ teaching load. Albania should consider introducing a new teacher career structure that includes a leadership track (see Chapter 3) to encourage prospective and practising principals to develop their leadership skills. A feature of the leadership track should be new career levels and associated salary increases specifically for principals. Progression along this track should be based on an objective appraisal of principals’ performance as school leaders. This would reward principals for developing leadership competencies; currently, they can only obtain salary increases based on their work as teachers. Albania should also develop a more formative annual appraisal process and introduce collaborative professional learning opportunities, like mentoring and networking, to strengthen principals’ skills.

copy the linklink copied!Strengthening capacity to evaluate system performance

System evaluation is central to improving educational performance. It holds the government and other stakeholders accountable for meeting national goals and provides the information needed to develop effective policies. Albania has started to establish some of the components integral to system evaluation. For example, the ESC is developing a modern EMIS, called Socrates, which by 2020 will store information related to students, teachers, curriculum and schools in pre-tertiary education.

Nevertheless, progress in developing system evaluation capabilities in Albania is uneven and the government demand for evidence to inform education policy is generally low. As a result, strategies and polices are often set without sufficient analysis, regular monitoring and reporting on progress is limited, and capacity for fulfilling these important functions is relatively weak. Building stronger demand for information and analysis within government, and developing the institutional capacity and procedures to support a culture of system evaluation, will be important to ensuring the use of evidence to support strategic planning and help Albania prioritise and achieve national education goals.

Policy issue 5.1. Establishing the processes and capacity needed to conduct system evaluation

Compared to practices in OECD and other European countries, Albania’s culture of monitoring, evaluation and research in the education system is underdeveloped. Prior to 2017, there was no agency or unit responsible for monitoring the education system. Today, this responsibility is distributed across different bodies that face significant capacity constraints and have limited monitoring and evaluation experience. Without clearer processes and stronger capacity for system evaluation (see Box 12), it will be difficult for Albania to promote a culture of regular evaluation and strategic learning within its education sector.

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Box 12. Recommended actions for establishing the processes and capacity needed to conduct system evaluation

Recommendation 5.1.1. Integrate evaluation processes into the future strategy.

Albania is starting to develop a new national education strategy, which presents an opportunity to integrate evaluation more centrally into planning and policy-making processes. While the current strategy was built on an analysis of sector performance and a broad consultation process, this resulted in a long list of aspirations and actions with no clear set of priorities. Considering Albania’s limited education budget, it is crucial the government direct reform efforts to where they will have the greatest impact. This review recommends that Albania prioritise strategic issues, set clear goals and develop implementation plans that are detailed and feasible to help strengthen results-oriented and accountable planning processes. This will also require strong system evaluation tools, such as a reliable EMIS system (see Policy Issue 2), to provide reliable and timely data that can inform policy decisions and monitor progress.

Recommendation 5.1.2. Develop the capacity to conduct system evaluation. Strengthening monitoring and evaluation capacity requires well-co-ordinated evaluation bodies that are objective, credible and have sufficient resources and staff with the relevant skills needed to conduct rigorous and reliable analysis. In Albania, overall capacity for evaluation remains underdeveloped and the recent re-organisation of education agencies has led to confusion about the roles different actors play in monitoring and evaluating system performance. Albania should clearly define the evaluation roles of the new Quality Assurance Agency to avoid duplication with the ministry’s Monitoring, Priorities and Statistics sector and ensure these bodies have the financial and human resources they need to fulfil their respective mandates. Albania should also support the system evaluation capacity of the General Directorate and its four regional directorates. This is especially important considering that regional offices are increasingly responsible for ensuring the quality and functioning of schools in their jurisdiction, which requires being able to use a range of evidence (MoESY, 2018[13]).

Recommendation 5.1.3. Report on the quality of education regularly and promote the use of evidence to inform policy-making. Regular reporting on the state of the education system is important to keep policy makers, education practitioners and the general public informed and keep the government accountable for its commitments (OECD, 2013[8]). Different agencies and units in the Albanian ministry publish annual reports on their work, which provides valuable sources of information. However, these different strands are not pulled together on a regular basis to communicate how the education system is performing as a whole. Albania’s Monitoring, Priorities and Statistics sector should task the Quality Assurance Agency to publish a regular report on the state of the education system and ensure that information about the sector is available in timely, relevant and accessible forms. This will not only hold the central government and regional education offices accountable for educational quality but also enable these actors to use evidence to inform their work. Over time, disseminating quality evaluation information can help the Albanian government and education community become more sophisticated and demanding consumers of evidence.

Policy issue 5.2. Modernising the education management information system

Integrated and comprehensive EMIS systems are widespread in OECD and European countries. These systems are especially effective because they not only collect and store data but also allow users to analyse data and help disseminate information about education inputs, processes and outcomes (Abdul-Hamid, 2014[14]). In Albania, current processes for collecting and managing information about the education sector are outdated and not accessible from a unified source. The forthcoming Socrates system (EMIS) represents an important step towards modernising the country’s education data by combining administrative information with learning outcomes and allowing schools to enter data directly, replacing the current process of gathering school-level data through emails and Excel files. The development and implementation of Socrates has been slow and poorly co-ordinated. Albania should prioritise the finalisation and implementation of Socrates and build in analytical and reporting functions to ensure this system becomes an effective and useful evaluation tool (see Box 13).

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Box 13. Recommended actions for modernising the education management information system

Recommendation 5.2.1. Address gaps in the development of Socrates and establish it as the central source of education data. The Socrates system is an excellent opportunity for Albania to modernise the collection, management and use of education data. However, there are important gaps in current plans for Socrates’ development, such as the lack of protocols for defining, collecting and verifying data and limited staff capacity to fully implement this tool. Albania should establish a formal data dictionary to ensure that all education actors have a shared understanding of data definitions and report information correctly. These data protocols should be accompanied by quality assurance procedures to help build trust in Socrates as a reliable and central source of information. While the ESC currently has the infrastructure and technical capacity to develop Socrates, Albania should consider positioning the EMIS closer within the ministry’s Monitoring, Priorities and Statistics sector, which is closer to the central leadership. This would reinforce the sector’s mandate to monitor the education system and would help ensure that Socrates develops into a responsive tool that meets the data needs of policy makers.

Recommendation 5.2.2. Develop Socrates into a functional tool to inform decision-making. While current plans for developing Socrates include important innovations that will help link education databases and facilitate multi-dimensional analysis, more could be done to support user-friendly access to data and its use to inform education policy. In particular, Albania should reconsider the decision to use a unique student identifier instead of a civil identification number. There are several advantages to using civil identification numbers because they connect education data with other sectors, such as the population register, and can reduce the burden and errors of data entry, as information can be retrieved automatically. This would allow Albania to examine important questions, such as the extent to which the school curriculum prepares students for success in the workforce. The ministry could also modernise the way data is disseminated so that users within and external to the government can more easily use this information to inform education policy and practice. For example, public and private dashboards with data visualisation features would allow users to make customised comparisons, generate charts and export data for further analysis.

Recommendation 5.2.3. Develop the national indicator framework to guide the development of Socrates. Albania’s current education strategy includes a national indicator framework that identifies data sources related to pre-tertiary education. However, there are currently no indicators related to student learning and some of the indicators are not clearly defined. Albania should develop the national indicator framework to align with the new strategy and draw more fully on information from across the system, especially student learning outcomes. Mapping the indicator framework against available sources of information can help identify information gaps and signal a need for Socrates to improve data collection in order to better measure progress. This can improve accountability for system performance and help co-ordinate policy efforts.

Policy issue 5.3. Ensuring the national assessment supports 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[8]). Following a pilot sample-based assessment for Grades 3 and 5 in 2014-15, the Albanian ministry chose to implement the VANAF as an annual census-based assessment for all students in Grade 5 and forgo a national assessment for lower grades. While the VANAF represents a positive feature of Albania’s infrastructure for system evaluation, the lack of standardised marking and moderation processes means that results are not comparable nationally. As a result, Albania currently does not have a reliable external measure of learning outcomes until students take the PISA assessment at age 15. While data from TIMSS and PIRLS will soon be available to help monitor learning outcomes in Grade 4, international assessments cannot measure how well students are meeting the national curriculum standards. The ministry and ESC should align the design and implementation of the VANAF to ensure it supports the monitoring and achievement of national education goals (see Box 14).

Once reliable assessment instruments have been established, the ministry will need to work with the ESC to improve the way in which assessment results are disseminated (see Box 14). Albania’s current practice of producing a single national report that ranks schools based on their aggregate results does not maximise the potential benefits of having a census-based assessment and can have negative effects on teacher and school behaviour. Research shows that having externally validated measures of learning for each student can help schools identify and address achievement gaps and act as a reference for teachers’ classroom marking, but international evidence likewise highlights the importance of ensuring the fair interpretation and careful use of the data (OECD, 2013[8]). Albania’s lack of contextualised comparisons and targeted reporting structures carries risks of false inferences and represents a missed opportunity to leverage the formative potential of this important evaluation tool.

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Box 14. Recommended actions for ensuring the national assessment supports system goals

Recommendation 5.3.1. Align the national assessment with its stated purpose of system monitoring. The stated purpose of the VANAF is to help upgrade the skills, knowledge and know-how of students; monitor and control the implementation of the curriculum; and inform students, parents and educational institutions about student achievements (MoESY, 2018[13]). While these objectives are in line with the purpose of national assessments in many OECD and EU countries, the current design and marking of the VANAF do not support such broad purposes. This review recommends that Albania maintain the VANAF in Grade 5 but set a realistic timetable for introducing a census-based assessment in Grade 3. This would help identify issues in students’ learning before they become problematic and help track progress overtime. The value of results for policy-making could be enhanced by background questionnaires that capture more of the contextual factors that influence student learning, such as student socio-economic background and school structure (i.e. multi-grade schools). This review also recommends that Albania introduce the same rigorous external marking or moderation procedures for its national assessments as is standard practice in most OECD countries and is needed if the data are to be used for monitoring and comparison. Concretely, this means transferring the responsibility of marking from local education offices to the ESC and providing the resources needed to validate the consistency of marking across the country.

Recommendation 5.3.2. Improve the dissemination of national assessment results to support system goals. The ESC prepares an annual national report on VANAF results that provides a description of achievement results, trend data and correlations by gender, school type and geographic location. However, the report, which is the only tool used to communicate results with policy makers, educators and the public, also ranks all schools according to aggregate student scores without any contextualised information. This is problematic since the data generated from the VANAF is not comparable across the country and can also lead to the most advantaged schools and students continually being considered the most effective. Instead of ranking schools based on aggregate results, the ministry and ESC should report school-level results alongside more relevant and contextualised performance benchmarks. For example, it would be more appropriate to compare a school’s national assessment results to other schools that are located in the same local education office, have similar student populations (i.e. students with similar socio-economic backgrounds) or have similar structures (i.e. compare multi-grade schools with each other). Albania could also optimise the formative potential of the VANAF by creating tailored reports for different audiences, such as parents, teachers, schools and the general public. Importantly, results should be disseminated in a way that avoids potentially negative consequences, such as attaching stakes or negative consequences to the assessment.

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