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The nature and extent of learning outcomes to be achieved at different levels of the general education system, and the means through which they should be achieved, is usually articulated in the curriculum or education programme. The curriculum, on the other hand, will usually receive its cue from national development goals and priorities.

Teaching and learning processes operationalise these outcomes and give them effect. Assessment verifies if stipulated outcomes have been achieved, although it can also be an input for learning to occur and/or be directed. The extent to which stipulated outcomes have been achieved remains a dominant1, though not exclusive signal of the quality of education, as well as of the effectiveness of curriculum implementation, teaching and learning. That is to say, assessment procedures will normally only be able to capture limited elements of learning that has occurred, in specifically defined areas, for example, literacy and numeracy.

Assessment in itself is a varied education process. It varies by purpose, forms of assessment and area of assessment. An initial distinction has to be made between assessment for learning and assessment of learning. The former is concerned with the function of assessment as an educational process. For this, feedback to the learner is essential3. Nevertheless, on a systemic level, assessment of learning is essential in order to monitor achievement of the education system as a whole. Assessment of learning, on the systemic level, can also result in (policy) lessons to improve systemic performance and, in this sense, on this level as well, ‘assessment for learning.’ can take place (although this expression is not usually used to refer to systemic learning). To this end, such large scale assessments usually use instruments for assessment of factors associated with learning in addition to the actual tests, which are normally grounded in a framework such as the generic ‘CIPP’-model (CIPP stands for Context, Inputs, Process and Product, see adjacent Figure 2), which is used, for example, by the Latin American Laboratory for Assessment of the Quality of Education (LLECE).

This Analytical Tool aims at assisting users to diagnose if, and to what extent, the existing assessment system is part of the impediments to reaching the desired and/or stated goals of education quality. The paramount question in the diagnosis of our assessment systems is how assessments can contribute to improving the quality of our education system and learning effectiveness. The diagnosis addresses this paramount question by posing some key questions with regard to assessment policies, frameworks and methods in place, the implementation mechanisms, and the systems for drawing appropriate lessons from assessment results and using the results from assessments to improve the different aspects of education processes and outcomes.

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