The OECD’s AHELO: a PISA for higher education?

Editor’s note: greetings from Paris, one of the ‘calculative centres’ associated with the globalization of higher education.  One of the key institutions associated with this development process is the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development/Organisation de coopération et de développement économiques (OECD/OCDE) given its work on higher education, as well as on related issues such as innovation, science and technology, and so on.

See below for a recent presentation about the OECD’s Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO) initiative. This presentation is courtesy of Diane Lalancette, an Analyst with the AHELO initiative, OECD – Directorate for Education.

In ‘tweeting‘ about this presentation a few weeks ago, I detected that a few people sent it on while calling AHELO “a PISA for higher education”. PISA, for those of you who don’t know, is the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment, hence the PISA acronym. As the OECD puts it:

PISA assesses how far students near the end of compulsory education have acquired some of the knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in society. In all cycles, the domains of reading, mathematical and scientific literacy are covered not merely in terms of mastery of the school curriculum, but in terms of important knowledge and skills needed in adult life.

Yet as Diane Lalancette put it (in a note to me):

While AHELO takes a similar approach to PISA in that it will assess student knowledge and skills directly, it is a feasibility study and will not provide information at national or system level like PISA does.

In short, the focus of the AHELO learning outcomes measures will be at the level of institutions and will not allow for comparisons at national levels, one of the key elements that can put national governments on edge (depending on how well their compulsory education systems do in a relative sense).

Our thanks to the Diane Lalancette and Richard Yelland of the OECD’s Directorate of Education for permission to post the presentation below.

Kris Olds


2 thoughts on “The OECD’s AHELO: a PISA for higher education?

  1. It is pleasing to read Diane Lalancette’s optimism about progress with the OECD’s assessment of higher education learning outcomes after hearing other, rather more pessimistic accounts of the development of the engineering study in Australia.

    Of course a vital strength of the OECD’s program for international student assessment is that it supports robust comparisons of performance between countries, and it has been so influential because countries’ results have been published to be analysed, critiqued and ultimately to influence countries’ school education policies.

    Why, then, does Lalancette say in slide 6 that results will not be published but will be given to institutions with other institutions not identified? It is hard to know in a powerpoint demonstration, which typically are filled with dot points, have a scarcity of verbs and are bereft of sentences.

    But I very much hope that Lalancette means that the results of only the current feasibility study will be published without identifying institutions, for surely the aim of the project must be to develop an instrument that supports robust comparisons between institutions.

    Only by publishing a valid and reliable league table of institutions’ teaching quality will the assessment of higher education learning outcomes complement let alone displace the research league tables which currently dominate universities, as Lalancette’s early slides suggest is the OECD’s ultimate goal.

  2. Pingback: Searching for the Holy Grail of learning outcomes « GlobalHigherEd

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