Daniel de Bonis
Implemented in the 90s, the National Basic Education Assessment System (SAEB) is, to this day, the main source of information about children and youth's learning in Brazil. Both SAEB and IDEB - an assessment index used to monitor schools and education systems' learning progress - have enabled us to compile consistent historical data on a national scale and accurately monitor the Brazilian educational system, even on a school level. No country as large and developed as Brazil has created a similar system. SAEB and IDEB are, without a doubt, Brazilian assets.
However, after 30 years of SAEB and in light of the 2017 approval of the National Curricular Common Core (NCCC) for early childhood education and primary education and the 2018 approval for high school, it is time to revisit the principles of the assessment system and adjust it for the education of the future. Every year, the NCCC makes it clear that every student has the right to learn in school. The guidelines focus on comprehensive development, in which competences and skills relevant to life, work and citizenship in the 21st century are taught in school. Therefore, we need an assessment tool that monitors and guarantees these rights and, at the same time, serves as a reference for educators to assess student learning where and when it happens: in the classroom.
Supported by the Lemann Foundation, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) produced a comprehensive study on SAEB, pointing out its strengths and challenges compared to other educational assessment systems in the world. The study also highlights practical recommendations for Brazilian policies. Released on July 15th, the report named "Considerations for Brazil: Developing the National Assessment System to Advance Educational Goals" comes in good time to contribute to this discussion. We underscore three of the seven policy considerations presented by the report: the need for clear governance to implement change; the alignment between SAEB and the NCCC, and the opportunity to maximize the assessment's formative potential.
Over the past few decades, Brazil has accumulated important knowledge with regards to educational assessments at different levels of government, universities and research institutes, and among institutions which conduct large-scale assessments. In order to remain relevant, SAEB needs to undergo a review to make the most out of this collective intelligence based on a transparent and open discussion. In this regard, we highlight the OECD recommendation to organize a broad consultation and contribution process with actors in the education community, in addition to the experts' technical support. There is no doubt that, in addition to technicians from the Anísio Teixeira National Institute of Educational Studies and Research (INEP), there are important contributions to be made by the Brazilian Association of Educational Assessment (ABAVE), the National Council of State Education Secretaries (CONSED) and the National Union of Municipal Education Directors (UNDIME). Furthermore, it is essential for the National Education Council (CNE) to discuss and approve the pedagogical guidelines in this review.
Regarding the alignment with the NCCC, the report emphasizes the need to clarify the link between the assessment and the skills described in the NCCC. It is necessary to ensure consistency between learning expectations and the respective evaluation of this learning. In a similar way, with its National Assessment Program (NAP), Australia has produced detailed documents and guidelines explaining how assessments reflect the domains, scope and sequencing of the national curriculum.
It is also important for SAEB to include diversified test items. Some of the essential competences for life in the 21st century, such as creativity and the ability to reason, cannot be properly assessed by SAEB's current multiple-choice tests. Not surprisingly, international assessments such as Pisa, Timms and Pirls use open items to measure these competences. Therefore, the transition from paper tests to the digital medium allows for the application of more elaborate and interactive items. As pointed out in the report, these changes require investment and training; and we can benefit from the consolidated expertise of INEP professionals.
The OECD also highlights how SAEB results could be leveraged from a managerial and formative perspective to promote transformation in schools and classrooms. SAEB results may be disclosed to different audiences and objectives in standardized fashion as a way to support students, teachers, school administrators and families. As an example, the study mentions Chile's Education Quality Measurement System (SIMCE), in which 11 forms of feedback are provided, differentiated by purpose, audience, format and content. In addition, SAEB results take up to a year to be released in the current format. In a digital format, the process will be faster and more conducive for administrators and teachers to plan for the following school year.
Finally, no progress will be possible without ensuring operational autonomy and institutional strength to INEP, a public institution which stands out as a global reference in educational research and assessment. A strong state policy depends on equally strong state bodies, and the SAEB situation is no different.