High stakes testing in Uganda and many African countries exerts a powerful influence on behavior, shaping both what is taught and how it is taught. The result is that practice, little priority is given in classrooms to matters that are not closely aligned to the demands of examinations. The low rigor of examination questions, in turn, limits the cognitive quality of instruction and focuses both teaching and testing on skills like recall and memorization. However, some scholars argue that examination reform can be used to drive educational quality in systems by motivating teachers to shift their methods to meet higher learning standards on exams.
Research has affirmed that assessment driven reform is precarious but possible. This combination of raising rigor using fewer and deeper standards that focus on higher order thinking (HOT) skills, when paired with a major emphasis on strengthening instructional quality to effectively teach those skills, appears to have been successful in many of the top performing and most-improved education systems globally. But to what extent has this approach been successful in lower-income contexts like Sub-Saharan Africa? It appears that the evidence is quite mixed. Changes in examination content have been demonstrated to consistently and effectively shift the content of what is taught; however, the evidence is inconclusive and mixed as to the efficacy of exam reform in shifting how that content is taught and improving students’ higher order thinking skills.
What are the keys to successful examination-driven reform in African countries such that it leads to strengthened higher order thinking skills in education systems? This report draws upon research and an illustrative case study from Uganda to offer a framework for effective examination-driven reform. The case focuses on the activities of a set of partners in Uganda including: an institute of higher education in Uganda called Luigi Giussani Institute of Higher Education (LGIHE) and two parts of the Ugandan Ministry of Education, the Uganda National Exam Board (UNEB), which is responsible for administering national examinations in the country, and the Teacher Instructional Education Training (TIET) division of the Ministry, which oversees teacher education and training. These and other organizations collaborated to advance reforms in the Ugandan education system aimed at increasing the measurement of higher order thinking (HOT) skills in the examinations and the effective teaching of these skills in Ugandan classrooms. This report shares a set of key findings from a qualitative case study of the partnership and reform efforts and presents a proposed model for a theory of improvement for effective examination-driven reform in Africa and beyond.