Rifts Over Global Test Of Learning

PARIS — Most of the discussion at the biennial conference of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development here this week was, per the group's name, about potential collaboration in solving the common issues and problems that many countries face in their higher education sectors: shrinking government support, growing dependence on tuition dollars and rising student demand, to name several. They didn't quite break into a chorus of Kumbaya, but darn close.

Behind the scenes, however, a potential conflict was gathering momentum over one of the OECD's more-controversial initiatives: its Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO), an international assessment of student skills and knowledge that is several years in the making.

Scores of colleges from 17 countries, including the United States, have been participating in a nearly completed feasibility study of the AHELO test, and at a session at this biennial meeting Tuesday, officials from Russia and Mexico joined OECD staff members in describing their work so far and expressing enthusiasm about the results they'd seen so far.

"We will carefully review the feasibility study to see whether [the test] is actually possible and scientifically sound," said Karine Tremblay, a senior analyst at OECD. "So far the results are encouraging."

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