A monthly update on research from the Assessment, Curriculum and Technology Research Centre
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Welcome to the ACTRC Newsletter, Issue 3, September 2016

The Learning Achievement of Students in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao

In June this year, ACTRC completed its largest research project to date: the Longitudinal Study of Learning Achievement of Students in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, or LearnARMM. The study began with over 5,000 Kindergarten and Grade 1 students in Department of Education (DepEd) schools and Alternative Delivery Mode Learning Centres coordinated by BRAC and partner NGOs in the provinces of Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao. The students were assessed in literacy and mathematics using culturally harmonised tests designed for equivalence in different languages and educational settings. Initial results in August 2014 showed that students in the Learning Centres began with a slight disadvantage in socio-economic status and in learning achievement, but subsequent testing in February 2015 revealed that the Learning Centre students were learning at the same rate as DepEd students, and by February 2016 the disadvantage in learning achievement had been overcome, with no difference in achievement between the two groups on the literacy and mathematics measures.
While these results were positive for the students who remained in school over the study period, another major finding of the project was that approximately 30% of the Grade 1 cohort in both Learning Centres and DepEd schools was out of school at the end of Grade 2. This finding indicates that some of the challenges that led to the implementation of Learning Centres in ARMM are yet to be met. In comparison to other parts of the Philippines, the region has low rates of school preparedness and participation and high rates of attrition and illiteracy. It was in response to these circumstances that the Learning Centre Alternative Delivery Model was introduced in 2012 as a component of the Basic Education Assistance in Muslim Mindanao project, funded by Australian Aid. With the support of DepEd, BRAC was invited to implement the ADM by establishing Learning Centres to provide Kindergarten and the Elementary Curriculum to remote and disadvantaged areas of ARMM where there were high numbers of out-of-school children. The findings of the LearnARMM project show specifically that conflict has a negative impact on school attendance. However, the study found that some students who were absent from school in 2015 due to conflict events returned in 2016 – a positive finding. 

Other outcomes of the LearnARMM project that will be of interest to teachers, researchers and education administrators were the test translation process and the development of learning progressions in literacy and numeracy. The cultural 'harmonisation' of the tests was achieved with the help of education professionals whose knowledge and experience brought linguistic and cultural equivalence to the tests. Their work resulted in a test translation process that has the potential to be adopted and applied in other contexts. Another notable feature of this research is that the test results are reported to teachers as profiles, or descriptions of skills and knowledge that students have learned or are on the cusp of learning. The profiles are developed from learning progressions that reflect the Philippine curriculum, and confirmed through the test development process. Therefore, the profiles are aligned to the K-12 Curriculum and can be used by teachers as classroom tools for formative assessment. Reports based on the progressions can be produced at the individual or class level, allowing preparation and teaching that target the level of learning at which students are most likely to make progress.  
The positive outcomes for the Learning Centre and DepEd ARMM students were reported at a research forum held at the Australian Embassy in Makati, Manila, on 8 September 2016. The forum was hosted by Embassy staff and attended by educators from Mindanao and Manila, including academics from ARMM and representatives of DepEd ARMM, BRAC, partner NGOs, SEAMEO INNOTECH, USAID and the University of the Philippines. The main point to emerge from the discussion was that the children of ARMM, despite very challenging circumstances, can and will make progress in their learning when provided with the opportunity of formal schooling. The challenge ahead lies in identifying strategies for ensuring the continuation of schooling for children in Alternative Delivery Mode learning contexts. 
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