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School closures affecting more than 1.5 billion children are designed to prevent the spread of current public health risks from the COVID-19 pandemic, but they simultaneously introduce new short- and long-term health risks through lost education. Measuring these effects in real-time is critical to inform effective public health responses, and remote phone-based approaches are one of the only viable options with extreme social distancing in place. However, both the health and education literature are sparse on guidance for phone-based assessments. In this article, we draw on our pilot testing of phone-based assessments in Botswana, along with the existing literature on oral testing of reading and mathematics, to propose a series of preliminary practical lessons to guide researchers and service providers as they try phone-based learning assessments. We provide preliminary evidence that phone-based assessments can accurately capture basic numeracy skills. We provide guidance to help teams (1) ensure that children are not put at risk, (2) test the reliability and validity of phone-based measures, (3) use simple instructions and practice items to ensure the assessment is focused on the target skill, not general language and test-taking skills, (4) adapt the items from oral assessments that will be most effective in phone-based assessments, (5) keep assessments brief while still gathering meaningful learning data, (6) use effective strategies to encourage respondents to pick up the phone, (7) build rapport with adult caregivers and youth respondents, (8) choose the most cost-effective medium, and (9) account for potential bias in samples.
This article has been published at BMJ Global Health. An earlier version of this paper was published in May 2020 under the title “Principles for Phone- Based Assessments of Learning.” It was updated in July 2020. You can view the earlier version here.