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Practical lessons for phone-based assessments of learning
  1. Noam Angrist1,2,
  2. Peter Bergman3,
  3. David K Evans4,
  4. Susannah Hares5,
  5. Matthew C H Jukes6,
  6. Thato Letsomo2
  1. 1University of Oxford, Oxford, Oxfordshire, UK
  2. 2Young 1ove, Gaborone, Botswana
  3. 3Teachers College of Columbia University, New York, New York, USA
  4. 4Center for Global Development, Washington, DC, USA
  5. 5Center for Global Development, London, UK
  6. 6International Education Division, RTI International, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr David K Evans; devans{at}


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-term 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.

  • health economics
  • public health
  • health services research

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See:

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  • Handling editor Seye Abimbola

  • Twitter @angrist_noam, @DaveEvansPhD

  • Contributors All authors contributed equally to this project.

  • Funding This study was funded by Elma Philanthropies, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, UBS Optimus Foundation and Vitol Foundation.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement The data for this study are described in more detail in the following study: Angrist N, Bergman P, Brewster C, Matsheng M. Stemming Learning Loss During the Pandemic: A Rapid Randomized Trial of a Low-Tech Intervention in Botswana. 2020.

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