This study examines key trends and characteristics of national learning assessments (NLAs), which have been conducted with increasing frequency worldwide since the 1990s. Generally, national assessments constitute a ‘low stakes’ examination whose purpose is to evaluate student learning outcomes on the basis of criteria and expectations set by national education authorities. Unlike international assessments the results of NLAs are not comparative. This paper provides an overview of NLAs by describing the curricular subject areas and grade levels assessed, and how these have changed over time and varied across regions. In addition, it presents results from select national learning assessments to illustrate issues pertaining to changes in learning outcomes over time and ways country-level disparities in student achievement can be compared. The paper calls on international agencies, donors and civil society to consider ways to strengthen the capacities of national authorities and/or citizens to conduct, improve and, most importantly, utilize national learning assessments to ensure the provision of good quality education and effective teaching.