The measurement of educational quality must go beyond know-ledge and skills in key subjects, OECD education ministers agreed in Dublin.
"Broader outcomes" such as how students see themselves, social skills and well-being should also be included, they said.
The ministers confirmed that the shift in government concern from control over resources and curriculum towards a focus on achievement had made monitoring standards a priority.
But they noted that "not all educational outcomes can be tested in large-scale assessments" and considered it important to also have alternative forms of evaluation.
Tuula Haatainen, the Finnish education minister, said: "The key point is what the monitoring data should be to provide a good tool for educational development."
She said the information could be used to ensure schools in challenging areas had extra resources to provide remedial and small-group teaching and pupil welfare services.
The ministers also agreed that systems were needed for checking the quality of what schools provided beyond the purely academic.
However, ministers were split on whether evaluation findings would be published as league tables. Host minister Noel Dempsey said he thought his government's ban on league tables, currently the subject of a high- court battle, should be reviewed.
By contrast, Ms Haatainen, whose country has consistently ranked first in literacy, thought such information should be made available to schools and teachers, but not the public.
Finnish director general of education, Arvo Jappinen explained that in Finland, school-specific findings are not included in reports on learning outcome assessments "because we consider such branding detrimental".
The aim of the two-day conference last week was to share experience and agree on the future direction of cross-nationally comparable research, including the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment.