When working with international partners, Cambridge International Examinations
(Cambridge) often hears about different countries’ performance in, or curriculum
alignment with, certain international surveys
- The first to be run was TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) in 1995, although it was a successor of international studies going back to the 1960s. TIMSS is now repeated every 4 years and tests learners of 10 and 14 years old. It is managed by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA).
- Next came PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) in 2000, with a survey that is repeated every three years. This survey assesses learners who are a little older – aged 15 – and are nearing the end of compulsory secondary education. It assesses performance in reading, mathematics, science and problem solving. Special focus is placed on one of these areas in each year of assessment. PISA is a project of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Each participating country has an agent that runs the survey – in the UK, it is the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) – which invites a sample of schools to take part.
- Thirdly, in 2001 the IEA offered another international survey, which was called PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study). This is repeated every 5 years and it focuses on 10 year old learners’ abilities in reading, and on national policies concerning literacy. What is the theory behind international surveys?
- The survey organisers say that they offer information about international performances for the use of others in order to drive up education standards everywhere.
- They also emphasise that their aim is to facilitate dissemination of ideas on which features of education systems lead to the best performances. What are the benefits of international surveys?
What are the benefits of international surveys?
- Governments need to know what is going on in the systems for which they are responsible. Leaders have to decide where to allocate resources according to greatest need. International surveys could help them to make better decisions based on clearer data. The announcement of performances has had a significant impact on national discussions about education systems and policies.
- Schools and teachers can reflect on a survey’s global analysis and consider recommendations for good practice. The surveys obtain supplementary information through questionnaires and correlate this with the test results. For example, PISA 2012 states that lack of punctuality and truancy are negatively associated with test performance, and makes recommendations regarding learner engagement.