International Large-Scale Assessments and Education System Reform

On the Power of Numbers
Living reference work entry
Part of the Springer International Handbooks of Education book series (SIHE)


International large-scale assessments, such as PISA and TIMSS, have had a profound effect on educational policy and school accountability. In an open letter to the OECD in 2014, a large number of academics expressed their concerns over the continuous cycle of global testing and how it negatively affects student’s well-being and impoverishes classrooms, as it inevitably involves more and longer batteries of multiple-choice testing, more scripted “vendor”-made lessons, and less autonomy for teachers. Others have pointed to the ways in which international large-scale assessments have opened up education systems and built country’s assessment capacities. This chapter reviews the ways in which international standardized assessments permeate national policy and school-level decision-making, drawing on the sociology of numbers to understand the appeal of standardization and benchmarking. The OECD initiative “PISA for Schools” is described and how it potentially extends the influence of international assessments on the classroom. An alternative project within the OECD (the “Strategic Education Governance” project) is presented and how the approach of case studies and learning seminars allows countries to learn more holistically about how to hold schools accountable and improve education. Openness, situational awareness, and a consideration for the complexity of successful reform are presented as necessary “habits of mind” to successfully improve learning outcomes. The final conclusion reflects on the limitations and potential usage of international large-scale assessments for effective education reform.


Accountability Commensuration Standardization Educational governance 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam FGB – Room MF D455 Van der Boechorststraat 7 1081 BTAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.University College London, Institute of EducationLondonUK

Section editors and affiliations

  • Sigrid Blömeke
    • 1
  1. 1.University of OsloOsloNorway

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