A Brief Introduction to Modern International Large-Scale Assessment

Authored by: David Rutkowski , Leslie Rutkowski , Matthias von Davier

Handbook of International Large-Scale Assessment

Print publication date:  November  2013
Online publication date:  November  2013

Print ISBN: 9781439895122
eBook ISBN: 9781439895146
Adobe ISBN:


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The origins of modern-day international assessments of student skills are often traced back to the First International Mathematics Study (FIMS) conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) in the early 1960s. The undertaking of an international project at that time, with a shoestring budget and few modern technological conveniences to speak of (no email, fax, or Internet, and only minimal access to international phone lines), speaks to the dedication and vision of the scholars that were willing to attempt such a feat. The first executive director of the IEA, T. Neville Postlethwaite (1933–2009), once recounted the story of sending off the first round of assessments and not knowing for months if the assessment booklets had even arrived at their destinations, let alone whether or not the assessment was actually being administered in the 12 countries that initially participated. In many ways the founders of this early study understood the obstacles of completing such a study, and they were equally interested in the process as well as the outcome. Alan Purves (1987), a former chair of the IEA, recounts, “the purpose of the [FIMS] study was twofold: to make inferences about intellectual functioning from multiple-choice items and to test the feasibility of a large-scale international study” (p. 11). Sweeping statements for and against international large-scale assessments (ILSAs) enjoy a prominent place in international educational discourse, particularly in modern educational research and policy debates (cf. Asia Society and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), 2010; Medrich and Griffith, 1992; Mislevy, 1995; Postlethwaite, 2005; Purves, 1987; Rizvi and Lingard, 2009; Schwippert, 2007), as well as in the public sphere (cf. Darling-Hammond 2011). Regardless of where one might fall on the ILSA ideological divide, 50 years later, the feasibility of such an endeavor is clear.

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