Today’s topic: the dreaded subject of tests.

I hated tests growing up. They made me feel physically ill.

But we aren’t going to look at the types of tests I disliked so much, those given by a teacher to her or his students. We aren’t even going to look at standardized tests administered across one country.

Instead, today’s show focuses on tests that are administered around the world. We call these types of tests international large-scale assessments. One of the most popular today is called PISA — the Programme for International Student Assessment. PISA tests 15-year-old’s scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading. The latest test, in 2015, was administered in 72 countries.

Think for a moment of how complex it must be to create, administer, and interpret PISA across 72 countries. The test must be reliable in different contexts; it must successfully recruit national government officials to help collect data; and it must rely on a small army of statisticians to discern what the test results actually mean. For many, the benefit of a test like PISA is that it allows governments to make evidence based policy. After learning where its students sit globally, education officials from one country can enact new and hopefully better policies to improve student learning.

Sounds good, right?

But that’s the whole story. Cross-national assessments have produced countless controversies — some within specific countries and others in the academic literature.

With me today is Gustavo Fischman. He’s been studying this subject for some time. In November 2016, he helped organize a symposium at Arizona State University looking at these so-called “global learning metrics.” You might remember a few FreshEd podcasts on the subject. He has also recently co-written a working paper for the Open Society Foundation on the topic, which will be released later this year.

Gustavo Fischman is a professor of educational policy and director of edXchange the knowledge mobilization initiative at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University.


Citation: Fischman, Gustavo, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 70, podcast audio, April 24, 2017.

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