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Today we explore some of the problems with global learning metrics from the perspective of teacher unions. In particular, we look at outcomes-based approaches to international education development.

Such an approach uses global learning metrics to quantify supposed outcomes of education. But as a result, education is reduced and simplified.

My guest today is David Edwards, Deputy General Secretary of Education International in Brussels. Education International is the global federation of teacher unions. He will present some of the ideas discussed today at the CIES Symposium in November. Check out FreshEdpodcast.com for more details about the event.

PISA stands for the Programme for International Student Assessment. It is a test administered by the OECD in many countries around the world. You might have heard about the test because of the international league tables comparing systems of education that are created after the results are released. In recent years, Finland and Shanghai have come out on top, unleashing a wave study trips to those place by policymakers who want to learn the secret of good education.

Bob Lingard, a Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Queensland, has spent many years researching the rise of global education governance (see for example this article). He sees the PISA for Schools program as part of the expanding work in education by the OECD. He spoke with me in mid-January about his recent article and recounts the historical evolution of the OECD’s work in education. He ultimately questions the comparative value of the PISA for Schools program.

Tests are part and parcel of the schooling experience. If a child goes to school, then I’m sure he or she will, at some point in time, have to take a test. But the nature and purpose testing has changed and seen a rapid expansion in the past thirty years. Tests have become increasingly standardized and connected to high-stake outcomes. Moreover, standardized testing has become the main tool by which policymakers measure education quality.

Standardized tests are both a national and international issue. The rise of international assessments, such as the Programme for International Student Assessment and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, have created a world in which governments at all levels rely on standardized testing. For students, testing — and the preparation for testing — has become commonplace.

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My guest today, Will Smith, calls the worldwide phenomenon of standardized assessment the “Global testing culture.” Will is a senior associate with RESULTS Educational Fund, where he is developing the Right to Education Index. He completed his PhD in Educational Theory and Policy and Comparative International Education at Pennsylvania State University and has worked both as a US public school teacher and a fellow at the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development.

In his new edited collection, entitled, The Global Testing Culture shaping education policy, perceptions, and practice, which will be published this year by Symposium, Will argues that the reinforcing nature of a global testing culture leads to an environment where testing becomes synonymous with accountability, which becomes synonymous with education quality.