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Implementing large-scale assessments in education

A new book for education policymakers, researchers and practitioners investigates issues related to the inception, design, implementation and reporting of large-scale education assessments, as Geoff Masters explains.

A central question for governments and school systems around the world is what they can do to ensure that all students are equipped with the knowledge, skills and attributes necessary for effective participation in the future workforce and for productive future citizenship.

To answer this question, countries require quality information, including information on current levels of student achievement, the performances of subgroups of the student population − especially socio-economically disadvantaged students, Indigenous students and new arrivals − and recent trends in achievement levels within a country.

Large-scale education assessments

Also important is an understanding of how well a nation’s schools are performing in comparison with schools elsewhere in the world. Large-scale education assessments enable education policymakers, researchers and practitioners to investigate whether:

  • some school systems are producing better outcomes overall
  • some have made improvements in achievement levels over time
  • some are more effective in ameliorating the influence of socioeconomic disadvantage on educational outcomes
  • some are doing a better job of developing the skills and attributes required for life and work in the 21st century.

Implementation of Large-Scale Education Assessments, edited by ACER’s Petra Lietz, John Cresswell and Ray Adams, and Keith Rust from Westat and the University of Maryland, has been designed to support researchers, policymakers and practitioners in undertaking such investigations.

In the decades since the 1960s, international comparative studies of student achievement and the factors underpinning differences in educational performance in different countries have evolved from a research interest of a handful or academics and educational research organisations to a major policy tool of governments across the globe.

Monitoring progress and evaluating effectiveness

International surveys now include the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment, implemented in 75 countries in 2015 and managed by ACER in Australia, and the IEA’s Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, implemented in 59 countries in 2015 and also managed by ACER in Australia. Other international studies are conducted in areas such as primary school reading, civics and citizenship and ICT literacy. Governments use the results of these large‐scale international studies as well as significant regional assessment programs, often alongside results from their own national surveys, to monitor progress in improving quality and equity in school education and to evaluate the effectiveness of system‐wide policies and programs.

The decades since the 1960s have also seen significant advances in methodologies for the planning, implementation and use of international surveys – in effect, the evolution of a science of large‐scale assessment. Implementation of Large-Scale Education Assessments maps an evolving methodology for large-scale educational assessments. Progress in this field has drawn on advances in specific disciplines and areas of practice, including psychometrics, test development, statistics, sampling theory and the use of new technologies of assessment.

The science of large-scale assessments is continuing to evolve. The challenges faced by the field include the collection of useful, internationally comparable data on a broader range of skills and attributes than have typically been assessed in large‐scale surveys. National education systems and governments are increasingly identifying skills and attributes such as collaboration, innovativeness, entrepreneurship and creativity as important outcomes of school education. The assessment of such attributes may require very different methods of observation and data gathering, including by capitalising on advances in assessment technologies.

An ongoing challenge will be to ensure that the results of large‐scale assessments continue to meet their essential purpose: to inform and lead effective educational policies and practices to better prepare all students for life and work in the 21st century. ■

Further information:

For more information about Implementation of Large-Scale Education Assessments, visit https://shop.acer.edu.au/implementation-of-large-scale-education-assessments

RD

About the author

Professor Geoff Masters AO is the Chief Executive of ACER. 

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View selected works of Geoff Masters

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