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Last modified: Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Head of influential international education assessment to speak at IU

Nov. 23, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The head of the organization that administers two of the world's largest, most influential education assessment exams will speak on the Indiana University Bloomington campus Wednesday, Dec. 1, addressing the challenges of designing an accurate test to understand how students learn across the globe.

Hans Wagemaker, executive director of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), will talk about international education assessments during an Education Policy Chat presented by the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy (CEEP). His presentation, titled "IEA's Assessment Strategy: Measuring Change and Changing Measures," starts at 2 p.m. in the Dogwood Room at the Indiana Memorial Union.

Hans Wagemaker

Hans Wagemaker

Print-Quality Photo

The IEA created and administers the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) and Trends in International Math and Science Survey (TIMSS), which collect data from more than 60 countries to assess student learning. Education researchers formed the IEA in the late 1950s in an effort to gather information about which countries performed best so that educators could adopt best practices across the globe. The survey rankings are often cited by policymakers in the U.S. who are concerned with how American students compare to international peers.

"One of the goals for IEA is to provide all participating countries with policy-related information about student achievement and its antecedents, which can contribute to educational reform and improvement," Wagemaker said. Speaking from the IEA headquarters in Amsterdam, he said one of the major challenges is comparing countries academically that may not be on the same plane socially.

"An assessment strategy which demands strict comparability of grade levels may not serve well those countries which are in an earlier stage of economic and educational development," Wagemaker said. "Our observation is that in some countries, a large number of students struggle to perform at even modest levels on the assessment and are judged to be up to two years equivalent in schooling behind the rest of the participants."

Wagemaker said he'll discuss these matters during the Policy Chat, particularly the idea of adjusting when and how to administer the tests in some countries to ensure the most accurate assessment.

Wagemaker said the IEA makes an effort to ensure that the samples from all countries best match the student population. Some critics of the international comparisons have complained while the U.S. tests a broad sample, other countries are more selective.

"Sampling for all countries is tightly controlled and monitored to ensure that representative probability samples are drawn to ensure that the population estimates accurately reflect the performance of students at the target grade levels in each country," Wagemaker said. "What does vary, of course, is the degree of socioeconomic, ethnic and linguistic diversity among countries -- all of which are known to be related to achievement."

TIMSS and PIRLS assessment will happen simultaneously for 2011. TIMSS is administered every four years, PIRLS every five years, rarely falling in the same year (it won't happen again until 2031). Some countries will be able to administer the reading test as well as the math and science test to the same students, offering a unique opportunity.

"We expect in those cases in particular to be able to increase the analytical opportunities -- to explore such things as the relationship between reading performance and the performance in math and science," Wagemaker said. "Similarly, we are examining ways in which we might be able to identify those school and student background-related factors which are jointly related to higher levels of achievement in mathematics, science and reading."

Following Wagemaker's presentation, audience members will be able to ask questions. Before joining IEA, Wagemaker worked for New Zealand's Ministry of Education. He has also consulted for Inter American Development Bank and UNSECO, and worked extensively with the World Bank and other international agencies to advance a common interest in the uses of assessment for improving educational systems in developing countries. He holds honors bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Otago, New Zealand, and a Ph.D. from the Department of Education Policy Studies at the University of Illinois.

The CEEP Policy Chat is free and open to the public.

CEEP, one of the country's leading nonpartisan education policy and program evaluation centers, promotes and supports rigorous evaluation and research primarily, but not exclusively, for educational, human services and nonprofit organizations. Center projects address state, national and international education questions. CEEP is part of the IU School of Education. To learn more about CEEP, go to