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Honorary members

The association includes a small number of individual honorary members whose election is based on their excellent contributions to the work of IEA over many years.

First IEA studies

The study was conducted in order to investigate the feasibility of undertaking more extensive assessments of educational...


FIMS was conducted to investigate the outcomes of various school systems in a field of schooling that was, at the time,...


FISS focused on three fields of science: biology, chemistry, and physics. The data were collected shortly after the...


The study adopted, as measures of verbal ability, a test of reading comprehension, a brief test of reading speed, and a brief...


Brief History of IEA: 55 Years of Educational Research

If custom and law define what is educationally allowable within a nation, the educational systems beyond one's national boundaries suggest what is educationally possible.

Arthur W. Foshay, Educational Achievements of Thirteen-Year-Olds in Twelve Countries

IEA became a legal entity in 1967, but its origins date back to 1958 when a group of scholars, educational psychologists, sociologists, and psychometricians met at the UNESCO Institute for Education in Hamburg, Germany, to discuss problems of school and student evaluation. They argued that effective evaluation requires examination of both the inputs to education and its outcomes (such as knowledge, attitudes, and participation).

Honorary members (from left to right): Tjeerd Plomp, Neville Postlethwaite, David Robitaille.

The founders of IEA viewed the world as a natural educational laboratory, where different school systems experiment in different ways to obtain optimal results in the education of their youth. They assumed that if research could obtain evidence from across a wide range of systems, the variability would be sufficient to reveal important relationships, which would otherwise escape detection within a single education system. They strongly rejected data-free assertions about the relative merits of various education systems, and aimed to identify factors that would have meaningful and consistent influences on educational outcomes.

The first studies

The first IEA study, known as the Pilot Twelve-Country Study, was intended to investigate the feasibility of more extensive assessments of educational achievement. It was conducted in 1960 in 12 countries on 13-year-old students in mathematics, reading comprehension, geography, science, and non-verbal ability. The study produced findings of academic and practical value, but more importantly demonstrated the feasibility of conducting large-scale, cross-national surveys. It showed that several research centers could work together effectively, and that it is possible to construct common tests and questionnaires that 'work' cross-culturally.

These encouraging findings gave rise to the First International Mathematics Study (FIMS), which employed an improved sampling procedure and an extended test of student achievement. Data was collected in 1964 in 12 countries from two populations (13-year-old and final-year secondary students). The study found that 'opportunity to learn' (that is, the way a subject is actually taught in the classroom, in contrast to how it is prescribed in the curriculum) was a remarkably good predictor of systematic differences in student performance. The study also showed that all school systems suffer, to some extent, from lack of equity between different groups of students.

The Six Subject Survey (1970–1971) expanded the scope of investigation to science (also known as the First International Science Study, or FISS), reading comprehensionliterature educationEnglish as a foreign languageFrench as a foreign language, and civic education. The researchers moved the target population from 13 to 14 years of age, because by that time nearly all participating countries were keeping children in full-time compulsory education up to the end of 14 years. Additional populations (10 year-old and final-year secondary students) were also included for some subjects. The survey helped to identify new predictors of student achievement related to interests, motivation and attitudes, methods of teaching, and school practices.

In 1971, IEA organized a seminar on curriculum development and evaluation in Gränna, Sweden. Researchers and curriculum experts from 23 countries participated. It is often said that this seminar had a major influence on curriculum development in the majority of countries that attended.

Periodic studies

In the late 1970s, an idea emerged that periodic studies of the key subject areas might allow IEA to measure changes in educational achievement over time. This led to the Second International Mathematics Study (SIMS), which was conducted in 20 countries in 1980–1982, and the Second International Science Study (SISS), which was carried out in 24 countries in 1983–1984. The strategy of repeating a study over an interval of several years provided participating countries with important information on trends in their standards of achievement in mathematics and science.

While SISS was a deliberate replication of FISS, SIMS incorporated a short-term longitudinal component. The Classroom Environment Study (1981–1983) was also longitudinal, and studied the effects of teaching behavior on student learning outcomes in 9 countries. With this study and SIMS, the same students were tested on two separate occasions. However, it became evident that measuring over only two points of time was not enough to yield the information needed to accurately estimate the effects of schools and teaching behaviors on educational achievement.

By the beginning of the 1980s, more children were being enrolled in pre-primary education around the world. There was a strong feeling among participating IEA countries that more should be known about the cognitive, attitudinal, social, and emotional development of children in different preschool settings, including the home environment. The longitudinal Preprimary Project (PPP) addressed this interest by examining how children's early experiences at age four affected their later cognitive and language development at age seven. Seventeen countries participated in one or more of the three phases of the study, conducted in 1987–1989, 1992, and 1995–1997, respectively.

Further studies included the Written Composition Study, which was conducted in 1984–1985 in 14 countries and assessed six types of writing on the dimensions of style and tone, overall impression, content, and organization. The Reading Literacy Study (1990–1991) was a milestone for IEA with 32 participating countries; it was characteristic in its focus on both student achievement and educational contexts, with background information collected on students' voluntary reading activities.

Changing interests

The 1990s brought new challenges and successes. As a result of government programs, computers began to play a more significant role in school education. However, there was little data on the educational use of computers, and thus the two-phase Computers in Education Study (COMPED) was conducted in 1989 and 1992.

The Second Information Technology in Education Study Module 1 (SITES-M1) provided an update on the state of affairs in 26 countries' computer technology resources and their utilization and integration into the instructional process, with data collected in 1998–1999. SITES-M2 (2001) was a qualitative study, based on 174 case studies of innovative pedagogical practices using ICT in 28 countries. Further to this, SITES 2006 asked about the impact of countries' investments in promoting the pedagogical use of ICT over the last ten years.

Political changes resulting from the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and central-eastern Europe raised new questions about the education of the "good citizen." To answer these questions, the second Civic Education Study (CIVED) investigated students' civic knowledge and engagement, as well as related policies and practices. Thirty-one countries, including nine former communist countries, participated in one or both phases of the study (1996–1997 and 1999).

Another study aimed to meet the policy demands of the late 1990s was the Language Education Study. Twenty-five countries participated in Phase 1 of the project in 1995, collecting data on second and foreign language education and polices for four languages: English, French, German, and Spanish. Unfortunately, Phase 2 of the study—the student survey—attracted no funding and had to be abandoned.

Cycle of studies

The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS 1995) was the first in a four-year cycle of assessments in mathematics and science, now known as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. With 46 participating countries and over half a million students in five grades, it was also the largest and most ambitious study of comparative education undertaken at the time. As an additional option, some countries tested two special sub-groups of final-year secondary students enrolled in advanced mathematics and/or physics courses (this would later be known as the first cycle of TIMSS Advanced). Subsequent, regular data collections for TIMSS have taken place in 1999 (also known as TIMSS-Repeat), 20032007, and 2011, with assessments conducted at the fourth and eighth grades.

Another assessment series, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), has been conducted in five-year intervals in 20012006, and 2011. PIRLS investigates changes over time in children's reading achievement at the fourth grade, an important transition point in their development as readers, and gathers information on reading education and children's early experiences at home and school in learning to read. For the first time in 2011, prePIRLS (now known as PIRLS Literacy) was offered for countries whose fourth grade students are still developing fundamental reading skills.

IEA's cycle of trend studies in basic school subjects continues to attract an increasing number of countries from all around the world. More than 45 education systems participated in PIRLS and over 60 education systems joined TIMSS in 2011, a year that marked a unique event—joint assessment at the fourth grade—in the history of both cycles. Some participants are 'newcomers' to international assessment, while many represent low- or middle-income countries whose social, political, and economic situations differ from the countries that have traditionally participated in IEA studies.

Continuous evolution

The first decade of the new century brought two meaningful developments to IEA studies: creating a base for new cycles (civic education, advanced mathematics and science), and entering new areas of assessment (computer and information literacy of students, teacher education).

The International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS 2009) investigated the ways in which young people are prepared to undertake their roles as citizens in 38 countries. ICCS assessed changes over time since CIVED, but also broadened the scope of research and introduced novel regional modules for Asia, Europe, and Latin America to address questions important in their specific contexts. Preparations are underway for the next cycle in 2016.

TIMSS Advanced 2008 assessed achievement in advanced mathematics and physics at the upper-secondary school level, helping ten participating countries understand better what is educationally feasible in preparing students for future careers in related professions, and permitting countries who participated in the 1995 assessment to consider changes over time. There are also plans for another cycle in 2015.

In response to continuing interest in ICT as a "21st century skill," the International Computer and Information Literacy Study (ICILS 2013) was initiated in 2010. This study aims to evaluate students' understanding of and skills in using computers, through an authentic computer-based assessment for the eighth grade.

The Teacher Education and Development Study in Mathematics (TEDS-M) was IEA's first study of tertiary education. This study examined the policies, programs, and practices for preparing elementary and lower-secondary mathematics teachers in 17 countries.

A unique network

IEA's first offices were in Hamburg (1959–1969) and Stockholm (1970–1989). In 1990, the association established a small, permanent secretariat in the Netherlands (initially in the Hague, and since 1996 in Amsterdam). In 1995, IEA established the Data Processing Center (DPC) in Hamburg to centralize the work of data processing, which had previously been distributed among different study managers. In 2007, the center expanded its research and analysis activities, and was renamed as the IEA Data Processing and Research Center. In the same year, IEA created the IEA-ETS Research Institute in partnership with the Educational Testing Service (ETS), to provide a centralized 'meeting point' for statisticians, with a yearly monograph series and semiannual training academies on topics in large-scale assessment.

Since the late 1950s, IEA has grown in both its membership and the number of non-member countries participating in its studies. This has required new ways of working to ensure that all systems benefit. In response to this challenge, IEA has increased its training and dissemination opportunities to facilitate countries' study participation, promote capacity building, and generate expertise in using IEA data. In 1985 and 2005, two awards were established as a memorial to Bruce H. Choppin and Richard M. Wolf, respectively, to foster and promote outstanding research based on IEA data. IEA's first International Research Conference was held in 2004 in Nicosia, Cyprus, to provide a forum for sharing secondary research results of IEA studies; subsequent conferences continue to be held every two or three years around the world.

In 2008, IEA celebrated its 50th anniversary. At that year's General Assembly meeting, honorary members gathered to share their memories of the 'giants' of IEA's past, and express optimism about its future. They reflected on the impact of IEA studies and changes in both the nature of educational assessment and the education systems that have taken part.

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