Brief History of the IEA


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

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

Fifty-five years of educational research

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

The founders of the IEA viewed the world as a natural educational laboratory, where different school systems experiment in different ways to obtain optimal results from educating 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 that 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 IEA study, conducted in 1960 in 12 countries, assessed 13-year-old students’ achievement in mathematics, reading comprehension, geography, science, and non-verbal ability. The aim of this research, known as the Pilot Twelve-Country Study, was to investigate the feasibility of more extensive assessments of educational achievement. The study produced findings of academic and practical value, but more importantly demonstrated the feasibility of conducting large-scale cross-national surveys.

Today, a great many educational stakeholders around the world are convinced of the value of conducting comparative large-scale assessments in education, and the IEA continues to play a key role in this important field of research.

Learn more about the Pilot Twelve-Country Study and the studies that followed it here.