IEA Compass: Briefs in Education Series

This series address issues of interest to a broad range of educational stakeholders, especially those involved in influencing educational decision and policymaking. Each publication in the series aims to connect study findings to recurrent and emerging questions in education policy debates at the international and national levels. The briefs cover a range of themes in relation to teaching and learning in school subjects addressed by the IEA studies. The series is edited by Dr David Rutkowski.

If you are interested in producing translations of the articles, please contact IEA Amsterdam. Find download links below to access Spanish translations of each Brief, or you can find all Spanish translated briefs here

Note that the series was initially entitled 'Policy Briefs' however the name has been updated to reflect the wider readership of these articles.


Evidence on international trends in gender gaps in science over 20 years
Meinck, Sabine, Brese, Falk
IEA’s TIMSS data from the late 1990s onwards, show that an increasing number of countries are achieving gender equity in students’ science achievement in grade four and eight. Although there is a persisting trend of an overrepresentation of male students in the group of high achievers in science, female students are catching up.
Hastedt, Dirk, Rocher, Thierry
International large-scale assessments (ILSAs) are one of the most important tools policymakers and other educational stakeholders have to inform evidence based decision making for educational reform. Despite this, and the widespread use of ILSA data, results are sometimes misunderstood or misinterpreted. Here, we offer a brief guide to ILSAs and illuminate some of the important differences and commonalities within and across studies, limitations, and why they remain one of our most significant tools for education evaluation and reform. We focus on and compare the key studies, approaches, and structure of our own organization, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), with other ILSAs.
Claes, Ellen, Isac, Maria Magdalena
Tolerance is necessary for the functioning of mature democracies where social cohesion is strong. Results from IEA’s International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS) 2016 show that, on average, European young people tend to be tolerant, but their attitudes towards equal rights for immigrants vary widely within and across European educational systems. In each of the ICCS 2016 European educational systems, young people with higher levels of civic knowledge tend to be more tolerant, while, in contrast, young people with low levels of civic knowledge tend to be less tolerant. Grade eight ICCS 2016 data indicate that in each of the 14 European educational systems, civic knowledge shows the strongest association with tolerance toward immigrants relative to the impact of individual background variables.
Hooper, Martin
Trend results from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) show a decline from 2001 through 2016 in most countries in fourth graders’ and their parents’ reading attitudes, as measured by students like reading and parents like reading scale scores. Average students like reading scale scores, as reported by the students themselves, decreased between 2001 and 2016 in 13 of the 18 countries that participated in all cycles of PIRLS. Educators and educational policymakers should take notice of these falling trends in reading attitudes. Current curricula may need to be reevaluated to support the development of positive attitudes toward reading. Given that the results show the decline in reading attitudes involves not just students but also parents, policymakers should consider widespread campaigns and programs to promote positive attitudes toward reading among adults and families.


Sandoval-Hernandez, Andres, Miranda, Daniel, Treviño, Ernesto, Schmelkes, Sylvia
Results from ICCS 2016 show that more than two-thirds of the students in the participating Latin American countries reported that they would support a dictatorship as a form of government if it brought order and security, or if it brought economic benefits. This brief looks closer at these findings in order to identify possible explanations and potential policy implications.
Families and formal education have a potential role in instilling democratic values in future citizens, but it is clear that not all depends on schools and families. In failing democratic systems, where informed citizens do not trust their institutions, there is a need to improve transparency, and eradicate corruption in order to promote support for democratic values
Benavot, Aaron, Romero-Celis, Treisy
TIMSS data reveal that setting high standards for the overall mathematics curriculum and ensuring teachers adhere to these standards may not necessarily lead to better learning outcomes for students. There are significant gaps between the intended and implemented grade 8 mathematics curricula in many TIMSS education systems, regardless of performance.
Education systems should foster conditions that enable teachers to better enact the intended mathematics curriculum, taking into account students' previous knowledge and current needs. Policies regarding teacher supervision, mentoring, accountability, and evaluation should support teacher enactment of the curriculum.
Prusinski, Ellen, Hastedt, Dirk, Dohr, Sandra
In TIMSS 2015, while two-thirds of students in grade 4 reported feeling very safe at school, by grade 8, less than half of the students surveyed reported feeling a high level of safety. Overall, girls were more likely to report feeling safe than boys. For both genders, feeling safe at school seemed to be positively related to academic achievement in many countries. This relationship was stronger for grade 8 than grade 4 students and also stronger for girls than boys.


Lafontaine, Dominique, Dupont, Virginie, Schillings, Patricia
PIRLS 2016 data from eight education systems were used to examine how teachers from three different language groups differed in their teaching of reading literacy. Teaching reading practices differed substantially between the three linguistic/cultural groups. In English-speaking systems, effective practices for establishing reading literacy seem well implemented, but there is still room for more consistent implementation in German-speaking and French-speaking education systems.
Download5.47 MB
Meinck, Sabine, Stancel-Piatak, Agnes, Verdisco, Aimee
Analyses of TIMSS and PIRLS data indicate that early learning activities can help to lay the foundation for positive schooling outcomes in the future. Measures that enhance the engagement of parents in early learning activities, or facilitate easy access to adequate complementary provisions, will help to prepare the ground for better school results and may reduce the effect of social background on educational inequality.
Download3.11 MB
Lin, Fou-Lai
Chinese Taipei has used successive cycles of TIMSS data as a guide for formulating educational policies and as an evidence base for evaluating their effects. The After Class Support project and subsequent Just Do Math program are new approaches to mathematics teaching and learning which have been enthusiastically embraced by students and teachers.
Download1.64 MB
Rutkowski, David, Rutkowski, Leslie
Children are bullied in primary schools around the world and those who are bullied tend to do less well in mathematics.The amount of bullying varies widely but, on average, nearly half of all children in the TIMSS 2015 study report being bullied at least once a month. Bullying policies need to begin in the early years and TIMSS provides an important resource for policymakers to monitor both existing and new anti-bullying interventions.
Download2.42 MB
Hopfenbeck, Therese N., Lenkeit, Jenny
Teachers are always looking for new strategies to improve pedagogy in the classroom. In Oxford University's PIRLS for Teachers project, teachers and researchers in England joined forces to develop good guidance and advice for teachers on how to interpret and use PIRLS 2011 data to improve their own teaching of reading in primary schools.
Download787.26 KB


Burroughs, Nathan, Chudgar, Amita
Are teacher education and experience appropriate measures for such a broad concept as “teacher quality,” or are there better alternatives, especially given the great expense in attempting to enhance these qualities in teachers? This brief uses measures of teacher quality based on TIMSS 2015 to identify which factors most strongly influence the instructional core.
Download762.19 KB
Katschnig, Tamara, Hastedt, Dirk
TIMSS shows school safety and climate are highly correlated with educational performance, with immigrant students’ perceptions of school safety even more closely linked to achievement, and thus more strongly related to student well-being and aspirations. Identifying and addressing the special obstacles faced by immigrant children is crucial to achieving inclusive and equitable quality education for all, and improving national educational outcomes.
Download1.01 MB
Howie, Sarah J., Chamberlain, Megan
Do language policies, past and present, help explain achievement differences? Evidence from PIRLS post-colonial countries supports the need to understand and improve language policies. In an increasingly diverse world, where significant migration is becoming the norm, countries are considering a greater range of language-in-education models, varying from full immersion to increasing degrees of additive bilingualism. Independent international studies, like IEA's PIRLS, provide valuable evidence to help support national policymaking.
Download2.43 MB
Rožman, Mojca, Klieme, Eckhard
TIMSS trends reveal there is mixed evidence for global “mega-trends” in education. Constructivist pedagogy (working in groups, applying mathematical content to daily life) was boosted on a large scale during the mid-2000s. There is only limited support for a rise in assessment-based instruction and a shift from computational practice to problem-solving in mathematics. Teaching practices seem to be shaped by national educational cultures or policies.
Download1.63 MB


Chavatzia, Theophania, Hastedt, Dirk
Girls are more likely to be excluded from education than boys. In several countries, TIMSS 2011 data reveals that more than 50% of immigrant girls are not enrolled in school. Unequal access threatens gender equality in educational outcomes within the immigrant population, hindering overall efforts towards the attainment of SDG4. Policymakers need to ask, “Where are the immigrant girls?
Download788.59 KB
Clavel, José G., Méndez, Ildefonso, Crespo, Francisco Javier G.
In this brief, data from TIMSS 2011 was used to construct indexes to analyze whether different strategies and methodologies used by 8th grade mathematics and science teachers in their day-to-day activities had an impact on the academic performance of their students. Although countries showed differing results, usually related with their economic development level, collegial practices generally exhibited positive associations with student performance. Meanwhile, passive teaching and active assessment strategies were more often negatively than positively associated with student achievement.
Download1.71 MB
Nilsen, Trude, Blömeke, Sigrid, Hansen, Kajsa Yang, Gustafsson, Jan-Eric
This policy brief examines how school characteristics may be associated with educational equity in terms of the relationship between students’ socioeconomic status and achievement. The findings have implications for both highly-developed and developing countries interested in supporting educational equity.
Download1.56 MB


Stephens, Maria, Erberber, Ebru, Tsokodayi,Yemurai, Kroeger, Teresa, Ferguson, Sharlyn
This brief explores whether parents’ positive reading attitudes and behaviors are “contagious,” providing a valuable descriptive picture across numerous and diverse education systems, of the extent to which children’s reading attitudes and behaviors mirror those of their parents. Such understanding can inform efforts by policymakers to craft interventions designed to motivate children to read.
Download4.33 MB
Plucker, Jonathan, A.
While every country strives for its students to have advanced achievement in some form, competence is often a higher policy priority than excellence, and shrinking minimum competency gaps is a higher priority than closing excellence gaps. In this brief, educational excellence is defined as the percent of students who meet or exceed the TIMSS advanced benchmark. Policy implications are highlighted, along with recommendations for further research into excellence gaps.
Download902.72 KB
Watkins, Ryan, Engel, Laura C., Hastedt, Dirk
Digital information and communication technologies (ICT) have made the acquisition of computer and information literacy (CIL) a leading factor in creating an engaged and employable citizenry. Are young people developing the necessary CIL skills?
Sandoval-Hernandez, Andres, Jaschinski, Katrin, Fraser, Pablo, Ikoma, Sakiko
Teacher experience is thought to exert a key role in student achievement. International comparative data is used to assess: (1) is teacher experience associated with the mathematics achievement of 4th graders; and (2) do other teacher characteristics have an influence?


Mirazchiyski, Plamen
Emphasis on the use of computer software for instruction may influence student achievement in mathematics and science. This brief examines whether associations can be made between computer training, support and professional development for teachers, and student outcomes.
Stancel-Piatak, Agnes, Hencke, Juliane
Many countries promote reforms to improve access to and the quality of early childhood education. Data from eight Arab education systems that participated in PIRLS 2011 showed a positive relationship between participation in preprimary education, its duration, and student-reading achievement at primary school.
Mirazchiyski, Plamen, Klemenčič Mirazchiyski, Eva
Students in schools with higher parental involvement tend to have higher reading achievement. Analysis also showed a positive association between level of parental involvement in school and level of parental education. Promoting parental involvement may be an effective strategy for increasing reading achievement; this could be particularly relevant for schools with students whose parents have lower levels of education.


Sandoval-Hernandez, Andres, Aghakasiri, Parisa, Taniguchi, Kyoko
Countries and supranational organizations have promoted reforms aimed at preparing children for school entry, and preschool coverage rates have steadily increased in recent decades. This policy brief examines the relationship between preschool education and mathematics achievement at Grade 4.

Sandoval-Hernandez, Andres, Aghakasiri, Parisa, Wild, Justin, Rutkowski, David
The time students spend in the classroom is not always positively related to their academic achievement. Effective teaching time is most likely to have a positive impact on student achievement. Policies influencing how time at school is allocated can be a good way to improve educational outcomes.