Large-scale assessments: Do they affect education policy? Evidence from systematic reviews

Year: 2015

Author: Lietz, Petra, Tobin, Mollie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Since the first large-scale international study in education in the late 1960s (Husén, 1967; Postlethwaite, 1967), countries’ participation in international, regional and national assessment programs has increased dramatically. Much of this growth has occurred equally across low, middle and high income countries (Benavot and Tanner, 2007; Kamens and McNeely, 2009). While research has documented countries’ participation in types of large-scale assessment programs, less is known about how these assessments affect education policy-making, particularly in low and middle income countries. This paper will integrate results from two systematic reviews undertaken by the authors, which analysed evidence from published and grey literature that examined the link between participation in large-scale assessments and education policy-making across the world since 1990.

The first systematic review synthesised results from literature that focused on low and middle income countries, and heavily drew upon literature that examined the aforementioned link for countries in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. The second systematic review identified literature for high, middle and low income countries in the Asia-Pacific region, and drew heavily upon literature from high-income countries which included Australia, Japan, and New Zealand.

This paper will present descriptive results from textual analyses of included literature to characterise: the types of large-scale assessment programs that influence policy-making, their intended purposes and use throughout the policy-cycle, the types of education policies that are influenced by large-scale assessments, and facilitators and barriers to the use of assessment data in policy-making. Where appropriate, the paper will examine the relationships which have been identified in the two systematic reviews by comparing findings by world region and country-income level.

In this way, the paper will contribute to a broad understanding of the ways that large-scale assessment data are and are not being used in policy-making cross-nationally, and the factors that influence their use by education systems. Findings from this paper also aim to inform further discussions about how assessment data can best be used to inform education policy-making and policy evaluation appropriately.