Paulina Korsnakova
E stands for education: getting acquainted with the IEA 
By Dr Paulína Koršňáková, IEA (International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement)
Dr Paulína Koršňáková is a Senior Research and Liaison Adviser to IEA, a non-profit international scientific society that conducts pedagogical research worldwide. She is responsible for supporting and developing the existing membership and institutional partnerships in accordance with IEA’s mission. Dr Paulína Koršňáková will talk about the role of international organizations in education at the UIA Round Table Europe, 15 and 16 November 2018 in Lyon, France.
The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (or, more succinctly, IEA) was built on the passion and scientific curiosity of scholars discussing problems associated with evaluating the quality of schooling and student learning. The founders of IEA viewed the world as a natural educational laboratory, where different school systems use different ways to educate and raise their youth. They assumed that if research could obtain evidence from across a wide range of systems, it would reveal important relationships that might otherwise escape detection within a single education system. They argued that effective evaluation requires examination of both the inputs to education and their outcomes (such as knowledge, attitudes and beliefs).
The first IEA study was conducted in 1960 in 12 countries, and assessed 13-year-old students’ achievement in mathematics, reading comprehension, geography, science, and non-verbal abilities. The study produced findings of academic and practical value, but, more importantly, demonstrated the feasibility of conducting large-scale cross-national surveys.
IEA studies consider the inputs, processes and outcomes of education and draw on the notion of “opportunity to learn” in order to understand the linkages between the three levels of curriculum – the intended (what policy requires), the implemented (what is taught in schools and classrooms); and the achieved (what students actually learn). This provides IEA studies with a strong empirical basis, relying mainly on cross-sectional designs, with data collected through sample survey methods. Student achievement is measured by administering objective tests to a sample of students who have been selected as being representative of national populations. IEA also collects background information from school principals, teachers, students (in some studies, also from parents), and policymakers about the factors that affect learning, including school resources, student attitudes, instructional practices, and support at home.
IEA is proud of its two most famous subject matter studies, TIMSS and PIRLS. TIMSS, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, has been implemented every four years since 1995, and PIRLS, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, has run every five years since 2001. In the interdisciplinary area of learning, IEA is also dedicated to investigating the ways in which countries educate their youth to become responsible citizens, beginning with its first study of this field of education in 1971, and continuing through various editions of the International Civic and Citizenship Study since 1999. In recent decades IEA also looked into the introduction, use and impact of information and communication technologies on teaching and learning. The International Computer and Information Literacy Study resulted from this interest and dedication, providing in 2014 first insights and international benchmarks for digital literacy.
The remarkable collection of trend data – 20 years for TIMSS and 15 years for PIRLS – makes IEA studies ideal for tracking progress in education. The PIRLS 2016 results were positive, showing overall that reading literacy was rising within the participating educational systems, and that parents are becoming more strongly engaged with their children’s early learning activities.
Today, many educational stakeholders around the world are convinced of the value of conducting comparative large-scale assessments in education: accountability and data-based decisions are often mentioned, and even non-governmental organizations (NGOs) use the data for advocacy purposes.
However, this does not necessarily mean that the IEA’s key role in this important field of research is generally known. The general public is more likely to be aware of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) program than any of the IEA studies mentioned above. In 2015, UN Member States adopted a new set of ambitious goals to address poverty, hunger, disease and other development challenges by 2030. When Education 2030, the Incheon Declaration for Sustainable Development, was launched, sustainable development goal (SDG) 4 aimed to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”, thus promoting a renewed and broader focus on inclusion, equity and gender equality, and effective and relevant learning. Intergovernmental bodies discussed possible indicators for monitoring progress toward SDG4 targets, and IEA, as a NGO, was then challenged to find ways to promote its studies in order to assure recognition of their established value and future role in supporting these efforts. Since then, IEA has made some remarkable steps beyond its membership, including developing a strong partnership with UNESCO offices and agencies. The most valuable result was the recent release of IEA’s PIRLS 2016 and ePIRLS 2016 results on 5 December 2017 at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. This release not only focused on the PIRLS 2016 findings, it also introduced a booklet jointly produced by UNESCO and IEA and entitled Measuring SDG4: How PIRLS can help. This aimed to increase participants’ understanding of PIRLS and ePIRLS findings and their relevance for policymaking, the importance of learning assessments to measure progress toward SDG4, and actions needed to translate 2030 commitments into national education development efforts to ensure no one is left behind. IEA has learned that quality and an unrivalled reputation in the research community were not enough, that our researchers needed to learn to promote the value of the data and build partnerships with those who would understand, support and advocate for our work.