GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Why the Fireworks?: Theoretical Perspectives on the Explosion in International Assessments and Implications for the Gulf
Paper Proposal Text :
International comparative educational assessments on a large scale began over fifty years ago with the formation of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). The organization has existed formally since 1967 and claims origins back to 1958 (IEA, 2007). Since then, cross-national assessments have developed and diversified. But, specifically in the last decade, a surge of interest in these studies has washed over the public discourse. National rankings on the tests are part of common educational parlance. The number, rigor, scope, complexity, and connectivity of these assessments are currently at an all-time high. Why is participation in this information-gathering process so prescient now? In this paper, I describe the growth of international tests, focusing on the factors related to national decisions to participate, mechanisms that explain how participation has spread from country to country, and the import of the contemporary testing climate to this phenomenon. I apply three theoretical frameworks to organize the understanding of why national participation in international educational studies has skyrocketed.
The growth in international assessments is multifaceted, so three broad research questions guide my inquiry. First, in attempting to explain the explosion of international education assessments, it is useful to look at the chronology of events leading up to the present day and the current environment in which various assessments are situated. Second, a close look at the characteristics of educational tests now helps to distinguish them from past policy events. Third, the participants in this policy must be identified. I describe the use of three theoretical lenses to frame the understanding of these questions. I want to know: (1) why has this situation arisen now? (2) why have the assessments taken on the forms that they have? and (3) why have the countries that are participating chosen to do so?
There is a dearth of policy literature investigating the explosion in international tests, in part because of its relatively recent occurrence. I address this shortcoming in the following chapter by raising a number of plausible questions in this area, suggesting possible explanations, pointing out lines of inquiry for future work, and illustrating theoretical lenses that frame the discussion of the entire volume.
Participation by countries in the Gulf and in the broader Middle East and North Africa region has displayed particularly interesting patterns. In this paper, I discuss more specifically how participation in international assessments has grown in this region. The political, social, and educational environment within the region has certainly played a role in shaping the nations’ practices of conducting regional and international assessments. Further, the region’s connections to and discourse with other regions and international bodies have also promoted certain types of growth in international assessments in education. Factors such as geographic proximity, shared culture, and membership in regional governing bodies are some of the major examples of drivers in international data-gathering participation. Understanding how internal and external factors interact with the Gulf’s participation in large-scale datasets is vital for policymakers who both make the decisions to implement data collection and decide how results from such datasets should be used.