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section 4

School and District Level

TIMSS/PISA – International Assessments

  • Sign up to participate in PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment). PISA is a global assessment administered every three years to 15-year-olds in approximately 60 OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development) countries, including the United States. Features include:
    • Representative samples of between 3,500 and 50,000 students are drawn in each country.
    • The test covers reading, mathematics or science each year it is given.
    • PISA assesses how will students, near the end of compulsory education, have acquired the knowledge and skills essential for meeting the challenges of today’s knowledge societies.
    • The assessment focuses on young people’s ability to use their knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges.
    • For more information about PISA, visit their Web site at:
  • Participate in TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) assessments. TIMSS is given every four years, with the next round of testing to occur in 2011.
    • Schools that are asked to participate in TIMSS are randomly drawn, based on certain characteristics. The administration of TIMSS requires a large number of students to take the test to ensure stable estimates and reliable data.
    • TIMSS is not designed to provide data at the individual school level.
    • If districts are interested in learning more about participation in TIMSS, questions should be directed to the TIMSS & PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) Student Center at Boston College (617.552.1600). This is the international coordinating center for TIMSS and also coordinates the participation of U.S. states and school districts in TIMSS.
    • For more information about TIMSS, visit their Web site at:

International Practice Assessments

  • Use online, internationally-benchmarked practice tests to see how students compare to international standards.
  • Review sample assessment items from PISA at:  
  • TIMSS Challenge in Math and Science: These online assessments provide sample TIMSS assessments in math and science, for grades 3, 4, 7, 8 and 12.
  • Use Dare to Compare:, or (direct link to test). These online assessments have been created using TIMSS, NAEP and CivEd questions. Sample assessments can be found in:
    • Math – grades 4, 8 and 12
    • Science – grades 4 and 8
    • Civics – grades 4, 8 and 9
    • Geography – grades 4, 8 and 12
    • Economics – grade 12
    • History – grades 4, 8 and 12.

Formative, Interim and Summative Assessments

  • Redesign and align school and/or district formative and interim assessments to international standards in reading, math and science.
  • Create and provide formative assessments for use in the classroom that are aligned to international standards to assess student progress and inform instructional change.
  • Ensure all students in public schools have an equal opportunity to demonstrate grade-level international proficiency through the application of knowledge and skills.
  • Align assessments with international standards to measure students’ mastery of core content or basic skills and knowledge and align with skills necessary for success in the 21st century, such as: evaluating and analyzing information; thinking creatively; problem-solving; etc. (1)
  • Develop assessments and supporting instructional materials that interpret the findings from international assessments in ways that are useful for teachers.
  • Use TIMSS practice tests or other practice assessments to compare existing student knowledge and skills with those of high-performing countries.
  • Incorporate PISA and TIMSS assessments into accountability systems.
  • Establish a program and funding source for the district to administer international assessments to students in the district.
  • Use the work of other states related to high-quality assessments, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). One such body of work comes from Alaska and is titled, NAEP Assessment Toolbox for Teachers: Easy-to-Use Classroom Activities Using Questions and Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. This publication gives examples of how classroom teachers can use released NAEP questions in the following ways: (2)
    • Improve students’ abilities for self-assessment
    • Teach reasoning skills and strategies
    • Analyze mathematical misconceptions
    • Teach test-taking strategies and use state performance data and NAEP questions to focus instruction
    • Use as a springboard for classroom activities.
    • Adapt the tools and strategies found in this “Toolbox.”
  • Both the TIMSS and the PISA periodically release test items from past assessments and these can be found on their respective Web sites. These international test items can be compared to state standards and assessments (see Additional Resources).


  1. Elena Silva, Measuring Skills for the 21st Century, Education Sector,1 (Washington, D.C.: Education Sector, November 2008),

  2. State of Alaska, Alaska Department of Education & Early Development, NAEP Assessment Toolbox for Teachers: Easy-to-Use Classroom Activities Using Questions and Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 1 (Juneau: Alaska Department of Education, 2007),


Download the full toolkit:
(PDF, 6.7MB)