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February Monthly Research Digest

The first Digest of 2018 offers extended editorial commentary on on a recent NBER Working Paper by Uri Gneezy and colleagues, entitled 'Measuring Success in Education: The Role of Effort on the Test Itself'. The paper shows striking evidence that international tests such as PISA are unlikely to merely pick up differences in ability and learning across countries. Instead, they probably also reflect cultural differences in intrinsic motivation. While such motivation is important, it is not necessarily what international assessments are supposed to measure. Gabriel Heller Sahlgren reviews the study, suggesting that we need more research to better understand how different countries are affected by the low-stakes nature of the tests, for example by carring out experiments as part of the international tests themselves, allowing half of the sample in each country to receive surprise incentives. This would enable us to analyse to what extent cross-national differences in intrinsic motivation, rather than cognitive skills, affect countries’ position in the league tables – and ultimately provide better information to policymakers seeking to improve pupil performance.  

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