International assessment, curriculum policy induction and school learning time management: Lessons from the Portuguese experience

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This paper intends to explain how the effects of international studies/programs (eg, PISA, TIMSS, PIRLS) induce changes in the prescribed curriculum, as well as in the curriculum developed in schools, particularly in the organization of the different amount of time allocated to different subjects. It has been argued in the literature that these studies work as inducers of a perspective based on the test-driven curriculum approach (Penner Williams, 2010) that influence the curriculum development carried out in schools, “where teachers are increasingly under pressure to shift the balance from the feedback role of assessment towards its accountability role or driver curriculum "(Young, 2013, p 113).
The study will focus first on the relationship between international assessments and curricular policy measures in Portugal compared to other OECD countries. In the second part, we will identify the effects of prescribed curriculum changes on the way schools appropriate the principle of curriculum flexibility to allocate and organize school time across disciplines or subject areas.
Beginning with a comparative analysis of the OECD countries, we analyse the time of compulsory education by discipline / subject area in CITE 2 and CITE 3 as well as to identify possible changes in the allocation of time to the prescribed curriculum.
Using the Portuguese case as a reference, we have prepared a representative sample of school timetable in the 5th and 9th grades to identify how the prescribed curriculum is appropriate, specially how schools organize school time and use the allowed flexibility to distribute different blocks of disciplines and subject areas. We have used a quantitative methodology based on the frequency, descriptive, bivariate analysis of times and time loads by disciplines / subject areas.
In OECD countries where it is possible to compare compulsory teaching time by discipline / subject area in ISCED 1, it can be seen that, on average, more than 50% of the total annual time is allocated to four disciplines / subject areas (Reading, Writing and Literature (22%), Mathematics (15%), Arts (9%) and Natural Sciences (7%)). In the case of Portugal this percentage is close to 70%. In Cite 2, Portugal is closer to the OECD average.
The results obtained allow to identify small changes in the distribution of teaching/learning workload, favouring the three domains that are subject to international evaluation. However, these changes are contextualized by an evident curricular stability that is previous to the accomplishment of the international tests.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Event3rd European Conference on Curriculum Studies: Curriculum: theory, Policy, Practice - University of Stirling , Stirling, United Kingdom
Duration: 16 Jun 201717 Jun 2017
Conference number: 3


Conference3rd European Conference on Curriculum Studies
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • curriculum policy
  • school learning
  • Portugal
  • international assessmenT


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