Internationally comparable test scores play a central role in both research and policy debates on education. However, the main international testing regimes, such as PISA, TIMSS, or PIRLS, include very few low-income countries. For instance, most countries in Southern and Eastern Africa have opted instead for a regional assessment known as SACMEQ. This paper exploits an overlap between the SACMEQ and TIMSS tests—in both country coverage, and questions asked—to assess the feasibility of constructing global learning metrics by equating regional and international scales. I ﬁnd that learning levels in this sample of African countries are consistently (a) low in absolute terms; (b) signiﬁcantly lower than predicted by African per capita GDP levels; and (c) converging slowly, if at all, to the rest of the world during the 2000s. Creating test scores which are truly internationally comparable would be a global public good, requiring more concerted effort at the design stage.
Attention presidential transition teams: the Rethinking US Development Policy team at the Center for Global Development strongly urges you to include these three big ideas in your first year budget submission to Congress and pursue these three smart reforms during your first year.