Assessing Internationalism in Schools

The International Schools Association (ISA) has developed an instrument to help schools assess their internationalism. This instrument was originally entitled Self-assessing internationalism: An instrument for schools, but after being tested and evaluated by a group of eight international schools, the title of the instrument was changed to Internationalism in schools: A self-study guide (“Consultancy Services,” 2012). The reason for the change in title is the fact that the goals of the self-assessment were not aligned with how the original title was perceived by some of the participating schools: the title and some of the content in the instrument made it seem like the goal of the assessment was to rank or qualify participating schools, whereas the original intent was for the instrument to serve as a way for schools to better understand themselves and how they were doing in terms of internationalism.

The instrument originated from a questionnaire prepared by Anne Marie-Pierce, and evolved into a 23-page document containing four sections: an introduction, a section defining the terms used in the instrument, the areas covered by the instrument, and the questions about each area (Hayden, Levy, & Thompson, 2007). Most questions sought to collect information, but there were a few that required extensive input by schools in a qualitative response. The answers provided by the schools were framed by three main aspects: domain, guiding questions, and examples of evidence. There were four stages in the self-assessment process identified by the instrument: the school was to collect and analyze the information; the school was to prepare the reports containing the self-assessment; the school was to prepare plans for action; and the school was to report on its progress.

The International Schools Association invited a number of schools to participate in the meta-evaluation of the instrument, and 13 schools (12 schools from eight countries, plus a languages school in England) chose to join the effort. However, only eight schools completed the entire process due to various reasons, including the fact that the instrument seemed to require more time and effort to complete than originally thought.

The results of the meta-evaluation provided valuable insights about the importance, relevance and usability of the instrument. For instance, several schools were critical of how some questions were worded, claiming that they “were more of a hindrance than a help in the process” (Hayden, Levy, & Thompson, 2007, p. 294). Others felt that the questions included did not lead to effective and interesting discussions in the school setting among teachers and students alike. These types of comments indicated the need for the instrument to be revised and adapted to the realities of an international community that varied in its interpretation of questions, aims and goals of the instrument.

Some of the concepts implied by how some terms were defined in the instrument may point to a possible explanation for the seeming frustration by some schools with the wording and perceived aims of the instrument. Some schools may have interpreted some terms as being imposed on them by a foreign culture—or what one author called an “imposed etic” (Hayden, Levy, & Thompson, 2007, p. 295). Schools may have varying definitions for terms that others would consider universally accepted and defined; cultural, religious and ethnic variance may account for such discrepancies (Hayden, Levy, & Thompson, 2007). What is considered universal in one culture may not be so in another culture. This brings up the tension and dilemma of what should be considered universal, and how a universal value can be imposed on a culture that may not view it as such. Can it or should it be imposed in such cases? Or does the mere fact that there is such imposition run counter the whole effort of internationalization and multiculturalism?

After taking into consideration the suggestions made by several schools, and conducting an analysis of the instrument, the International Schools Association decided to revise and redraft the instrument. The first major change was in the title, removing the terms “assessment” and “instrument” and replacing them with user-friendly terms such as “guide” and “study” (“Consultancy Services,” 2012). The new title became, Internationalism in schools: A self-study guide, removing any idea that schools would be judged or measured by the instrument. The second major change was in the definition of the term “internationalism.” Some schools claimed that the definition of this term, as provided by ISA, did not match how they defined it. So the definition of the term was removed from the instrument and replaced with a directive that each school should define the term in its own words and within the guiding principles of the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights (“The Universal Declaration,” 2012). This change allowed schools to frame their discussions about internationalism within their own local realities and objectives. The third major change made to the instrument was the ability to use it only for the study of what each school decided to use it for, and for how long the school wished. The previous version of the instrument demanded a lot of time and effort for schools to complete it because its approach was all-inclusive (Hayden, Levy, & Thompson, 2007). Now schools may pick and choose the areas they wish to evaluate and proceed accordingly.

The main goal of the now revised instrument devised by the International Schools Association is to allow schools to evaluate their own ideas and practices related to internationalism (“Consultancy Services,” 2012). How international is a school? How can that be evidenced and explained? What is being done currently and what can be done differently? What is working and what isn’t? How does the school perceive its own role in creating global citizens and how is this happening in reality? These are all valid questions that a serious institution must ask itself in order to know where it stands in terms of reaching its stated goals.

Some schools view themselves as output-focused whereas others seek to facilitate the processes that lead to true internationalism. Those that understand their role as preparing students to be world citizens by providing them with the knowledge and tools necessary to reach that goal, shaping them during their school years and encouraging them to continue on that path after graduation, can be understood by the term “essentialist” (Hayden, Levy, & Thompson, 2007, p. 284). When understood this way, international education is like cooking a dish that needs several ingredients, including international values and international mindedness. The instrument allows these schools to find out whether or not the ingredients are truly being used while preparing the dish, or if they are merely listed on the recipe.

Self-assessment is critical for all types of schools, and international schools are not exempt from this need. Internationalism can easily fall into the “Flags, Food and Festivals and because it is Fashionable” approach (Hayden, Levy, & Thompson, 2007, p. 296). Schools that are serious about their mission and values need to be able to clearly see whether or not their mission is being accomplished and if their values are being true to their mission. The instrument allows schools to do so without a mandate or pressure from an external body. However, there are other types of self-assessment and evaluation that are imposed on schools worldwide that can cause added pressure to perform and attrition between the school and evaluating bodies.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires schools to assess student learning once every year, and report on those assessments back to the Department of Education. Test results must improve yearly according to the Adequate Yearly Progress. The goal is that students in each grade will perform better in standardized tests than students in the same grade the year before. States were required to establish performance goals to be reached by the year 2014, and each year students throughout the country need to be making progress towards the states’ mandated goals. This maintained a degree of self-guidance for the states, but at the same time established a framework for accountability to the federal government. If a school happens to miss the Adequate Yearly Progress goals for five straight years it is subject to restructuring, which may include closure or intervention (private or state-run). The pressure on schools in enormous because their future is on the line, especially considering the fact that many schools are underfunded or have historically underperformed in standardized tests (Reardon, Greenberg, Kalogrides, Shores, & Valentino, 2012).

Another external standards system is the one found in England through the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (OFSTED). As a national regulator, the OFSTED sends out inspectors to each school periodically to check on various aspects of the school, including management, standards for learning and teaching quality. The results are made public and schools are graded according to the following scale: “outstanding, good, requires improvement, and inadequate” (OFSTED, 2012). This type of inspection puts a lot of pressure on the schools because it is a top-down approach, imposed by the government and without much input by the schools or local government. A negative review can mean the difference between recruiting the best students and losing a good reputation. Failing to perform well during these visits by OFSTED may have dire consequences for a school that is trying to attract top faculty talent as well.

Self-evaluation seems to have several advantages over a system that has assessment as an imposition by government bodies or as a condition for access to financial resources. Self-evaluation allows schools to focus on what they perceive to be their strengths and weaknesses without the added pressure of being judged or punished for finding out that they have areas for potential improvement. This is key for entities that are conscious of their limitations and are truly trying to improve. Another advantage of self-assessment is the fact that a positive attitude is much more likely when a school is not being forced into conforming to pre-established norms. Staff, teachers and students can come together to achieve a common goal and work towards ways of making that goal achievable. When a standard is imposed on the school, that standard may not always be one that all parties are interested in or willing to achieve. Getting the entire school to buy into an idea or a goal is much more feasible when a bottom-up approach is possible.

The instrument devised by the International Schools Association allows schools to take the bottom-up approach and freely assess what they believe is important to be assessed. In this process, the school can democratically propose solutions that have the potential to energize staff, teachers and even students to achieve higher goals and true internationalism that respects different cultures and worldviews (Rennie, 2013).



“Consultancy services for ‘internationalism in schools.” (2012). Retrieved from

Hayden, M., Levy, J., & Thompson, J. (Eds.). (2007). The SAGE handbook of research in international education. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (OFSTED). (2012). Retrieved from

Reardon, S. F., Greenberg, E., Kalogrides, D., Shores, K. A., & Valentino, R. A. (2012). Trends in academic achievement gaps in the era of No Child Left Behind. Society For Research On Educational Effectiveness.

Rennie, M. (2013). Teaching world citizenship: The cross-national diffusion of human rights education in formal schooling. KEDI Journal Of Educational Policy, 10(1), 105-124.

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” (2012). Retrieved from


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