Configuring the low performing user: PISA, TIMSS and the United Arab Emirates

Clara Morgan, Ali Ibrahim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Scholars of the global phenomenon of international student assessments (e.g., PISA, TIMSS) have paid little attention to the ways in which student users of these material objects are configured in nations that are located at the periphery of knowledge production. Our analysis takes the United Arab Emirates as its case study to capture the social construction processes and relations of PISA and TIMSS users, agents and test objects within global educational accountability infrastructures. Drawing on evidence collected from interviews with principals, vice principals and teachers in nine schools as well as with government officials, we reveal how the state plays a role in the re/configuration of the user in this process. We also trace the discursive and emotional narratives that delineate usage and the institutional practices deployed to solidify user re/configurations. We argue that user configurations induce institutional reforms, cognitive remappings, and affective reactions which reflect adaptations being made by ‘real’ users to misconfigured material objects. We suggest that rather than blaming students for their poor performance on global tests, it is more appropriate to point to a failure in the material object’s obdurate design and monocultural user configuration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)812-835
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Education Policy
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2020


  • International student assessments
  • PISA
  • United Arab Emirates
  • sociology of science and technology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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