27 SES 08 A, Assessment Issues in School Subjects
This paper is framed by the international trend of increasing reliance on assessment policies for national school enhancement. Driven by perceptions of an integrated and economically competitive world, educational strategies often focus on monitoring the achievements of pupils and schools. These perceptions are underpinned by a number of international tests and comparisons. Thus, policies emphasising various forms of assessment have been implemented in many countries, suggesting that educational reforms are often articulated in what can be regarded as an assessment paradigm. The notion of this paradigm entails that measurement and clarification of pupils’ results have become a driving force in policy and thus a central element for teaching.
For most European countries, the recently published PISA survey resulted in extensive media attention, as well as in a plethora of political statements. In Sweden, two aspects of the results attracted most of the attention: the continuing deterioration of results and the seemingly increased educational inequalities between schools, as Sweden used to be one of the highest-ranked countries. Concurrently with these new and highly disturbing results, Sweden undergoes a series of reforms that are meant to address these developments. The most central parts of the new policies focus on educational performances, introducing a new grading scale with different criteria and more levels, starting from lower ages; a more thorough regulation of educational content; national tests in a wider variety of subjects and at lower ages; a strengthened school inspectorate etc. As most Swedish reforms after world war two, the new policies are embedded in a rhetoric of increasing equity, stating that a focus on educational performances will serve as an instrument to identify pupil needs. Hence, the deterioration of both results and equivalence are targets for reform.
Against this background, it is argued in the paper that the continuing reformation of the Swedish educational system (which are perhaps occurring later than in most other countries) is a good example of how the assessment paradigm frame conceptions of what good teaching entails. Not least, this can be seen in increasing elements of performativity, where numeric and statistical measurements and international comparisons become a valid and even dominant expression of quality, and progress, and where visibility becomes the priority, drawing focus towards the measurable, reportable, and evaluable, i.e. how teaching can be represented in terms of performances. The aim of this paper is to use the example of the Swedish reforms to critically discuss the notion of performativity as a driver for increasing educational equity. The paper is built upon six cases where teachers that work with pupils from different socioeconomic backgrounds are followed while implementing the reforms. Interpretation of the collected data is focused on how the new assessment practices are manifested in classroom teaching: What considerations the teachers make and what teaching they consider to be necessary and/or possible under the present circumstances.
In order to enable an interpretation of teaching under increased influence of performativity, a critical hermeneutical approach and the concept of practical reason were used, both inspired by French philosopher Paul Ricoeur. This approach offered a dialectic process of interpretation: on the one hand regarding teaching as an expression of, and as being regulated by, ideological and politicised conceptions (i.e. performativity and equity); and on the other hand, regarding teaching as an expression of teachers’ individual work with pupils in everyday practice. With the concept of practical reason, the teachers’ mediating role in practice between these aspects of teaching could be illuminated.
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