23 SES 02 A, Forms of Assessment in Global Settings
John Carson’s (2006) historical analysis of the evolution of the meritocratic systems in France and the United States is a helpful lens for understanding how two distinct different traditions for determining student achievement emerged in Europe and the United States as the education systems expanded over the course of the nineteenth an twentieth centuries. These two traditions are manifested in different ways in contemporary national assessment policies on the Scandinavian Peninsula. The evolution of the Norwegian and Swedish assessment traditions form the point of departure for this papers’ examination of two main strategies for legitimizing external instruments underpinning meritocratic systems.
Carson describes how the French and American republics responded in different ways to the problem of balancing equality and difference as their education systems evolved. The French adopted a national, universal and comprehensive approach to education with rigorous examinations relying on expert judgments that determined what students should move up in the system. The Americans put more weight on personal attributes than on formal education and embraced the intelligence tests as a means of social advancement or distinction. By the 1920s and 1930s distinct different ways of understanding differences in mental abilities had emerged. The World Wars prompted an increased need to measuring populations’ talent and skills and new theories and empirical approaches to psychometric testing flourished in the United States, which had substantial influence on allies in Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom.
On the Scandinavian Peninsula the European and the American traditions of employing external instruments was manifested in two different strategies for complementing and supporting teachers’ judgments to ensure validity, comparability and thus legitimacy of students’ school-leaving certificates. A commonality of Scandinavian education policies post World War II was the strong trust in teachers. The Norwegian secondary level teaching profession managed to gain control of the external instruments that controlled admission to higher education already in 1884. Since then the teacher profession has been highly involved in producing and grading secondary education examinations, which thus gained high legitimacy among educators (Lysne, 1999). Psychometric tests, on the other hand, became controversial among Norwegian educators due to political and ideological disputes in the 1970s which resulted in a significantly weaker understanding of psychometric testing among educators and policy makers (Tveit, forthcoming).
Swedish educators were highly involved in the American led development of new psychometric instruments post World War II (Lundahl & Pettersson, 2010). The higher education admission tests (SWESAT) and extensive use of national tests in primary and secondary education are evidence of the American influence in contemporary Swedish assessment policy. Whereas educational testing in various ways became a distinct academic discipline and an industry in the United States and the United Kingdom; in Sweden national tests were used to standardize teachers’ grading practices. By ensuring better comparability of teachers’ judgments, these could replace admission examinations (terminated in 1965) as the basis for selection to subsequent education levels. For decades the national tests gained high legitimacy among educators. More professionalization of the testing development and increased emphasis on using the tests to control teachers judgments have however led to decreased legitimacy of the tests in recent years (Lundahl, 2009).
In contemporarily Norwegian policy, teachers’ determination of student achievement is complemented with independent teachers’ assessment of students’ achievements on external examinations. Swedish students’ achievements, on the other hand, are determined by their respective teachers only, however for major subjects a national test produced by trained professionals form part of the assessed evidence. The paper investigates how two distinctively different traditions and policies for using external instruments are applied to ensure legitimacy of meritocratic systems.
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