09 SES 08 B, Formative and Summative Assessments
The debate about summative assessments at national level under the rubric of „scientific measurements“ has persisted in Icelandic education as in other neighbouring countries for more than a century. For decades an intense controversy has been developing about what should be assessed or measured, about how to assess and measure, and whether it is advisable to use the results for ranking and comparison and whether exams at the end of compulsory schooling should function as entrance instruments for secondary schools. Such arguments have characterized educational discourse to the present day, evoking endless controversy about the advantages and disadvantages of such assessment systems.
Among advantages discussed are that nationally coordinated, summative assessments maintain standards in certain subject areas and thus secure control over what students learn. Consequently requirements that important content is covered are met. Secondly such assessments are believed to provide students and schools with important information about performance by comparing their results to the results of larger groups, typically at national level. And finally such assessments are considered reliable, practical and easy to administer. Among disadvantages are that ranking and comparison are believed to harm students‘ self-esteem, especially among low-grade students and students that perform poorly due to unfavourable conditions or cultural and socio-economic background. Secondly contents of tests tend to become the curricula per se, where teaching to the test becomes an excessive part of learning and teaching. Thirdly summative assessments administered by the authorities focus on performance at particular points of time, rather than an overall educational growth over time. Finally high-stakes assessments are believed to evoke stress and anxiety among students and teachers.
Since 2007 the Icelandic educational system has had no standardized or nationally coordinated assessment at the end of ten year compulsory schooling. Instead schools have been provided with centralized surveys in fall semesters for grades 4, 7 and 10, presented mainly as formative assessment instruments. Consequently the system has lacked strategies to determine how well students are reaching important goals and learning outcomes when it comes to the transition from compulsory school to secondary school.
The central purpose of this study is to promote what has been called historical consciousness regarding this issue, i.e. help pursue the debate about centralized assessments from the past into the present and from there into the future. The research design features three main components: 1) Analysis of discourse about centralised assessment in Iceland from 1920 to the present; 2)Interviews with 10th grade teachers and school administrators about assessment strategies by the end of compulsory education; 3)Questionnaire used to give a profile of summative assessment practices in schools and attitudes among teachers and school administrators towards the use of standardized assessment.
Research questions: How has the debate about nationally coordinated assessment in Iceland developed from 1920 to the present day?
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