11 SES 09 A, Do Assessments Help with Improving Schools' Quality?
During the last decades many school systems in Europe have undergone extensive changes in their governance structures. Improvements of effectiveness, equity, and quality in education have been proclaimed as the goals of these changes. Accountability of educational services, output orientation and evidence-based decision making in education policy, school and classroom development have been the main operational principles guiding these governance reforms (Altrichter & Maag Merki, 2016, pp. 21). In this scenario of unfolding an evidence-based governance of schooling, ‘new school inspections’ have occupied an important place.
There are common features of European school inspections, but there are also differences (see e.g. Ehren et al., 2013). ‘New school inspection’ is obviously a ’travelling policy‘; embedding this policy into different national contexts will – according to Ozga and Jones (2006) – result in varying constellations which cannot be expected to function and produce in identical ways.
A feature which may distinguish between ways of functioning and variation of results is the ‘evaluative context’ of national education systems into which inspections are embedded (and which they themselves communicate to the school system). In high-stakes systems school inspection is meant to control quality and to promote quality development by using mechanisms of hierarchical control and/or market-mechanisms. They represent ‘hard governance’ structures which operate through target-setting, indicators, benchmarks, and evaluations (Grek et al., 2013, p. 495). In such systems ‘accountability pressure’ is meant to be an important factor to promote improvement activities. In inspection arrangements pressure on schools can be regulated by using certain elements like differentiated inspections, thresholds for distinguishing failing schools, using comparative student performance information, administering sanctions and incentives, and publishing the inspection results of individual schools (see Altrichter & Kemethofer 2015). Low-stakes or ‘soft governance’ regimes on the other hand emphasize rational insight (Böttger-Beer & Koch, 2008), self-regulation and supportive context as the spring boards of improvement. By providing meaningful information to schools, inspections are meant to give new insights to in-school actors which they will use for quality development of schools and classrooms.
Ehren et al. (2013) developed a conceptual model describing the causal mechanisms of school inspections to promote school development. For this purpose they analysed official documents and interview data to reconstruct the programme theories of the Inspectorates of Education in six European countries (i.e. Austria/Styria, the Czech Republic, England, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Sweden). Although these countries were chosen to represent different inspection regimes, a cross-case analysis revealed that (a) all Inspectorates share common goals (good education and high student achievement) and (b) refer to the same general mechanisms to meet these targets.
‘New inspections’ aspire to be effective innovations to increase the quality of the education system. Thus, it is important and necessary to ask for their actual effects. The guiding purpose of our research is to study the effects of ‘new inspection models’. Since we assume that ‘inspection’ will not function in the same way under different contextual conditions, we compare the inspection models of Austria (Styria), which represents a typical low-stakes approach and Sweden as an example for a medium to high-stakes system. This approach allows contrasting different ‘evaluative contexts’ in this study.
As a consequence, the following research questions with respect to effects have been phrased:
Q1a. What effect do school inspections have on quality indicators of schools?
Q1b. Are there different effects on quality indicators in Sweden and Austria?
Q2a. Which mediating processes are affected by school inspections?
Q2b. Are there differences with respect to mediating processes between Sweden and Austria?
Q3a. What effect does accountability pressure have on quality indicators and unintended consequences?
Q3b. Are there differences between Sweden and Austria?
Altrichter, H., & Kemethofer, D. (2015). Does accountability pressure through school inspections promote school improvement? School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 26(1), 32-56. Altrichter, H., & Maag Merki, K. (2016). Steuerung der Entwicklung des Schulwesens. In H. Altrichter & K. Maag Merki (Eds.), Handbuch Neue Steuerung im Schulsystem (2nd edition, pp. 1-27). Wiesbaden: Springer VS. Böttger-Beer, M., & Koch, E. (2008). Externe Schulevaluation in Sachsen. In W. Böttcher, W. Bos, H. Döbert & H. G. Holtappels (Eds.), Bildungsmonitoring und Bildungscontrolling in nationaler und internationaler Perspektive (pp. 253-264). Münster: Waxmann. Ehren, M. C. M., Altrichter, H., McNamara, G., & O'Hara, J. (2013). Impact of school inspections on improvement of schools – describing assumptions on causal mechanisms in six European countries. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 25(1), 3-43. Grek, S., Lawn, M., Ozga, J., & Segerholm, C. (2013). Governing by inspection? Comparative Education, 49(4), 486-502. Gustafsson, J.-E., Ehren, M. C. M., Conyngham, G., McNamara, G., Altrichter, H., & O'Hara, J. (2015). From inspection to quality: Ways in which school inspection influences change in schools. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 47, 47-57. Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (1998-2015). Mplus User’s Guide. 7th Edition. Los Angeles, CA: Muthén & Muthén. Ozga, J., & Jones, R. (2006). Travelling and embedded policy: the case of knowledge transfer. Journal of Education Policy 21(1), 1-17.
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