10 SES 09 D, Research on Values, Beliefs & Understandings in Teacher Education
Within the Swedish school context, several reports and literature reviews have been produced concerning teachers’ inability and inconsistency of grading practices (Gustafsson, Sörlin & Vlachos, 2016; Heller Sahlgren & Jordahl, 2016; Lundahl, Hultén, Klapp & Mickwitz, 2015). The critic has concerned teachers’ subjectivity when grading their students’ learning outcomes and teachers’ inability in applying the criterion based, Swedish grading system. The teachers’ individual differences has been of major concern and suggestions been made that their implicit are victims to factors such as the students personality and general behavior. Selghed (2010) states that the Swedish teachers do not cognitively grasp the grading system, Annersted and Larsson (2010) that Swedish teachers can’t make explicit the principles for their assessments and Svennberg, Meckbach and Redelius (2014) conclude that the Swedish teachers subjective feelings guides their grading procedures.
Historically the teachers’ individual variation in interpreting criteria and the teacher error are viewed as the largest set-back for reliability and validity when it comes to grades (Brimi, 2011). However, instead of focusing on teachers’ inability to follow criteria because of their inability and/or attitudes, there are other suggestions to this variation in grading. A recent review by Brookhart et al., (2016) reveals among many aspects of grading, that teachers grade an achievement-oriented behavior such as student engagement, persistence and completion of work (Bowers, 2011; Kelly, 2008) in favor of a strict criterion related approach. Brookhart with colleges conclude that the multidimensional aspect of grading includes “behavior that supports and promotes academic achievement, and that teachers evaluate these behaviors as well as academic content in determining grades” (p. 826-827, Brookhart et al., 2016). Within a Swedish context, teachers are strictly regulated to base their grading’s on subject area content only within a criteria based system which also emphasize the measurability of everything (Skolverket, 2011a; 2011b; 2014; 2015). In a US context, Barnes, Fives & Dacey (2017) found that 72% of their sample of teachers believed assessment (which many times forms the base of grading judgments) to be bad, irrelevant and inaccurate. This could be problematic when research has shown decreasing validity when conflicting interest exists between evaluator (teachers) and policy owners (Newton & Shaw, 2014). Our aim is to investigate if the problem with the Swedish teachers grading’s can be explained by something else than lack of cognition (Annersted & Larsson, 2010; Selghed, 2010), subjective feelings (Svennberg et al., 2014) or irrelevant personal beliefs and attitudes (Lundahl et al., 2016) and if this “something else” in fact can be related to the context of curricula governance and its dominant discourse on knowledge, pedagogy and the very meaning and mission of teaching and schooling. Opening this second possibility means that we will change previous focuses on teacher’s skills in grading, to contextual factors that gives significance to grading.
International research on reported grading practices has shown that teachers do distinguish between academic enablers’ contra personality and general behavior (McMillian, 2001; Sun & Cheng, 2013). However, these results comes from the context of USA and China and we don’t know if they are applicable in a Swedish context (where a new grading system was introduced 2011). Because of this we have asked upper-secondary pre-service their last semester to explain in written text, anonymous, what is required by a future student of theirs to get good grades.
Our research question is if and how these future teachers will report normatively according to the Swedish policy documents on grading (the criterion in the specific subject) and schooling (educational governance). Further, if and how they report academic enablers, personality and behavioral strategies as representative for god grades.
139 pre-service teachers participated their last semester (total of 11 semesters/5.5 years) of their upper-secondary teacher education. They filled in a questionnaire with first open qualitative questions and after this quantitative items.This study only addressed the open, qualitative question “what is required by a future student of theirs to get good grades”. The coding was initially inductive, categorizing each utterance as articulations of performative acts of making sense of the addressed question, more specifically “the good grade student” of theirs. Here, five categories was found: (1) Criterion referenced approach (2) Cognitive/metacognitive abilities, (3) Motivational- and behavioral- related factors (4) Support structures and (5) Language communication skills. Within each category a differentiated space of conceptual and context specific meanings was identified and analyzed. The analyses conducted concerned conceptual and context specific meanings from, firstly, previous literature concerning teachers’ grading procedures, and, secondly, from the wider point of view of addressing contextual and political factors given meaning to the grading and educational system in Sweden. Thereby, our inductive approach in the first step of coding, turned into one of deduction (addressing the above mentioned research literature) and abduction in our analytical phase. The abductive approach was based on performative and pragmatic discourse analyses which here concentrates on identifying the contexts that influence the respondents reply to the specific question. This knowledge approach takes inspiration from the meaning of discourse in more recent developments in studying the social, and contextual meaning of knowledge (Hacking, 2000; Latour, 2005). Our preliminary findings suggest that the differentiated conceptual and context specific space which give meaning to “the good grade student” echoes the complexity of both grading and schooling. Further, how this today’s focus on teachers’ cognitive skills, subjective feelings and beliefs is a too limited explanation of what might be the problem of grading. Though our respondents report academic enablers, motivational and behavioral strategies as representative for good grades, a closer look at each category opens it for a wider space of sense-making context which in different ways echoes dominant discourses in educational policy documents and governance. The essence is that the change in the Swedish grading system implies a discursive shift in which the role of the grade has a more prominent role in the background of PISA results and its discursive context. The Swedish curricula includes conflicting interests and might be seen as counteracting the meaning and mission of teaching and schooling.
These upper-secondary pre-service teachers reported first of all in accordance with the policy documents and the formal demands of criterion and measurability directing teachers’ grading procedures. This rules out lack of cognitive ability as Selghed (2010) or Annersted and Larsson (2010) at least for these participants. However, they simultaneously reported behavioral and motivational aspects, communication skills in knowledge mediation, supportive social structures and cognitive/metacognitive ability as representative for good grades. This support Brookhart et al. (2016) conclusions of the multidimensional aspects of grading where teachers’ grading of students includes behavior that promotes academic achievement such as engagement and persistence. There is however conflicting interest – good grades should according to the policy documents be given to measurable, objective knowledge within a specific subject according to the policy documents explicit stated criteria. Good grades should not depend on for example social supportive structures such as the quality of the students teacher, family and interactions with these, the students’ verbal skill in knowledge mediation or the students metacognitive ability to understand how the teacher interpret the criterion in the policy documents. But to dismiss this type of meta-knowledge in grading procedures as inability, subjectivity (Lundahl et al. 2015) or to emotional (Svennberg (2014) might be an oblique turn from the problem of validity in educational measurement (Newton & Shaw, 2014). There seems to be a conflict of interest between the policy makers and the teacher profession (Barnes et al., 2017) concerning the discourse of differentiation by grade and the very meaning and mission of teaching and schooling. The dominant discourse of knowledge and pedagogy that the curricula governance maintain could be a part of the problem and not the professional teachers’ ability or feelings. More research that do not objectify teachers as badly adjusted mechanical parts are urgent.
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