03 SES 10 A, Aligning Curriculum with Assessment
This paper revolves around the role and pedagogical implications of assessment strategies that are intended to support learning in a performance-oriented curricular assessment context. The paper is based on the work undertaken in a larger research project on knowledge segregation in Swedish compulsory schools (Wahlström, 2019). In this project, the pedagogical conditions and implications of a standards-based curriculum for teaching and learning are investigated in relation to high- and low-performing classrooms and from a critical curriculum perspective. The focus of this paper is on the analytical observations in a high-performing class in a Swedish year-eight classroom, where the relevance of performance and the results is emphasised in this classroom’s discourse and where assessment strategies intending to support students’ learning play a particular role. This observation represents the starting point for this paper, whose purpose is to provide insights into how the standards-based curriculum is transformed into teaching in a performance-oriented classroom context and how the concept of performance can be understood in relation to supportive assessment strategies from a perspective of General Didaktik and pedagogy. More concretely, this implies the analysis of the character of the performance orientation that becomes visible in a performance-oriented classroom, how the role of assessment strategies can be understood that intend to support teaching and learning in relation to this performance orientation, and what the pedagogical implications are that emerge.
These questions are raised against a background of internationally observable and profound changes in the educational landscape during the last few decades, characterised by educational standards, the growing relevance of educational outcomes and performance indicators as well as the increasing relevance of making the results of education measurable and comparable (Biesta, 2009; Smith, 2016). As in most countries, these changes have also taken place in Sweden and have led to standards-based curricula that have also deeply, and in many different ways, affected classrooms (Wahlström & Sundberg, 2018). In parallel to these global curricular shifts emphasising the relevance of tracking educational outcomes and standardising education, more pedagogically informed approaches to assessment have also gained in popularity. Usually, these are referred to as ‘assessment for learning’ (e.g. Black and Wiliam, 1998). This pedagogical approach to assessment is often viewed as a kind of counter-idea to the increasing relevance of measuring educational outcomes for control and monitoring purposes. This also often includes a somewhat dichotomous reception of ‘assessment for learning’ as pedagogically desirable and the ‘assessment of learning’ as a sort of ‘necessary evil’ in the classroom that is externally imposed on teachers (Lau, 2015). However, especially when it comes to the classroom level, where different kinds of assessment purposes often exist in parallel, a clear-cut differentiation seems difficult – if not impossible – to draw, and assessment practices and purposes seem to exist on a continuum rather than being part of a strictly dualistic system (Harlen, 2012; Torrance, 2012).
The meaning of supportive assessment strategies for the pedagogical transformation of the standards-based curriculum is, in this paper, understood from an integrated perspective and in relation to the intersection where the curriculum, bildungstheoretische Didaktik (Klafki, 1985) and pedagogy (Doyle, 1992) meet. The assessment strategies that intend to support learning are seen as a bundle of methods, tools and purposive actions used in the classroom, which per definitionem are intertwined with the social, communicative and curricular context in which they occur. As such, it can be assumed that these strategies cannot exist in a meaning-making vacuum but are always infused with certain kinds of purposes that are at the core of all didactical relationships and framed by the conditional matrix of the classroom.
Methodologically, the study represents a qualitative classroom case study. In order to capture the pedagogical transformation of the curriculum via the supportive assessment strategies that are seen to represent “curriculum events” (Doyle, 1992), the project draws upon well-established methodological frameworks for classroom research as, for example, developed by Alexander (2001) and Klette (2018). The data was collected during one school year in a Swedish year eight-classroom. This classroom represents a performance-oriented curricular assessment context on two levels: on the programmatic curriculum level with the Swedish curriculum for compulsory school as an example for a result-oriented and standards-based curriculum; and on the classroom level the school in question performed in the 75th percentile in Sweden with regard to so-called merit points that are calculated on the basis of students’ grades in year nine. Data has been collected in the subjects of science and Swedish and the data corpus consists of 16 classroom video-observations, observation protocols (in order to capture teaching processes), a total of 16 semi-structured interviews with teachers and group interviews with students (in order to capture conceptions), as well as fieldnotes and additional material such as working sheets, lesson plans et cetera, representing pedagogical artefacts. The data was analysed via integrated and iterative interpretation procedures. On the one hand, a detailed coding scheme was employed to analyse classroom discourse and the dominating conceptions of knowledge that were represented in the lesson (Wahlström et al, 2019). Moreover, a qualitative thematic analysis was undertaken for the interviews. Even though the process of analysis was iterative, the following description provides a schematic overview of the process in question: In the first step, the coding scheme allowed for a fine-grained systematic coding of the whole lessons. Interview transcripts were read line by line, which was followed by thematic coding and categorisation. Here, analytical cross-connections to the contextualising material were also made. In the final step, the preliminary findings were verified against the data corpus.
The findings illuminate the role and the pedagogic implications of the supportive assessment strategies in a performance-oriented curricular classroom context. Overall, the systematic analysis of the 16 lessons shows a clear tendency for teaching promoting a result-oriented conception of knowledge (Wahlström, 2009) and a notion of education as ‘delivery’. This implies that classroom discourses were often motivated by, related to and framed by references to the assessment criteria in the syllabi, and here, assessment strategies that intend to support learning played a vital role. From a didactical perspective, these strategies serve as a kind of mediating element between teachers, students and the content. They denote curriculum events (Doyle, 1992) through which the curriculum is transformed into actual teaching and learning, which is given a particular kind of meaning in this transformation process. This meaning is represented in teachers’ and students’ conceptions and becomes manifest in classroom discourse and the artefacts used during lessons. The performance-orientation in this classroom emphasises the importance of products through which the students demonstrate their knowledge and their level of ability in relation to the standardised outcome expectations. As such, this kind of performance orientation seems to represent teachers’ and students’ responses to external outcome pressures rather than a pedagogically informed performance orientation (Klafki, 1985). Consequently, high performance in this context refers to the system-immanent logics that are characterised by a didactical dominance of ‘per-formative’ outcomes, denoting teaching permeated by the idea of perfecting students’ learning in relation to prescribed results. This also implies that the didactical space for enabling students’ self-determination and critical autonomy in thought becomes limited and subordinated to other purposes and that the assessment strategies intented to support learning rather become a catalyst for result-orientation.
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