09 SES 09 A, Investigating Challenges in High-stakes Exams and Assessment Policies
National examinations are a fundamental structural feature of education systems around the world (Furuta, 2021). Eurydice (2009) survey revealed that since 2000 most of the European countries introduced or further developed different models of external testing and examinations in secondary education in order to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of education systems. Proponents of external assessment policy provide a series of arguments for justifying centralised testing and examinations in secondary schools. In particular, Bishop (1999) notes that external examinations produce signals of student accomplishment that have real consequences for students, define achievement relative to an external standard, are keyed to the content of specific course sequences, signal multiple levels of achievement, cover almost all secondary school students and assess a major portion of what students are expected to know or be able to do. External assessments also serve a „gate-keeping“ function where there are limitations to the availability of places in subsequent stages of schooling (Best et al, 2013). External testing and examinations are supposed to provide an objective and fair picture of student progress. However, opponents question whether the manifested goals of external assessment are actually achieved. Despite the abundant critique voiced by the representatives of the academia about both high-stakes and low-stakes external examinations and testing (Hirsh, 2005, Kamens & McNeely, 2010, Huddleston & Rockwell, 2015, Feninger, Israeli & Yehuda, 2016), national governments usually tend to support and promote the external assessment policy. National and international large-scale assessments (ILSAs) provide a variety of quantitative data which are eventually used as arguments for initiating and legitimizing educational reforms (Fischman et al, 2019).
The former socialist states used to have highly centralized education systems, where inputs were strictly controlled. Outputs, however, were rarely assessed through any centralized system (West & Crighton, 1999). After the collapse of the socialist system practically all former Soviet republics started to liberalize inputs and simultaneously introduce elements of external assessment (Bethell & Zabulionis, 2012). Lithuania was one of the first post-socialist countries to introduce external 12th grade school leaving examinations (Matura). National examination centre was established in 1997, and after a pilot exercise in 1998 external Matura examinations were run for the first time in 1999 and eventually replaced the entrance examinations to universities and colleges (Bethell & Zabulionis, 2000). The next stage of the examination reform was the introduction of 10th grade national assessment examinations, which were run for the first time in 2000. In 2011 the 10th grade examinations in mathematics and native language were made compulsory. Though the system of external examinations in Lithuania counts a history of two decades, Lithuanian researchers had not so far analyzed the dynamics and interaction of both forms of assessment. Evidence-based education policy-making has been adopted around the world (Best et al, 2013), and governments tend to use research data for initiating educational change or providing support for existing policy directions. In Lithuania, however, lack of research evidence provides space for different interpretations and misjudgements. Without a thorough analysis it is impossible to judge whether the system of national assessment is effectively functioning. Probably lack of research evidence was one of the reasons why the Lithuanian government did not include the progress of student achievement in national examinations in the list of indicators of the recent Plan of National Development for Years 2021-2030 (Lietuvos Respublikos Vyriausybė, 2020). In order to examine whether examination results could be valid indicators of progress of student achievement, we conducted a study in order to find out to what extent the results of Matura examinations and 10th grade national assessment examinations correlate and to identify the predictive value of both examinations.
In our research we used individual level data for the entire Lithuanian secondary schools (except vocational institutions) student population, who have taken Matura examinations during the 2014-2018 period. We analysed the results of mathematics and Lithuanian language Matura examinations and the achievements of the respective 10th grade test. We also merged databases of 10th grade assessment and Matura examinations and obtained two measurements of achievements in time – 10th and 12th grade – for each student. The data for analysis was provided by the Education Management Information System (EMIS, Lith. ŠVIS) of the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports. We analysed the whole population data, therefore all calculated statistics are population characteristics. The 10th grade tests are marked by local teachers while the Matura examinations outputs are assessed through a centralized system, administered by the National examination centre. It’s also important to note that different assessment scales are used for the 10th grade tests and Matura exams. 10th grade test s are evaluated on a 10-point scale, while Matura exam is assessed primarily on a 60-point scale, and then converted into a 100-point scale. In our study we examine student achievements without analyzing the quality and content of exam tasks. In order to compare the exam results which differ in assessment methodology, assessment strategies, and, possibly, the quality of assignments, we calculate z-values. The z-value is calculated for each student, i.e. we subtract the population mean from the student's exam score and divide the result by the population standard deviation. Positive z-score indicates that the student’s achievement was above country average, and, respectively, negative z-score point out lower than average result. With the calculation of z-scores we eliminate possible differences in exam organization and assessment, as well as exam tasks of tentatively varying complexity. Statistical analysis of the data was performed using R version 3.6.3 and RStudio version 1.2.5033.
Analysis of student’s scores in mathematics and Lithuanian language during the 2014-2018 period revealed that there is no linear correlation between the results of the 10th grade assessment and the Matura examinations. Therefore we make the conclusion that results of the 10th grade assessment do not have a predictive value in relation to Matura examinations. The findings show that about half of the students' z-scores are below the national average, irrespective of the cycle or the difficulty of examinations, and signal about the unsatisfactory level of teaching mathematics and Lithuanian language in Lithuanian secondary schools. Despite of the fact that different types and forms of assessments have their own goals, generalized information obtained from all of them can serve for improving the effectiveness of the education system. In order to follow the OECD (2017) recommendations about the possible use of the 10th grade assessment results as a component of higher education admission process – in conjunction with the Matura examinations – these types of assessment should be made compatible. Therefore our key suggestion is to modify both types of assessment in order to ensure the compatibility of results of Matura examinations and the 10th grade national assessment examinations. National examination centre should review the structure, contents and marking of student assessment and make necessary amendments. Eventually in developing the education strategy for the forthcoming decade politicians should not rely solely on results from large-scale international assessment studies but also take into account the results of the Matura examinations and other instruments of assessment embedded in the national monitoring system.
Best, M., Knight, P., Lietz, P., Lokwood, C., Nugroho, D., Tobin, M. (2013) The Impact of National and International Assessment Programmes on Education Policy, Particularly Policies Regarding Resource Allocation and Teaching and Learning Practices in Developing Countries. Final Report. London: EPPI-Centre, Institute of Education, University of London. Bethell, G., Zabulionis, A. (2000) Examination Reform in Lithuania. Vilnius: National Examination Centre. Bethell, G., Zabulionis, A. (2012) The Evolution of High-Stakes Testing at the School-University Interface in the Former Republics of the USSR. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 19(1), 7-23. Bishop, J. H. (1999) Are National Exit Examinations Important for Educational Efficiency? Swedish Economic Policy Review, 6, 349-398. Eurydice (2009) National Testing of Pupils in Europe: Objectives, Organisation and Use of Results. Brusssels: Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency. Feninger, Y., Israeli, M., Yehuda, S. (2016) The Power of Numbers: The Adoption and Consequences of National Low-Stakes Standardised Tests in Israel. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 14(2), 183-202. Fischman, G. S., Topper, A. M., Silova, I., Goebel, J., & Holloway, J. L. (2019) Examining the Influence of International Large-Scale Assessments on National Education Policies. Journal of Education Policy, 34(4), 470-499. Furuta, J. (2021) Western Colonialism and World Society in National Education Systems: Global Trends in the Use of High-Stakes Exams at Early Ages, 1960 to 2010. Sociology of Education, 94(1), 84-101. Huddleston, A. P., Rockwell, E. C. (2015) Assessment for the Masses: A Historical Critique of High-Stakes Testing in Reading. Texas Journal of Literacy Education, 3(1), 38-49. Hursh, D. (2005) The Growth of High-Stakes Testing in the USA: Accountability, Markets and the Decline in Educational Equality. British Educational Research Journal, 31(5), 605-622. Kamens, D. H., McNeely, C. L. (2010) Globalization and the Growth of International Educational Testing and National Assessment. Comparative Education Review, 54(10, 5-25. Lietuvos Respublikos Vyriausybė (2020) 2021-2030 metų nacionalinis pažangos planas. Vilnius: Lietuvos Respublikos Vyriausybė. OECD (2017) Education in Lithuania. Reviews of National Policies for Education. Paris: OECD. West, R., Crighton, J. (1999) Examination Reform in Central and Eastern Europe: Issues and Trends. Assessment in Education, 6(2), 271-289.
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