The aim of the paper is to investigate students’ experiences of the national test as an effect of changes in the education system toward a stronger state interest in knowledge measurement in a decentralized and competitive school system. Our research questions are: What are students’ experiences of national tests in relation to their grades? How do the students talk about their own malleability? The students were interviewed in a group of students (n. 2-5). They were asked to refer to their grades in relation to the national tests (e.g. Are the national tests important for your grades?) and about their possibilities to change their grades. All interviews were audio recorded and transcribed. We listened to the interviews and read the transcripts and conducted an analysis of narratives of students’ stories about their experiences of the national test. The students tell about a great variation when talking about the role of national tests for their grades, some students say that the national tests are very important for their grades whereas other say that the national tests only can raise the grades never lower them and some state that the national tests are of no importance for their grades. They also tell stories about their ability to change their grades later on in school. However, from a student perspective the national tests and the grades in school year six do not just create opportunities for students, they also limit students’ opportunities.
Theoretically and methodology framework
In Sweden the practice of national testing now is extended through the introduction of national tests in Science (Chemistry, Physics and Biology) and Social Science (History, Geography, Religion and Social Studies) in grade six. This is one in a series of reforms aiming to tighten the impact of learning goals formulated by the state. The reform is regarded as an expression both of the state’s increasing interest in managing and controlling schools and of a need for unambiguous information about schools’ effectiveness from actors on a national school market (Lundahl, 2005). Both the state and parents choosing schools for their children ask for simple measures of schools’ quality (Lindblad, 2000). Further, one fundamental aspect of the system is that by providing information about learning outcomes, students themselves can develop their own learning. Yet we know little about the ways students, the subjects of governance, experience and share their experiences of national tests.
A central idea in the paper is that reforms are interpreted and enacted rather than implemented, and therefore it is useful to listen to the actors’ experiences (Ball et al., 2012). Theoretically, this research builds on a vision of educational reform as something that, on one hand, frames and shapes the terms of the school’s stakeholders and their ability to shape their identities. On the other hand, the actors’ stories or translations of those reforms reflect how reform is enacted in practice and how its results can be understood (Ball, 2006; Ball et al., 2012). Research on assessment from a student perspective is unusual, especially when it involves young learners (Forsberg & Lindberg, 2010). Most evaluation research focuses on student achievement and on school results rather than on students’ experiences, the core of this project. However, some European studies are relevant to this paper’s discussion. Kasanen and Räty (2002) showed that self-assessment of students in first grade affects their perceptions of themselves at school and that they compete with one another, comparing their own results with those of classmates. In a study of students in grades three and six, Kärkkäinen et al. (2008) found that students develop a perception about their own abilities and their malleability quite early. The students’ results and experiences of success or failure, in conjunction with comparing their results with those of others, contribute to early and stable perceptions of themselves over time and to pessimism in terms of possible change. In addition, two studies have shown that students hold varying perceptions about assessment’s function but a common perception that assessment is done for others rather than for themselves (Törnvall, 2002; Ross et al., 2002).
Method and data
Data in this paper is collected within the framework of a project financed by the Swedish Science Council in which we interview sixth-grade students from ten schools who are characterized by different background factors, such as socioeconomic conditions and geographic location.The students were interviewed in a group of students (n. 2-5). They were asked to refer to their grades in relation to the national tests (e.g. Are the national tests important for your grades?) and about their possibilities to change their grades. All interviews were audio recorded and transcribed. We listened to the interviews and read the transcripts and conducted an analysis of narratives of students’ stories about their experiences of the national test.
Our analysis of students’ stories indicates a narrative of an increased performative pressure when national science tests in grade six were introduced. In the students´ stories about how they cope with the pressure, identity formations of insecurity (agony) and competence (pride) are constructed. The students emphasize the importance of the situation both for the teachers and for their own future (cf. Ross et al., 2002; Kärkkäinen et al., 2008). The students tell about a great variation when talking about the role of national tests for their grades, some students say that the national tests are very important for their grades whereas other say that the national tests only can raise the grades never lower them. Some students also tell stories about their malleability i.e. their ability to change their grades later on in school. However, from a student perspective the national tests and the grades in school year six do not just create opportunities for students, they also limit students’ opportunities.
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Ross, J. A., Rolheiser, C. & Hogaboam-Gray, A. (2002). Influences on students’ cognition about evaluation. Assessment in Education, Principles, Policy & Practice, 9(1), 81–95.
Törnvall, M. (2001). Uppfattningar och upplevelser av bedömning i grundskolan. Malmö: Högskolan, Lärarutbildningen. (licentiatavhandling).
European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction , 2015. 579-579 p.
16th Biennial EARLI Conference for Research on Learning and Instruction, 25-29 augusti, 2015, Limassol, Cypern