Reforms to the assessment system in Swedish schools were implemented in 2012. The reform requires that pupils receive grades, rather than comments only, at Y6 (age 12-13). Previously this happened from Y8. Also, national tests were introduced in Biology, Physics and Chemistry. The national tests, marked locally using a marking scheme, are intended to support teachers in the assessment of students’ knowledge and to be supportive of consistent grading between schools. This study investigates whether, and if so in what way, the introduction of this centralized control influences the local teaching and assessment practices in science.
Interviews were conducted with 12 teachers exploring their teaching practice after the first round of local grading and national tests. In some Swedish schools pupils are taught science by subject specialist teachers; in others by a ‘generalist’ teacher. Questions explored what they considered as characteristic about science teaching, how they select teaching content and assessment approaches, in addition to their thoughts on the reforms.
Our theoretical framework is based on curriculum theory and research on educational traditions, showing that there are often patterns in the choices made by teachers in classroom teaching, and the purposes underlying these (i.e. Fensham 2009, Lundqvist et al 2012, Roberts 2011). For example, some teachers demonstrate a tradition of more emphasis on introducing pupils to scientific concepts and relations, while others focus on using scientific knowledge to explain, and deal with, situations in everyday life.
In the interviews, teachers expressed different teaching goals. For example, some teachers simply talk about the goal of enabling students to understand the world around them. Other teachers focus on enabling students to draw upon scientific knowledge to inform decisions around socio-scientific issues, e.g. environmental sustainability. Other teachers focus on preparing students for future science study or careers. Teachers also value the content in the national tests differently, e.g. in terms of agreeing /not agreeing with what they consider to be valid knowledge at Y6. This was expressed either as the tests being examples of good practice that a teacher aims to match, or that the tests were fragmenting the science content and detaching it from its social context. These differing responses resulted in shifts in local teaching and assessment practices.
Our study has implications for the reform of national testing regimes in other countries. This includes the UK, where a variety of national testing systems are in place, with ongoing changes.
British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, BERA, London, UK