National tests promoted didactics
The national tests that were introduced for science subjects in year 6 resulted in teachers having greater opportunities to discuss teaching; beginning to work more systematically with the course syllabi in biology, physics and chemistry; and having more opportunity to discuss teaching.
In 2011, a new curriculum was introduced with new course syllabi, and in conjunction with this, national tests in science subjects were introduced in year 6 of compulsory school. Grades were introduced concurrently from year 6. However, the national tests in biology, physics and chemistry were eliminated after a few years. Malena Lidar, Associate Senior Lecturer at the Department of Education, is part of a research team studying how these reforms in science subjects have been received and how they have influenced the work in the schools.
“All teachers work with reforms in different ways to find functional methods for handling the changes,” says Lidar. “But generally, I think we see three basic types of reactions from the teachers.”
Contributes to professionalisation
One group of teachers thinks that the reforms are great, that they support the teachers in their work and in how they grade, and that they contribute to the professionalisation of teaching. These teachers think that getting grades encourages the pupils and they can refer the pupils to clear results. While they can see that the reforms have an excluding effect for some pupils, they still think the reforms are basically good.
Another group of teachers feel that the reforms mean that they need to work to change the content of their teaching so that it is more in line with what the teacher perceives as the core content of the reforms.
The last group thinks that there is no need for national tests because the teacher knows what the pupils can do and that being assessed and graded has harmful effects on the pupils’ mental and physical health. These teachers feel that learning is most effective when a person learns for their own sake.
“These three groups illustrate the teachers’ different educational philosophies,” says Lidar. “They have different ideas of what the objectives of education are, and show their concern for the pupils’ best interests in different ways. The first group wants to give the pupils as much knowledge about science as possible because the pupils will then do well in life. The second group sees it more as that the pupils have to do well on the test and then things will go well for them in life. And the teachers in the third group want the pupils to develop as individuals to do well in life.”
Is it possible to say if the national tests in science subjects were good for pupils or for society?
“It is not so easy to connect the reforms to what is good for the pupils or the society – it’s too easy for that to become an ideological reply,” says Lidar. “But if we look at the survey responses we have received from the teachers, most of them think that the national tests have clarified the course syllabi. The tests helped in interpreting the course syllabi but it has been very time-consuming for the teachers.”
Did the national tests achieve their objectives?
“Both yes and no, in that there were several different objectives with the tests,” says Lidar. “The objective of comparing the results between pupils and schools was perhaps not fully achieved in that the teachers were to correct and assess their own pupils’ tests. On the other hand, if we look at the objectives of the teachers learning something from the tests and getting new ideas, the reforms did have an impact. Many teachers think that they’ve had good didactic discussions at correction conferences and in other forums, and this has led to them discussing learning and teaching in a way that they might not have done previously. That has been a positive effect from the tests.”
Research project “Grades and national tests in year 6: Potential influence on science teaching” financed by the Swedish Research Council 2013-2017.