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Research projects

Bad grades or failed? Swedish grading reforms and the discourse of students who fail school.

About this project

Project information

Project status

Started in 2014


Cecilia Arensmeier

Research subject

The main aim of the project is to study how the design of the grading system interacts with the political debate on compulsory school performances and school failures. Which students emerge as low-achieving in different grading systems and how are these students described in public debate? The project covers the period from the 1950s to 2015, with emphasis on the last 30 years.

Different materials and methods will be used. The arguments behind three grading reforms will be investigated in public records of political decisions. Statistics of grades will be used to compare the proportions of “low-achievers” in different grading systems. The school debate about low-achieving students will be investigated in government bills, plenary debates, party programs and debate articles in Dagens Nyheter and the teacher union magazine Skolvärlden. Interviews with teachers who have worked with three different grading systems will also be conducted.

One main assumption is that grading reforms influence the assessment language in ways that have particular consequences for students who perform badly. It further means that the proportion of students who “fail” school vary with grading system. Studies of the interaction between grading system and public debate on school performances appear rather absent in the research. That the Swedish compulsory school will have practiced no less than three different grading models over the last fifteen years makes it particularly interesting to study. 

Research funding bodies

  • Swedish Research Council