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The Geography of School grades - Summative assessment in Swedish and in International Research

About this project

About this project

Project information

Project status

In progress

Contact

Christian Lundahl

Research environments

This studie is a systematic research review about grades and summative assessments are based on a reading of over 6000 abstracts, 500 articles and about 40 theses. The articles we have read are peer reviewed and published in scientific journals. Our searches and selections have been systematic.

The report is structured around four different chapters linking to the project's four overarching issues. In Chapter 1 we study how grades/marks from a student perspective affects self-image, motivation and learning. In Chapter 2, we have compiled research on grading/marking from a teacher's perspective, how and what teachers think of this and how grading affect teaching. Chapter 3 deals with grades and summative assessment as control instruments at different levels of the education system. In Chapter 4 we describe grading from various comparative perspectives. We also do our own comparison of how the different grading and assessment systems look like in Europe.

In the first Chapter, we see that the results of the studies reviewed are partially coherent. Adults and high-performing students seem positively influenced in their learning and accomplishments from feedback that contains much information that comes directly adjacent to the task and if the information is positive. At the same time, it appears that adult students are not adversely affected if the feedback comes in the form of grades. This is explained by the fact that adult students at the university level and upper secondary education have extensive experience of summative assessments and have developed strategies to cope with this system. However, it seems to be different for younger students and when representative samples are examined. One conclusion that can be drawn from the results of the included studies is that grading generally influence older and younger students and low- and high-performing students in different ways. Underperforming and younger students seem to be more adversely affected by the scores compared with older and high-performing students. Age and experience of assessment appear to play a major role in how students' learning, motivation for learning and performance is influenced by the scores.

The second Chapter is about how and what teachers view of grading and how grading affect teaching. We have studied international and Swedish research to describe differences between them. The issue of validity is central, but in a different way in international and Swedish research, respectively. In the Swedish research, the relationship between the teacher's grading and policy documents constitutes a dominant perspective. Outside Sweden, it is mainly the question of what the teacher look at when assessing that dominate, e.g. student's skills or personal qualities.

In the third and fourth Chapter, we have used a more exploratory approach since grading isn’t that closely linked to governing and control in other countries as in Sweden. Instead external tests are more common. We found however three central themes from a control perspective, that is relevant to the issue of grading: 1) fairness and equality in assessments, 2) grading as merit, as a knowledge and selection measurement, 3) grading as part of a high stakes assessment and evaluation systems. The third theme was made into a setting for the other two. The research that touched the first theme emphasized in particular that grading must be put into a larger perspective of a fair assessment and evaluation system, with instruments to monitor fairness in relation to different student groups, etc. Regarding the second theme we found that the ratings' role in many educational settings, have been reduced in recent decades. But at the same time we see clear tendencies that grades are better as a selection tool for higher education compared to university aptitude tests and other similar tests. This shows that grades can fill important functions in the education system in a better way than other instruments, but are not as useful for other purposes.

The fourth Chapter focuses on grades from different comparative perspectives. When we look at assessment and international comparisons we see that grades doesn’t have a particularly prominent place in the international comparative research. Essentially, there are three areas the researchers focused on in these comparisons: systems of accountability; cultural explanations for why the assessment and grading system looks different in different countries; variations between teachers' assessments of various subjects or by different groups of students.

Some key findings of our survey is that there has long been an international trend towards establishing systems for measuring results and to increased accountability in education systems. These results are often measured as student performance on tests or grades. Both critical scholars as well as the OECD has, however, recently noted that the hopes that comparisons of schools' results will lead to performance improvements have been exaggerated. The systems for assessment and accountability systems in different countries explain almost nothing of the variation in the PISA results. Rather, it is what teachers do in the classroom that are important and teachers find it difficult to draw conclusions about what they should do on those results that are made available through accountability systems. The systems seldom produce the right level of information for didactical implications.

In Chapter 4, we also do our own comparison of grading systems in Europe. The first thing we can say is that the data situation is very complicated. There is no standardized data on this, why all comparisons need to build on a complex classification procedure, where there sometimes are problems of interpretation. This is a problem for all references to how it looks in other countries so common in the public debate on grades in Sweden.

Based on what we found in our overview, we have some recommendations. There are clear results, which at least should lead to caution about further lowering of the age when pupils meet their first grades. It is also important that the Swedish current grading system is better evaluated in relation to different teachers, subjects and groups of pupils. Grades do not work the same for everyone. It is also important to consider how we evaluate students' performance and whether it is possible to combine more models with each other, so that we can get better data of for example "value added" character, and to be able to follow the development of knowledge over time. Our study also shows on several different levels of difficulties in the translation of research findings and information on education between different countries and contexts.

We suggest that teachers' autonomy in assessment systems, no matter what they look like, is perhaps the most important factor for them to work in purpose of support learning and development, at all levels. Therefore, it is also of great importance, not only for the government to pay attention to voice of teachers, but to provide teachers with the possibility to obtain further training on grading and assessment. Equally important, this aspect of teaching should be an even more marked feature of teacher education.

This studie is a systematic research review about grades and summative assessments are based on a reading of over 6000 abstracts, 500 articles and about 40 theses. The articles we have read are peer reviewed and published in scientific journals. Our searches and selections have been systematic.

The report is structured around four different chapters linking to the project's four overarching issues. In Chapter 1 we study how grades/marks from a student perspective affects self-image, motivation and learning. In Chapter 2, we have compiled research on grading/marking from a teacher's perspective, how and what teachers think of this and how grading affect teaching. Chapter 3 deals with grades and summative assessment as control instruments at different levels of the education system. In Chapter 4 we describe grading from various comparative perspectives. We also do our own comparison of how the different grading and assessment systems look like in Europe.

In the first Chapter, we see that the results of the studies reviewed are partially coherent. Adults and high-performing students seem positively influenced in their learning and accomplishments from feedback that contains much information that comes directly adjacent to the task and if the information is positive. At the same time, it appears that adult students are not adversely affected if the feedback comes in the form of grades. This is explained by the fact that adult students at the university level and upper secondary education have extensive experience of summative assessments and have developed strategies to cope with this system. However, it seems to be different for younger students and when representative samples are examined. One conclusion that can be drawn from the results of the included studies is that grading generally influence older and younger students and low- and high-performing students in different ways. Underperforming and younger students seem to be more adversely affected by the scores compared with older and high-performing students. Age and experience of assessment appear to play a major role in how students' learning, motivation for learning and performance is influenced by the scores.

The second Chapter is about how and what teachers view of grading and how grading affect teaching. We have studied international and Swedish research to describe differences between them. The issue of validity is central, but in a different way in international and Swedish research, respectively. In the Swedish research, the relationship between the teacher's grading and policy documents constitutes a dominant perspective. Outside Sweden, it is mainly the question of what the teacher look at when assessing that dominate, e.g. student's skills or personal qualities.

In the third and fourth Chapter, we have used a more exploratory approach since grading isn’t that closely linked to governing and control in other countries as in Sweden. Instead external tests are more common. We found however three central themes from a control perspective, that is relevant to the issue of grading: 1) fairness and equality in assessments, 2) grading as merit, as a knowledge and selection measurement, 3) grading as part of a high stakes assessment and evaluation systems. The third theme was made into a setting for the other two. The research that touched the first theme emphasized in particular that grading must be put into a larger perspective of a fair assessment and evaluation system, with instruments to monitor fairness in relation to different student groups, etc. Regarding the second theme we found that the ratings' role in many educational settings, have been reduced in recent decades. But at the same time we see clear tendencies that grades are better as a selection tool for higher education compared to university aptitude tests and other similar tests. This shows that grades can fill important functions in the education system in a better way than other instruments, but are not as useful for other purposes.

The fourth Chapter focuses on grades from different comparative perspectives. When we look at assessment and international comparisons we see that grades doesn’t have a particularly prominent place in the international comparative research. Essentially, there are three areas the researchers focused on in these comparisons: systems of accountability; cultural explanations for why the assessment and grading system looks different in different countries; variations between teachers' assessments of various subjects or by different groups of students.

Some key findings of our survey is that there has long been an international trend towards establishing systems for measuring results and to increased accountability in education systems. These results are often measured as student performance on tests or grades. Both critical scholars as well as the OECD has, however, recently noted that the hopes that comparisons of schools' results will lead to performance improvements have been exaggerated. The systems for assessment and accountability systems in different countries explain almost nothing of the variation in the PISA results. Rather, it is what teachers do in the classroom that are important and teachers find it difficult to draw conclusions about what they should do on those results that are made available through accountability systems. The systems seldom produce the right level of information for didactical implications.

In Chapter 4, we also do our own comparison of grading systems in Europe. The first thing we can say is that the data situation is very complicated. There is no standardized data on this, why all comparisons need to build on a complex classification procedure, where there sometimes are problems of interpretation. This is a problem for all references to how it looks in other countries so common in the public debate on grades in Sweden.

Based on what we found in our overview, we have some recommendations. There are clear results, which at least should lead to caution about further lowering of the age when pupils meet their first grades. It is also important that the Swedish current grading system is better evaluated in relation to different teachers, subjects and groups of pupils. Grades do not work the same for everyone. It is also important to consider how we evaluate students' performance and whether it is possible to combine more models with each other, so that we can get better data of for example "value added" character, and to be able to follow the development of knowledge over time. Our study also shows on several different levels of difficulties in the translation of research findings and information on education between different countries and contexts.

We suggest that teachers' autonomy in assessment systems, no matter what they look like, is perhaps the most important factor for them to work in purpose of support learning and development, at all levels. Therefore, it is also of great importance, not only for the government to pay attention to voice of teachers, but to provide teachers with the possibility to obtain further training on grading and assessment. Equally important, this aspect of teaching should be an even more marked feature of teacher education.

Researchers

Researchers

Research funding bodies

  • Swedish Research Council

Collaborators