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The Power of Teacher Assigned Grades in Outcome Based Education
Örebro University, School of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-8173-7474
2018 (English)Conference paper, Published paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

In measuring and governing the quality of education, outcomes in terms of academic achievement have come to play an increasingly important role in recent decades (Hopmann, 2003; Sahlberg, 2016). In many countries, the policies accompanying this development have relied on an increased use of testing for accountability purposes (Baker, 2016; Brookhart, 2015; Linn, 2000). In arguing for alternatives to test-based accountability, researchers have suggested that teacher-assigned student grades could be used for high-stakes purposes in order to moderate negative effects of testing (Brookhart et al., 2016; Willingham, Pollack & Lewis, 2002). In this study, Sweden serves as an example of a school system in which teacher-assigned grades have a major role in performance management and accountability. We study how politicians view and legitimise the strengths of grading in an outcome-based accountability system.

Based on two-part analysis, we will show how teacher-assigned grades, through complex processes of legitimation, have acquired and retained a central position in governing the overall quality of the educational system in Sweden. The first part of our analysis focuses on the revision of the grading system in the early 1990s, which was part of a major reform of the Swedish school system in order to improve the outcomes of schooling. The grading system was redesigned and new functions for governing educational quality were developed: new means of accountability was designed (Lundahl, Erixon Arreman, Holm & Lundström, 2013).

In the second part of our analysis, we study the system almost two decades after its initial construction. Also in this analysis we focus on a grading reform (launched in 2011). The quality of the Swedish school system was again considered to be too poor, and the grading system was again considered a key part of improving educational quality.

The two parts of our analysis reveal differences in how a grading system that could serve outcome-based accountability was legitimised: in the first reform, the main legitimising processes concerned the core principles, and the work to find a grading system that could be broadly accepted among stakeholders. In the second reform we observed a new strategy in achieving legitimacy for a grading system by reference to other countries’ grading systems (‘policy borrowing’).

We argue that in the Swedish system, grades used in an administrative rather than a pedagogical way function as a ‘quick language’ (Lundahl 2008), that effectively reduces the complexity of communication between various actors with regard to what students learn and accomplish in education. As such, grades are legitimate in terms of their communicative efficacy. A grade, as well as a test result, is quick in its representation (it includes much information), and (therefore) it is quick to use.

At the same time the use of grades in communicating student learning has not been sufficient to meet the needs of government. We conclude that in order to turn grading into an instrument that can moderate some of the downsides of testing regimes, a broader view of what constitute outcomes in education needs to follow. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2018.
National Category
Pedagogy
Research subject
Education
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-62692OAI: oai:DiVA.org:oru-62692DiVA: diva2:1158284
Conference
American Educational Research Association (AERA 2018): The Dreams, Possibilities, and Necessity of Public Education, New York City, NY, USA, April 13-17, 2018
Available from: 2017-11-19 Created: 2017-11-19 Last updated: 2017-11-29Bibliographically approved

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Lundahl, Christian

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