LärarutbildningenKultur, Språk, Medier
”Jag är en vän av de nationella proven”:
Hur lärare uppfattar de nationella proven i Engelska.
”I am a friend of the National Tests”:
How Teachers Perceive the National Tests in English.
Lärarexamen, 330hp Handledare: Ange handledare
En språkutvecklande läromiljö i teori och praktik, engelska
Datum för slutseminarium: 2009-12-17
Examinator: Bo Lundahl
The purpose of this dissertation is to find out how some teachers perceive the national tests. I have used a qualitative approach and interviewed six teachers in a large upper secondary school, three teachers from a theoretical programme and three from a vocational programme. The research questions concern the role and effect of the national test, and teachers‟ views on result-based wages.
The result shows that my informants perceive the national tests as a guideline to support them in their assessment and grading, and to concretize the national syllabus and grading criteria. Even though all of my informants feel that the workload surrounding the national test is heavy, they think having the national test helps them in their every-day work.
Table of contents
1. Introduction……… 7
1.1 Purpose and Question……… 7
2. Background and Literature……….. 8
2.1 The General Principals of the National Test……..………. 8
2.2 The Construction of the National Tests………... 9
2.3 Literature……….. 9
3. Method and Procedure……….. 14
3.1 Sampling………... 15
4. Results……… 18
4.1 The Role of the National tests………... 18
4.2 The Effect of the National test………. 21
4.3 The National test and Wages………... 24
6. Conclusion……….. 28
The national tests have been intensely discussed over the years and, lately, the discussion was intensified when a political proposal to the government suggested that teachers‟ income should be based on the results of the national tests. When I was teaching English and worked in an upper secondary school I felt that the national tests were important, a feeling that my pupils shared. Furthermore, a heavy workload surrounded the national tests: before the tests as an extensive period of preparation, and afterwards as an intense period of assessing and correcting as the tests often are carried out in the end of the course. I noticed that the tests provided me with a summative result and positively, were useful when I was grading my pupils. Since I feel this way about the national tests it became crucial to understand the purposes of the tests and, to understand the effects the national tests have on teachers teaching.
The aims of the national tests are described on the homepage of the Swedish National Agency for Education. The tests aim to: support an equal and fair assessment and grading, concretize the national syllabus and grading criteria, and to show the pupil‟s strengths and weaknesses as learners of English in English. However, these aims can be interpreted in different ways. Furthermore, how the national tests affect teachers‟ teaching. How do they perceive the workload and the possibilities of co-assessing pupils‟ materials? Is there, possibly, a difference in how the vocational and theoretical programmes work with the national tests and, how would teachers change their teaching of English if the result on the national tests would affect their wages. These are some of the questions that made me wonder how the national tests affect the teaching of English and how some teachers perceive the national tests in English.
1.1 Purpose and questions
The purpose of this dissertation is to find out how some teachers describe the effect of national tests in English on their teaching practice. My research questions are as follows: How do some teachers of English perceive the role of the national tests for English A? To what extent do the teachers find that the national tests affect their teaching? According to the teachers, how might a result-based wage system and its consequences affect teachers teaching?
2. Background and literature
2.1. The General Principles of the National Tests
The National Agency of Education has commissioned the NAFS project (Nationella prov i främmande språk) to construct and describe the national tests and their aims. National and professionally constructed tests have existed in Sweden since the 1940s. An important aim has been to establish equivalent grading. NAFS is also responsible to evaluate and do research on how the national tests correspond to the aims of the syllabus. At the homepage of the National Agency of Education one can find different studies which describe how well the national tests correspond to the curriculum and how they reflect the syllabus for English (skolverket.se). According to NAFS the assessing national tests are intended to:
Enhance comparability and fairness within the school system by facilitating equal interpretations of the nationally decided goals and criteria. The materials are to be seen as a means of clarifying the communicative and functional view of knowledge and language as expressed in the national curricula and syllabuses. In all materials test specifications show the relationship between different tasks and the syllabus in focus. Furthermore, it is made clear which goals in the syllabus are not focused on in the test. (www.ipd.gu.se)
Furthermore, the tests also function as support for teachers‟ assessment in the classroom. All the tests reflect different cultural aspects, and instructions in the tests are given in the target language only. Moreover, the national tests are not proposed to cover all areas of the syllabus. One reason for this is that they are not to be used as final examinations, but more as complementary, advice-giving materials. Further, due to the character of the national tests, some goals in the syllabus can be evaluated in a better way during the learning- and teaching process. This applies in particular to the goals aimed at analyzing and reflective abilities, but also to a large extent to those focusing on communicative competence (Erickson, 2009).
An article in Språkboken (2001) called Bedömning av språkfärdighet i nationella prov och
bedömningsmaterial written by Gudrun Erickson and Lena Börjesson they also describes the
national tests when it comes to the subjects English and Swedish. They explain the principles behind and construction of the national tests and also what kind of impact the tests have. The article defines the purpose with the national tests as follows:
The national tests are given under various conditions and partly with various aims. All of them should be seen as a support for the assessment of pupils‟ knowledge in relation to the syllabus aims, and provide an equal assessment throughout the country. They should also make the curriculum and syllabus concrete. It is important to be aware that everything in the syllabus is not tried to the same extent in the national tests. (p. 256)
In the article they emphasize that the national tests are a complement to teachers‟ continuous assessment of the pupils. The national tests are intended to function as a tool for the pupils to be able to assess their own language development. The article states that the national test is assessing a communicative ability and there is a distinction made between different linguistic errors. It is important to focus on the pupils‟ ability and wish to use the language for various purposes. Instead of pointing out the flaws in a text one should comment on the positive aspects and make a difference between errors that disturb or destroy the text (p.258).
2.2. The Construction of the National Tests
The purpose of the national test is described on the homepage of the National Agency for Education. First it is stated that the national test in the English A course is compulsory, and that the national test is designed to focus on the specific skills of speaking, reading, listening and writing. One of the aims of the test is to support teachers in their grading of pupils
(skolverket.se ). Then the different constructions of each test are described. The national test
in English A is constructed as a test consisting of four parts: Focus: Speaking − tests the pupil‟s ability to speak English freely and how the pupil interacts in a conversation; Focus:
Reading – tests the pupil‟s ability to understand a written text; Focus: Listening – tests the
ability to understand spoken English, and; Focus: Writing – tests the ability to, in a free way, express oneself in writing following the instructions given. The oral part of the test is performed at a suitable time chosen by the teacher during the course. Specific dates for all the tests, (except the oral test) are decided by the National Agency for Education, and if a pupil for some reason fails to do the test, he/she will not be able to do it on another day.
NAFS makes continuous reports on and evaluations of the system with the national tests, such as surveys and studies. One publication that is relevant for this dissertation is Nationella prov
i gymnasieskolan – ett stöd för likvärdig betygsättning?(2005). This survey study was
conducted by Staffan Lundh and Eva Wirén. It is a qualitative study which highlights the variation in how the tests are used. It accounts for the group dynamics in the classroom, teachers‟ expectations and the preparations prior to the national test. In this study you will also find how teachers and pupils perceive the national test.
In the survey Nationella prov i gymnasieskolan – ett stöd för likvärdig betygsättning? the teachers state three different ways of accommodating the course to the national tests. According to the survey the teachers make: either no specific adjustment of the course, as you have the national syllabus and the national tests answers well to those criteria. Or they make no specific adjustment of the course because, it is the teacher‟s own interpretation of the course plan that leads them and the national test is regarded as an instrument amongst others to measure pupils‟ knowledge. Or, for some teachers, however, the national test becomes normative when it comes to the interpretation of the national syllabus. The study also showed that teachers at the theoretical programmes valued the influence of the national tests “fairly high, even though teachers at vocational programmes more often answer that the national tests have a negative influence” (p.74, my translation). Some of the teachers in the survey felt that the national test largely provided a good picture of pupils‟ abilities, but they felt insecure about what the tests actually measure. The teachers at the theoretical programmes thought that the national tests on a high level only measure pupils‟ intelligence and their passive abilities in English and that “their vocabulary and linguistic correctness is of lesser meaning” (p. 92).
The survey also pointed out that the teachers at the vocational programmes on a higher level prepared their students for the national tests with similar assignments. One teacher in the survey, who works at a vocational programme, thinks that his pupils have found the national tests uninteresting and difficult, especially the reading part. The pupils could not relate to it, and were therefore difficult to motivate.
In Lärare och elever om gymnasieskolans nationella prov – en enkätstudie (2005) Staffan Lundh and Eva Wirén analyze the enquiry, a complementary to the result of the survey. In the enquiry one can find that a majority of the teachers think that the national tests provide guidance when it comes to assessing and grading pupils. The enquiry also show that a very high percentage, 95%, of the English teachers felt that the aim of the national tests are fulfilled when it comes to equal and fair assessing and grading. The result was a bit lower for teachers at the vocational programmes (p. 35). The enquiry also shows that only 41% of the pupils felt that the national tests showed their abilities in a good way. A majority of the pupils felt that the teachers assessed them equally, approximately 25% felt fairly sure that there was a fair assessment (p.16). The enquiry also shows that almost 50% of the teachers in theoretical programmes felt that the national tests are more important than other tests when grading, and that teachers on vocational programmes felt the test was less important compared to other tests. Even the pupils estimate that the national test results are more important than the result of other tests, 26% thought that it was “very important”, 45% thought it was “fairly important” (p. 18, my translation).
The teachers in the enquiry Lärare och elever om gymnasieskolans nationella prov – en
enkätstudie states that at some of the schools there are several forms of collaboration
regarding the national tests. To discuss the tests and how to go through with them is the most common form of collaboration. Usually there are seminars that discuss grading, and most of the teachers felt that they had good opportunities to collaborate with some other English teacher (p. 21). The survey Nationella prov i gymnasieskolan – ett stöd för likvärdig
betygsättning? shows that in some schools it is obligatory to co-assess written material and to
help each other with the correcting by exchanging material. The reward with organized co-assessing is that you enhance the equality of the grading and that it leads to meaningful pedagogical discussions, and ultimately improves the quality of your teaching (p. 96). The survey shows that it is mainly on the written parts of the test that teachers need co-assessment by colleagues. Many teachers in the survey confirm that nowadays time does not allow teachers to the same extent to co-assess and read each others‟ essays and to participate in conferences even if there is a need of doing that (p. 97). The chapter ”Skolans inre organisation” states the disadvantages with organized work teams:
The interviewed teachers‟ mention that, with the new organization with programme based teams, there is too little time for co-assessing and
collaborating with teachers of the same subject. On our meeting the teachers discuss other things and not how to assess pupils […]. The consequences of this are that collaboration and pedagogical discussions concerning co-assessing is based on informal meetings. (p.111)
In the enquiry the pupils answered questions about their reactions prior to the national tests. Pupils that did the national tests in English A thought that they were highly motivated to do the tests. English A also compares favorably with the other national tests in the sense that pupils felt less stressed and nervous compared to other national tests. Approximately 20% felt nervous and anxious (p. 29). The enquiry also showed that 50% of all pupils thought that it is better to perform well in the national tests than other tests. Roughly the same numbers of pupils stated that they were more nervous about the national tests than other tests. Interestingly, it is mentioned that one out of five thought that the national tests are more fun than other tests. From the enquiry question “I think the national tests are harder than other tests” (my translation) three out of ten answered that they thought that the national tests have a complicated language and that some word were difficult to understand. Two out of ten thought that the texts were about subjects they could not relate to or did not know anything about. The same number of pupils thought that they could not relate the text to anything they have read during lessons (p. 32).
The survey called Central rättning av nationella prov (Skolverket, 2008), is relevant in this dissertation as the discussion about correcting the test centrally was something all of my informants touched upon during the interviews. The survey shows that the estimated cost for the national tests today is approximately 37 million (SEK). If one would take on a central correcting administration the estimated cost would land at 200 million (SEK) per year, this high cost is the main disadvantage against a central correcting administration. The survey says that one benefit with central correcting is that the test result would not be affected by the teachers‟ subjectivity. The survey states that from a teachers‟ perspective a central correcting administration would lighten a heavy workload, but also emphasizes that the national tests together with the assessment material play an important role when teachers interpret and understand course goals. Further, the survey states that the material in the national tests functions as a base for pedagogical discussions and to a continuous education for teachers (p.34).
The survey also mentions that if one would work with the national tests in the same way you do with, for example the Cambridge tests (English C course), the overall teaching will steer towards “teaching to the tests”, and that it “will narrow the curriculum” and target the teaching even more (p.34). The conclusion one can draw from the survey is that the costs with a central correcting administration is too high in correlation to the advantages with central correcting.
In the chapter “The National Tests and Wages” a web-article in Telegraph.com (2007) is analyzed. The article criticizes the testing system in the UK. The article quotes Mick Brookes the NAHT general secretary whosaid: “Teaching to the test is having a disastrous effect on the curriculum and on children”. Furthermore, the article pinpoints:
According to the association's inquiry, a broad and balanced curriculum is being sacrificed on the altar of statutory assessment. It quotes numerous subject specialists, who have raised concerns about the system. The Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education, for instance, said that the continual testing and practicing for tests „had resulted in a narrow and impoverished math‟s curriculum and poor quality teaching of that curriculum‟.
Further, another article is of significance as it refers to an evaluation of the test system in the United States called No Child Left Behind, which prescribes the use of many tests (in the United States). These articles show some of the plausible effects one can expect of a “teaching to the test” and “narrowing the curriculum”- way of thinking. The evaluation made by Linda Darling-Hammond (2007) shows that USA‟s way of “focus at testing” instead of “investing” has turned out to be very ineffective and unfair:
School funding lawsuits brought in more than twenty-five states describe apartheid schools serving low-income students of color with crumbling facilities, overcrowded classrooms, out-of-date textbooks, no science labs, no art or music courses and a revolving door of untrained teachers, while their suburban counterparts, spending twice as much for students with fewer needs, offer expansive libraries, up-to-date labs and technology, small classes, well-qualified teachers and expert specialists, in luxurious facilities. (p. 20)
Another publication which is relevant to this dissertation is Language Assessment Principles
and Classroom Practices by H. Douglas Brown (2004). According to Brown the national tests
knowledge in English. The four skills measured are: reading, listening, writing and speaking. Brown‟s study emphasizes what a teacher does when he/she assess their pupils and what different approaches you can have towards assessment. Brown also discusses the thoughts behind test-design like reliability, practicality, validity and authenticity. Some of the concepts Brown discusses are informal, formal, formative and summative assessment and what kind of feedback you as a teacher give your pupils.
When discussing the validity of tests Brown states that “the effect of testing on teaching and learning[…is] known among language-testing specialists as washback”. He states that: “In large-scale assessment, washback generally refers to the effect the tests have on instructions in terms of how students prepare for the test” (p. 28). He concludes that teaching to the test is a form of washback, but washback can also occur in the classroom prior to a test as preparation for the assessment. Further, when teachers provide interactive feedback Brown calls it a “built-in washback effect”, though a teacher provide no washback if the pupils after a tests only “receive a simple letter grade or a single overall numerical score” (p. 29).
Brown also discusses how teachers grade and assess their pupils, and the difficulties involving that. He states what a teacher should be conscious of when giving a grade. He writes that grading “is sometimes subjective and context dependent; grades reflect the teacher‟s philosophy of grading; grades often conform, by design, to a teacher‟s expected distribution of students across a continuum”. And when it comes to tests he writes: “tests do not always yield an expected level of difficulty, and letter grades may not „mean‟ the same thing to all people, and alternatives to letter grades […] are highly desirable as additional indicators of achievement” (p. 299).
3. Method and Procedure
In order to get teachers‟ perceptions and to get an idea of how they implement the national test I conducted interviews with six teachers, five women and one man. I used the formal interview as a qualitative method. The teachers I interviewed work as English teachers at an upper secondary school in Skåne, a large school with many different programmes. I was able to interview three teachers from the vocational programmes (BF, FP, and EC) and three teachers from the theoretical programmes (NV, SP). The reasoning behind this choice has to do with what Pål Repstad mentions in his book Närhet och distans (2007) about the informants. I needed at least six informants in order to get the breadth for my dissertation and I wanted English teachers from programmes with different orientation to see if I could spot some differences in their reasoning on the national tests. If you interview persons with different teaching backgrounds this improves the chance of finding varied attitudes in your result as stated in Johanson & Svedner (2002, p. 42).
Methodologically the interviews were formal and semi-structured. I preferred to lead the interview but at the same time I was interested in probing into areas that arose during the interview interaction (Hatch, 2002). The informants in this dissertation were informed about their right to remain anonymous which enabled them to speak freely and to give their open-minded opinions on the subject. One of my informants knew me from before. This was both positive and negative. It was positive in the sense that she felt more relaxed and less suspicious in the interview situation, but negative in the sense that she might tell me what I wanted to hear (Repstad). The situation also became somewhat strange as the interview situation felt a bit stagey as we normally work together in a very informal way. However, afterwards when I transcribed the interview I found many useful thoughts which I could compare to my own experience.
The interview questions that I posed were of a more neutral, open kind and I did not feel that they caused any discomfort to my informants. The first category of questions was connected to the first research question about the role of the national tests, and the second category of questions related to the effect of the national tests. The last question regards the national tests result and wages. However, during the interviews the questions were not posed in the exact order but, due to the context, were answered in the conversation as the interview proceeded.
The interviews were recorded in order for me to go back and listen to them again. Repstad states some of the benefits with recording are for example that one can be a totally focused on the informants without taking notes. Another benefit was that I could notice the non-verbal communication of my informants, little things that told me how they felt about certain questions and this also allowed me to ask good follow-up questions and probe into the area more deeply. We chose a calm environment where we did not risk being interrupted or disturbed during the interview.
The upper secondary school where my informants work is described as an umbrella organization. The school has eight different school management areas and offers more than 20 programmes. More than 3000 pupils study at this school and more than 400 teachers and other staff members related to the school work there. About ten years ago the school was re-organized in a more modern way. All employees at the different programmes were re-organized in teams of teachers which all had their own specific teaching subject. Consequently, none of my informants knew each other well, maybe just by name, and only if they had been working at the school for a long time.
My first informant (T 1) is a woman and has been working as a teacher at this school for approximately five years. She works at the SP-programme which is a theoretical programme. My second informant (T2) is a man and he has been working as a teacher for 17 years. During his time at the school he has been teaching in different programmes, both in vocational and theoretical programmes, but in recent years he has been working at the NV-programme which is a theoretical programme. My third informant (T3) is a woman who has been working as a teacher for seven years. She teaches at the BF-programme which is a vocational programme. My fourth informant (T4) is a woman and she has been working as a teacher for 21 years at the SP-programme. My fifth informant (T5) is a woman and she has been working as a teacher for one and a half years at the FP-programme which is a vocational programme. My sixth informant (T6) is a woman who has been working five years at the EC- programme which is a vocational programme. All of them teach English, but they also teach subjects like Swedish, French, and Russian. Since my informants are anonymous I will call them Teacher
(T) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. In my interviews transcription, result section and discussion I have chosen to exclude information that is not relevant for my dissertation and which do not concern my main subject English and the national tests. As we spoke Swedish throughout the interviews all quotes are translated by me.
4.1. The Role of the National Tests
In general all of my informants felt that the national tests played an important role when it came to confirming the grade they already had predicted the pupil to have throughout the course. One of my informants, T2, stated that in very few cases did the result of the national tests differ from the grades he had planned to give his pupils.
The national tests is rather important, but during the two first terms they have finished the whole course (English A, 100p), so one is actually having a clear picture of what the pupil has achieved, and that is through my own tests; presentations both orally and written; discussions, yes, everything that is included in the goals and criteria.
I usually conduct a little experiment: in March prior to the national tests, I make a list and write down the grades I am expecting to give my pupils and then later I compare them to their results of the national tests and often they match to 99%.The national tests provides a good confirmation of the grades I have planned to give them.
It is confirmed by my informants that the national test function as a support for grading. T4 said that the national tests are like a “measuring rod” for the whole country which she thought was good as there can be immense differences between various schools in the country in how English is taught. T6 affirmed that she used the result of the national tests to compare with other results the pupils have made during the course and normally the results differed marginally. T5 stated that the national tests also serve the purpose of showing how much the pupils have developed their English. T3 thought that it would be a failure on her part if she for example would grade a pupil a “pass” and he/she got the result “pass with distinction” in the national test, because this would mean that she would have failed in estimating the pupil‟s knowledge. T1 verified this:
I think it is good and also important to have the national tests. I believe I would have been very irritated if someone made the decision to abolish the national tests. It is especially good to have them in the cases where I feel insecure about the grade a pupil should have. For some pupils the result of the national tests guides me and confirms what kind of grade I should give.
Further, my informants generally thought that the national tests provide a good measurement of all the four skills, speaking, reading, listening, and writing and that it was reasonable to have the test at the end of the course. T4 said about the role of the national tests in English:
I think that the national tests are good as they test all four skills, and even though the national tests should not matter more than other tests they are comprehensive. The pupils realize this as well. It is very rare that the results differ from what they have achieved earlier. It is easier to receive a pass or a higher grade on the national tests, and I think that motivates pupils who have felt the English course was too difficult.
T2 and T4 established that the importance of the national tests depended a lot on the pupils‟ own work throughout the course and how well he/she had hand in assignments, attended school and if he/she in general produced well. Then this would be of more importance later on when he/she is given a grade. But, for a pupil who has not bothered to hand in assignments and has been careless with his/her studies the result of the national test might be one of several things for the teacher to pay attention to when giving a grade.
For those who have the test in springtime the focus and the planning of the national tests get more serious just after the winter holiday. Around week 9 the preparations for the national tests begin. Those of my informants who work at a theoretical programme seemed to be more focused in their training and preparation. Often they used old national tests as one way of preparing the pupils. T2 stated that he actually had the national tests in mind in everything he does all through the course, when designing tests and other assignments for his pupils. He said:
One is getting a routine for the level and for how the national tests are constructed; I can even get a hunch of what kind of words that will show up in the national tests, and what kind of expressions they will be wanting. Some parts return. In that way you are training for the national tests both consciously and unconsciously.
T4 confirmed T2‟s thoughts about the national tests when she said that after the winter holidays in February she began her preparation of the national tests. Her pupils write essays similar to the national tests for example. “Our other tests”, she says, “is more and more likely to have the same construction as the national tests, and we pick some parts from previous national tests”. She also emphasized that pupils are able to practice for the national tests by training irregular verbs. She mentioned that in their local tests grammar and correctness are
emphasized because it “doesn‟t benefit our pupils if they don‟t understand the importance of writing grammatically correct”. Concerning the pupils‟ final grades and the importance of the national test she stated that the national test was more important than other tests as it is often given in the end of the course. This has to do with the construction of the tests, as they cover all four skills. The pupils have the chance during the national tests to prove what they have learned throughout the course.
T2 also mentioned in the interview, that in the enquiry all teachers fill in after having had the national tests he, and other English teachers at NV, had written that they wanted an additional test that measured form and grammar, because “[form and grammar] is not tested in the national tests, but then of course you have to add something about that in the criteria as well”. He thought that it becomes contradictive when the syllabus criteria demands correctness in writing, when in the national tests you do not take into account the spelling mistakes made, especially not in the writing part.
My informants at the vocational programmes differed somewhat in their reasoning about planning and teaching prior to the national tests. T3 affirmed that for her the national tests just provided guidelines to what her course in English should offer. Only a couple of weeks before the national tests she would hand out similar tests, and this to show her pupils how the tests are constructed. T3‟s main concern is to follow the national syllabus goals and criteria when she is planning her lessons, and she said that she does not want the national tests to influence her too much in her grading but instead be more of a confirmation to her already estimated grade of the pupils. Concerning her pupils T3 believed that prior to the national test they become very anxious and nervous:
Of course the pupils are affected by the national tests; it is hard to convince them that the national test is not equivalent to their grade. For some pupils the national test is a kick and for others it is a barrier. I mean the signal we send is that a severe action is taking place; we are breaking off all other teaching activity; the tests are kept in locked cabins for safety reasons; and not even the teachers know what the tests will consist of. I believe the importance of the national tests is exaggerated and all the procedures surrounding them enhance that feeling. Every year this means that in my classes I have to have a discussion about the national tests and how I am grading them.
T5 mentioned that for her pupils she must have a variety of assignments because if they only would practice with exercises similar to the national tests her pupils would easily get bored. She felt that the most important task for her is to motivate her pupils and that includes the pupils‟ possibility to influence her teaching and also have a say about the English lessons. She has also noticed that some of her pupils, that actually have a good knowledge of English, tend not to be able to focus for that long period of time that the national tests last. Some of them break off and do not complete the test due to the lack of concentration ability. For her the national test is a test like all the others and she felt the need to come up with alternative and creative ideas on how to test their abilities.
T6 was quite critical towards the national tests. She also teaches on a vocational programme and she has sometimes wished the national tests to be more accommodated for her type of pupils. When it came to the writing part she thought that her pupils would benefit if there were more choices of subjects than just one or sometimes two. She has also experienced that for those of her pupils who have good knowledge of English the national tests are good, but for the weaker pupils it is much harder:
I mean, it must be tough to hand in a test when you know you have only answered half the amount of questions, even though they will receive a pass. Not be able to understand the “listening” part, not to understand all the words, that is rough. The writing part is probably the hardest for those who are weak, they feel frustrated.
She also stated that she must put emphasis on encouraging the pupils‟ motivation. She said: “They would puke if I only had to do „fill in the gap‟ constructed tests and tests similar to the national tests.” T6 also thought that the grading criteria for the national tests made her think that it is too easy to receive a pass. She affirmed that pupils can fail several parts of the test but still in the final concluded result get a pass, and that made her wonder if the grading criteria in the national tests might be “too kind”.
4.2. The Effect of the National Tests
All of my informants thought that the work-load surrounding the national tests was too heavy, especially if you had many classes taking the test at the same time. T4 says:
If one is having many classes, it gets really heavy; it would have been much easier to just send them [the national tests] to some kind of administration. It is prolixly to sit and correct the national tests, and very time consuming. I think the tests should be computerized; maybe they could do the test through the Web. The “speaking” part of the test is much appreciated by the pupils, because normally there is very little time for similar activities.
It is likely that the national tests have an impact on other planning and on other lessons and there is a feeling that everything else has to take a time out. T1 said about her work load:
During the time of the national tests everything else is on hold. One has to have everything corrected before the grading and marking. I also wish that others [colleagues] could better understand what kind of work load it actually is. [It is a good idea] that you could send them away and have the tests corrected administratively, not only to lighten the work load but also for the pupils who would profit from a more equal assessment. I think it would benefit my pupils if someone impartially would correct their tests. Then it would only be their result that counts.
T4 stated that it would benefit both the teachers and the pupils if the tests would be corrected by some kind of administration that does not deal with the pupils on an everyday basis. T3 stressed the lack of time and the consequences of not having anyone to share thoughts and reflections with in language teaching.
There is such little time, and I definitely think that much more time should be spent on co-assessing or that we would be able to send the tests away. This demands immense resources. It is normal that I have to take time off from my lessons for one or two days, to be able to correct them all; I do have all the national tests during the same period. One really does not want the work load to have an impact, but when you are reading essay number 40 it is getting very tiring, and it is hard to stay professional towards the text. I feel rather alone right now [as the only English teacher in the team], and I do not have anyone to give me some sort of feedback on what I am doing.
What T3 mentioned was something all of my informants say in one way or another. In a work team where you are the only language teacher it is easy to feel lonely. Especially during the national tests, when the need of co-assessing is crucial sometimes. Because of the lack of time and the workload, language teachers risk being stressed out, something that does not benefit anyone, not the teachers and certainly not the pupils, who might be risking an unfair grading due to the teacher‟s fatigue. Some of my informants, who work in a larger programmes, have other English teachers to confer with if they need someone to co-assess on an essay, but how much you do this is also depends on how much time you have. In a smaller programme, or
sometimes in the vocational programmes you work alone, sometimes with a heavy work load, and therefore one might not take the time to co-assess pupils‟ work.
All of my informants thought that for some pupils the national tests are a disadvantage. Many of their pupils become nervous and anxious. T3 said that her pupils “feel stressed and think that the national tests prove everything”. T6 affirmed: “They are quite nervous, but they do not want to show it. The majority of my pupils are guys and I have noticed that when the national tests are coming near they have many questions, and when I give them similar tests they become very serious.” T2 pointed out that especially his pupils with high ambitions feel stressed about the national tests, “but they are getting stressed in all kinds of situations where they will be assessed in some way”. T4 talked about how some pupils get paralyzed because they are nervous, especially over the reading part which often is time consuming, and she also mentioned that pupils only have this one opportunity to show their abilities.
How the pupils react to the national tests is probably very individual but the thought of failing would make anyone of us nervous. My informants established that the oral part of the test often proves to be the part where most pupils feel relaxed and at ease. It is also appreciated that the teacher has to take time to listen. T2 said that for some pupils, who are shy and unwilling to speak English in the classroom, it felt much safer for them to be able to, without pressure, show their speaking ability in a small group.
Even though my informants thought that the national tests increase the workload and understand that for some pupils the national tests are enhancing nervousness, nevertheless, most of them concluded that the national tests serve its‟ purpose, and that there are more advantages than disadvantages to having them. T1 stated:
I am a friend of the national tests, and I feel that pupils that do the national tests have everything to gain from it. A pupil that has done all assignments and has proved to be conscientious, never risks anything with the national tests. If they already have proved that they have the ability they can even fail the national test. I still know what they can do and that one test does not affect my grading. I can even give them a higher mark if they succeed in the national tests.
4.3. The National Test and Wages
In September 2009 an article in Dagens Nyheter (www.dn.se) wrote about a school in Trelleborg which has introduced result-based wages founded upon the outcome on the national tests. This now lies as a political proposal with the government. Of course this started a debate all over the country. I had to ask my informants about their opinions on the subject. The interview question was: “Do you think that you would work differently with the national tests if you knew that the results would affect your salary?” One of my informants said:
I can‟t answer anything else than no! I can see a scenario where I would have to work even more, and work more targeted. We would then lose the breadth of the course. That is what we do now in the C-course. We would also have to increase the support for the weaker pupils that already are struggling to manage the course. Besides, there are teachers that do not have any national tests. I see it as a bizarre idea. Maybe if the result instead would be connected to the principals‟ salary, then we might have received more resources than we have now.
Another one stated: “I do not think I would change my teaching that much, but it would feel strange to have to compete.” T2 pointed out that the affect probably would be a change in the criteria and likely a lowering of the limits to receive the grade “pass with distinction”, and he foresaw an increased “grade inflation” which do not benefit either the teachers or their pupils. My informant also argued that for those teachers who work with weaker pupils who at the most will receive the grade “pass”, it is unlikely that they could be able to raise their salary at all if the result were to have an impact on wages.
T5 and T6 said that the focus on the national test would probably increase, but it would be very hard to keep the motivation high with their pupils. They also felt that they cannot work much harder than they do right now, so it would have been tough for them, in that case, to influence anything that has to do with wages. Another informant, T1, pointed out the absurdity in the discussion as she would not be able to change that much in her way of working anyway. “There is a pressure anyway to give pupils higher grades, and it is much more work for me to fail a pupil as a „fail‟ demands thorough documentation on my behalf. It is much easier to give a pupil a „pass‟.”
Yes, I think I would have worked differently. It is so cynical, and it is good that I am not in that position. I believe one would have worked more focused with the national tests. One knows what kind of pitfalls the pupils will meet in the national tests, because you do not want to fool them, right? Maybe I would give them more exercises like „fill in the gap‟. I think it is a dreadful thought, and it is not beneficial for the pupils nor for the community at large either. Teachers are only humans.
Throughout my interviews it becomes obvious how my informants perceive the role and effect of the national tests. My informants think of it as a guideline and many times the result becomes a confirmation of already given grades. In the result one can spot a difference in how the teachers value the tests. For the teachers at the theoretical programmes it seems to be of more importance, as it affects their planning, course contents and way of working. This might also depend on their specific group of pupils where a majority of them wants to get a good result on the national tests. The teachers at the vocational programmes must adjust their planning to their group of pupils to keep motivation high. For them the national test becomes a tool among many others to find out how well their pupils‟ abilities match their other results and how they work throughout the course, even though it is hard to convince some of the pupils that how they perform in the national tests is not always decisive for their grades.
Several of my informants found the national tests to be of support in their grading and assessing. The national tests give teachers guidelines for what their courses should contain. Still, teachers at the vocational programmes must have different approaches to the national tests due to their groups of pupils. They cannot work towards the test at the same extent as they do in the theoretical programmes. Instead they have to motivate their pupils by more varied assignments and take into count their concentration ability.
The result indicates that the teachers work in various ways when they prepare their pupils for the national tests. T2, which works at the NV programme and T4, which works in the SP programme, teaches more to the tests. There can be several reasons for that: their pupils might demand it and are able to work and concentrate on the same type of assignments over a period of time, and both of them have been working more than ten years as teachers. In the theoretical programmes the English A course are carried out during two terms and the English B course is compulsory. In the vocational programmes the English A course is extended to four terms, and taking the English B course is optional. Therefore, my informants in the vocational programmes have to work in a more varied way as they realize that their pupils are not motivated to be taught to the test.
The workload surrounding the national tests is heavy, especially if one has many classes taking the test in the same time. This has an impact on other planning and lessons. All of my informants mentioned in one way or another that a central correcting administration would ease their work and might also benefit their pupils.
Some of my informants also concluded that due to the lack of time they did not co-assess pupils‟ material, even though there is a crucial need for it. The possibilities for co-assessing have diminished since the new organization with programme based work-teams. My interviews and the survey establish that if one has lost the possibility to co-assess the consequences is a reduced amount of equal assessment on pupils work. One could draw the conclusion that if you work in a team where you are the only teacher of your subject, the circumstances work against the aims of the national tests. Many of the teachers also confirm the pupils stress and anxiety prior to the national tests. Nevertheless, none of my informants think that the national tests should be abolished, because in many ways they serve a good purpose and they believe that the design of the tests is comprehensive, and the advantages with the national tests are higher than the disadvantages. All of my informants thought that the national tests serve its purpose.
When it came to the question with result based wages my informants pointed out several disadvantages with this way of promoting higher wages. They reflected upon the injustice concerning the fact that you as a teacher are unable to choose his/her pupil population. In vocational programmes for example teachers have many pupils who are not motivated in their core subjects, so for them that kind of a reward system would prove insufficient and unfair. Many of my informants thought that they work hard already, and tries to provide their pupils with a course that reflects the syllabus goals in a varied way, using their creativeness that motivates their pupils to show their abilities in ways that cannot be tested in the national tests. They also foresaw a narrowing of the curriculum and grade inflation, and an even higher focus on teaching to the test. All of these factors would prove to be unbeneficial both to the pupils and the community.
I have come to the conclusion that the subject regarding the national tests and the questions I posed in my interviews opened up a stream of thoughts and opinions which showed that the national tests are engaging and do affect us as teachers. If you have worked as a teacher during a couple of years, thoughts and insights are brought up on the subject and you find that there is a need for serious reflection.
All of my informants used the national tests as a summative test to measure pupils‟ abilities in the end of the course, and as a support for their grading; hence, there is no washback in that system. As Brown concluded, a washback effect can only be visible if the test is used to provide the pupils with feedback and diagnoses on pupils‟ strengths and weaknesses, not if they only would receive a simple letter grade. One can draw the conclusion, however, that in preparing for the test, the pupils will receive plenty of washback as the teachers comment specifically on their previous test performance, and give feedback on a spoken performance as well.
Some critical voices are raised when one talks about the effect the national tests on teachers‟ teaching, but it is clear that it actually effects some teachers way of planning lessons, how they choose their course contents and way of working. Many times the preparation for the national tests expands over several months. For others, the result of the national tests is merely a guideline to what their course should contain. The role of the national tests varies, because the responsible teacher in every class has to design the course according to the curriculum and syllabus criteria, and to meet the needs of the group of pupils he/she is teaching. For me as a teacher it is compulsory for my pupils in the English A course to take the national tests no matter if I (or they) like it or not, and despite the heavy workload. One can critically discuss how well the national tests aim of “showing the pupil‟s strong and weak abilities” is fulfilled when the tests often are carried out at the end of the course, since by then you must already have tested the abilities of your pupils.
For further examination I propose to investigate how the programme-based teams of teachers affect the teaching of English. Some of my informants have experienced a decrease in the
quality of the core-subjects, and the possibility of continuous education for language teachers is faltering, and so is even the crucial need of co-assessing. As a language teacher you have to progress with the language you are teaching in, but it seem to get harder and harder. All of this must have some impact on both teachers and pupils. The question is: how much?
This investigation has been very interesting to conduct. The interviews gave me very useful insights on how to work with the national tests, and highlighted the pros and cons surrounding them. It also made me reflect upon how I am teaching English and to what extent I am giving and getting co-assessment. Personally I feel that I am also “a friend of” the national tests and I think using them in the right way benefits both me and my pupils. However, I reject the thought of having my salary based upon the result of the national tests, and I agree with all the arguments given against this proposal.
Brown, Douglas H (2004). Language assessment. Principles and classroom practices. White Plains, NY: Longman.
Erickson, Gudrun & Börjesson, Lena (2001). Språkboken: Bedömning av språkfärdighet i
nationella prov och bedömningsmaterial. Sverige: Skolverket
Hatch, Amos J (2002). Doing qualitative research in education setting. New York: State University of New York Press.
Lundh, Staffan & Wirén, Eva (2005). Nationella prov i gymnasieskolan – ett stöd för
likvärdig betygsättning? Sverige: Skolverket
Lundh, Staffan & Wirén, Eva (2005). Lärare och elever om gymnasieskolans nationella prov-
en enkätstudie. Sverige: Skolverket
Johansson, Bo & Svedner, Per Olov (2004). Examensarbetet i lärarutbildningen. Undersökningsmetoder och språklig utformning. Uppsala: Kunskapsförlaget. Ramstedt, Kristian (2008). Central rättning av nationella prov Sverige: Skolverket Repstad, Pål (1999). Närhet och distans. Kvalitativa metoder i samhällsvetenskap.
Darling Hammond, Linda (2007). The Nation. Evaluating No Child Left Behind
Henry, Julie (2007, 10 December). Heads lash out at the „tyranny of testing‟. Telegraph.co.uk
Projektet NAFS (2009). Nationella prov i främmande språk
Skolverket (2009). Nyhetsbrev ”Lärarnas kompetens viktig”
Skolverket (2000). Kursplaner .Lpf 94 http://www.skolverket.se/sb/d/726/a/13845/
Stiernstedt, Jenny (2009) Provresultat kan avgöra lärarlön.
1. Vilket syfte tror du att de nationella proven har?
2. Vilken betydelse har de nationella proven för dig som lärare i engelska? 3. Vilken roll spelar de nationella proven i din planering?
4. Tycker du att det finns en motsägelse med nationella provens utformning och syfte och med den lokala kursplanens syfte och utformning?
5. Hur lång tid använder du före det nationella provet som förberedelse?
6. I hur hög grad jobbar du med det material som finns att hämta på skolverket?
7. I hur hög grad använder du dig av de verktyg NP ger när det gäller provutformningen och betygsbedömning?
8. Hur jobbar du med de nationella proven rent praktiskt före, under och efter proven? 9. Hur tycker du att de nationella proven inverkar på ditt arbete?
10. Vilka för- och nackdelar kan du se med de nationella proven? 11. På vilket sätt tror du att de nationella proven påverkar dina elever?
12. Hur stor inverkan tror du att det nationella provet på elevens slutliga betyg?
13. Tror du att du skulle jobba annorlunda med förberedelser av nationella proven om du visste att resultatet på NP skulle påverka din lön?
14. Vilka skillnader tror du finns när det gäller planering och nationella provens roll mellan de olika programmen?
15. När det gäller dina betyg och den bedömning du gör på dina elever, tror du den hade blivit annorlunda om de nationella proven plockades bort?