To Grade or not to Grade Motivation and Effort: Swedish PE Teachers’ Grading Practice in Relation to National Grading StandardsGeneral description
There has been an international trend to turn to standard-based grading in order to obtain accountable and consistent grades. Countries have different solutions to meet the challenge to find a balance between curriculum regulation and providing space for adjustment to local context and student populations (Kuiper & Berkvens, 2013). In Sweden a national standard-based grading system has been in use for the last 20 years. Nevertheless, the validity of grades has been questioned in Sweden as elsewhere. PE teachers’ internalized criteria or gut-feeling (Annerstedt & Larsson, 2010; Hay and MacDonald, 2008; Svennberg, Meckbach & Redelius, 2014), as well as standard irrelevant factors such as motivation and effort (Chan, Hay & Tinning, 2011; Larsson, Fagrell & Redelius, 2009), have been identified to influence the grades. Curriculum regulation has been employed in Sweden to improve the validity of the grades and the grading standards have been reformed in 2011 (Swedish National Agency for Education [SNAE]) to make clear that only specified knowledge requirement are to be considered when grading. But will the implementation of more specific standards be enough to keep the teachers’ judgment focused on knowledge only?
Our intention is to study PE teachers’ alignment with national grading criteria when exposed to a government’s attempt to prescribe the knowledge requirements for different grades. More specific, this is done by enlightening the teachers’ use of nonachievement standard irrelevant factors before and after the implementation of more specific standards and more support. The results will be discussed in light of Bernstein’s three interrelated message systems of curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment (2003). Several scholars have discussed assessment as an important message system of what count as important knowledge and the influence of assessment on learning (Chan et al., 2011; Hay and Penney, 2013; Redelius & Hay, 2009; Thorburn, 2007). To better understand teachers’ grading practices, we are also interested in how the interrelation works in the other direction—how curriculum and pedagogy influence assessment and grading. We take a starting point in our study of the teachers grading practice before and after the implementation of more specific grading standards and relate the results to the Swedish national curriculum and Bernstein’s definition of a pedagogic discourse. The official message in the Swedish curriculum is that both knowledge and values and norms are important in order to reach the overarching goals of education and the goals for PE (SNAE, 2011). However, only knowledge is to be graded and no attention is to be given to values and norms in the grades. To bring light to the influence of values and norms in the teachers pedagogic work we turn to Bernstein’s (1996) pedagogic discourse that comprise both an instructional discourse, which creates specialized skills (knowledge), and a regulative discourse that creates order and relations (values and norms). In Bernstein’s (1996) concept of the pedagogic discourse, the instructional discourse is embedded in the regulative discourse, with the regulative discourse being the dominant of the two. They are to be considered as one inseparable discourse (Bernstien 1996). Applied in a classroom situation this is illustrated by Lund and Veal (2008): “Student teachers know that if they lose control of a class from a managerial standpoint, desired learning will not occur” (p. 503).
To enable the teachers to verbalise the explicit as well as the implicit criteria they use when grading, the Repertory Grid (RG) interview technique was employed. The RG technique can be used to reveal a person’s perception of a specific topic that the person has experienced and is familiar with by examining the similarities and differences between well-known elements (Fransella, Bell & Bannister, 2004). For instance, even if the teachers find it difficult to express what they find important to get a high grade they can still tell the difference between a student with a high grade and another student, if it is their own students that they know well. George Kelly (1955), who first developed the technique, believed that our behavior can be understood through personally constructed patterns that we use to explain how the world works. These patterns are called constructs, and they enable us to predict our surroundings and choose a direction of our behavior. The method helps us to reveal not only the presence of standard irrelevant constructs but also their content. Three PE teachers, one woman and two men, were interviewed in 2009 and in 2013, before and after the implementation of the new curriculum. Each of them was grading a class of students, 15 to 16 years of age, in different compulsory schools. All grades were represented in the class they were teaching and they had all received a teacher education in PE. In total, 45 students were discussed during the six interviews. The RG interviews lasted for about 90 minutes. In the first step, the teacher was asked to select seven to eight students from the same class that he or she was teaching and grading in PE. The selected students must represent all possible grades (Fransella et al., 2004). In the second step, the names of three of the students at a time were presented to the teacher who was asked in what way, relevant for the grades, two of the students were similar and different from the third (Fransella et al., 2004). By letting the teachers generate their own constructs around a topic they are familiar with, the risk to direct the interview with questions based on another precondition than their own is minimized. The RG interviews generated 125 constructs about aspects that teachers thought were relevant for grades in PE.
The use of national grading standards in Sweden illustrates how professional judgment is not reliant on the stated standards only. The results indicate that more specific criteria guide the teachers to pay less attention to what Hay and Penney (2009) label “irrelevant factors such as students’ dispositional and behavioral characteristics” (p. 398). Standards seem to be important but not enough. All three teachers still valued standard irrelevant criteria that reflect the norms and values in the curriculum and the goals for the subject. The standard irrelevant criteria used by the teachers also put focus on their concern of the impact of the regulative discourse on the students learning.
Since the regulative discourse is always present in the pedagogic discourse (Bernstein, 1996) and values and norms are important goals of the curriculum and of the PE subject, it can cause confusion in teachers’ interpretation of the alignment of curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment in a grading system in which the regulative discourse is not to be graded. Future research is needed about how to achieve valid grades while simultaneously acknowledge the need to give value to the regulative discourse. Grades are often regarded as a reward for achieving knowledge requirements in the curriculum, but what are the rewards for achieving norms and values?
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ECER (European Educational Research Conference)2015, Corvinus University of Budapest from 7 to 11 September. Education and Transition - Contributions from Educational Research