28.10. Student evaluation principles have remained unchanged for more than 100 years

Public examination of a doctoral dissertation in the field of Education
Doctoral candidate: M.Ed. Matti Vänttinen
Time and venue 28.10.2011 at 12.00 noon, A118, Sampo-sali, Savonlinna Campus
Language of dissertation and public examination: Finnish

This study concerns ways of understanding pupil assessment in the Finnish educational system during the years of its great expansion and unification from the 1870s up to the 1980s as these ways of understanding assessment arise in different specialist texts. Further, this study concerns the processes by which ways of understanding pupil assessment take shape, i.e. how specialists communicate their theoretical or practical positions in relation to pupil assessment, what kinds of relationships arise between specialist positions, and which cultural resources the ways of understanding pupil assessment and writing about pupil assessment are based on. Conceptually the study is based on the structuration theory. The central concepts are agency-structure, power-domination, communication-signification and the different levels of time.

The research data consists of various specialist texts on pupil assessment, i.e. statutes, administrative regulations and handbooks, textbooks for teacher training, articles, studies, curricula, and reports of committees. A discourse analytic approach is the research method used. The approach focuses on the content of the texts as well as the social processing of the texts, i.e. the way of expression, the ways of working the texts in social relationships, and the cultural limits and possibilities of creating the texts.

As a result, there are three different ways of understanding pupil assessment, i.e. bureaucratic, instrumental, and calling into question the value of the assessment process. In statutes, administrative regulations, and handbooks, the bureaucratic way is dominant. In textbooks for teacher training, articles, studies, committee reports, and curricula the instrumental way is dominant. In some articles, textbooks and in one committee report pupil assessment is called into question. The central themes in the texts have persisted through the period under study. In the bureaucratic approach, the organization of the school, in combination with the uniformly produced assessment document, defines pupils. In the instrumental approach, educational goals are as important as knowledge, its production, and different ways of applying it in the educational process. In the third approach, common educational goals and the possibilities of reaching intended outcomes through assessment are considered problematic.

The specialists writing about pupil assessment have specific styles of expression. These styles differ from each other by the structure of the texts and by the styles of persuasive discourse. A network arises between the specialist positions. The positions developing the bureaucratic approach are mostly separate from the other positions. Within the instrumental sphere, the textbooks and articles are innovative, whereas the committee reports are based on ideas introduced in the textbooks and articles. Curricula and studies are based on the textbooks, articles, committee reports, and other studies.

The essential cultural resources to assess pupils and to write about assessment are unity, coherence, truthfulness, as well as dividing the reality to produce control and order. Bureaucracy and science are the central social systems that are able to produce truths about assessment.

The differences between the results of this study and another study on Finnish educational reform (Simola 1995) can be explained through several perspectives. These are, first, the different ways of conceptualising power and time; and second, due to these conceptualisations, the broader scope of texts analysed.

The doctoral dissertation of M.Ed. Matti Vänttinen, entitled “A Truly Good Grade. The truths and the production of truths about pupil assessment from the parallel to the comprehensive educational system.”, will be examined at the Faculty of Education. The opponent in the public examination will be Professor Emeritus Kari E. Nurmi of the University Lapland, and the custos will be Professor Pirjo Nuutinen of the University of Eastern Finland.

For further information, please contact:
Matti Vänttinen, p. 044 72 55 440, matti.vanttinen(at)kuhmo.fi

Publishing year: 2011

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