Individuals’ prerequisites for education
Different characteristics of individuals, such as previous knowledge and intellectual and personality traits, are important for their successful participation in education. The department has a research tradition in this field that harks back to the 1950s, when Kjell Härnqvist conducted research on the so-called “reserves of talent” (Husén & Härnqvist, 2000) and on individual differences in cognitive ability. Current research focuses basic issues regarding the structure of cognitive abilities (e.g. Gustafsson, 2002), and in this context gender differences have also been examined (Rosén, 1998). Other research approaches have integrated the structure of abilities with developmental notions (Valentin Kvist & Gustafsson (2008)
Practical issues regarding the selection of applicants into different educational programmes are also investigated. The admissions system for higher education has been studied in a series of investigations (e.g. Carlstedt & Gustafsson, 2005, Cliffordson, 2004, Cliffordson & Askling, 2006, Svensson, 2004, Svensson & Nielsen, 2005, Åberg-Bengtsson, 2006). Among other things, we have shown grades to be a better predictor of achievement in higher education than the Swedish Scholastic Aptitude Test (SweSAT) (e.g., Cliffordson, in press). Another practically oriented research direction has targeted the development of instruments for measuring cognitive abilities in collaboration with researchers at the Swedish National Defence College (e.g. Ullstadius, Carlstedt & Gustafsson, 2004).
While grades work best for purposes of selection in the Swedish school system, there are at the same time problems of fairness in grading. Grades and grading also may have negative repercussions for work in schools and for individual students. Within the framework of a project financed by the Swedish Research Council, various aspects of grades and grading are being studied. Among other things, the focus is on what factors influence grading, beyond students knowledge and skills. In this research, both student factors, such as non-cognitive skills, and teacher and school factors are investigated.
Motivation is also highlighted in the group’s research, both as an important individual prerequisite for education and as an important outcome of education (Giota & Gustafsson, 2016). Within the framework of the above project the effects of grading on students’ motivation and self-esteem are also examined.
The ability to read is a key prerequisite for education, and research is under way within the group to elucidate reading difficulties, with the focus on dyslexia and its underlying causes (Wolff, 2005, Wolff & Lundberg, 2003). In this context there is also an interest in educational efforts and compensatory strategies that aim to enable dyslexic students to benefit from studies on equal terms. There is also an ongoing structured reading intervention study aimed at 9-year-olds with severe reading and writing difficulties. Another line of research is focussing on development of phonological skills in 4-year-olds. In this context a phonological training study is planned.
Studies of individuals’ prerequisites for education have also been associated with issues in educational sociology regarding the significance of social background for educational choices and study outcomes, and these matters also have a long tradition in the research of the group. They have successfully been elucidated with the aid of the longitudinal individual databases that Härnqvist and Svensson began to build up in the early 1960s, and that have been further elaborated to encompass register data for entire cohorts. Research on the importance of various factors for educational choices is still being done, now with a parallel focus on social background and gender (Berggren, 2008 a,b).
Organization and resources of education
The group also comprises researchers studying various structural and organizational aspects of the education system. A key issue is the relative importance of various resource factors, and one main finding is that the competence of teachers plays a major role (Gustafsson, 2003; Myrberg, 2007). Comparative studies of independent and municipal schools are also conducted (Myrberg & Rosén, 2006). Apace with the transformation of the Swedish school system, issues involving segregation and differentiation have attracted more and more attention (Gustafsson, 2006; Yang-Hansen, in press).
Outcomes of education at individual and system levels
Great attention is paid to describing and analysing the outcomes of education. These descriptions target knowledge and skills in several areas, but since the characteristics that constitute individual prerequisites for education are also affected by education, these too represent important outcomes of education.
One line of research that goes back to studies performed by Härnqvist in the 1960s investigates the impact of education on cognitive abilities, and both earlier and more recent studies show powerful effects of education on general cognitive abilities (Cliffordson & Gustafsson, in press).
Effects of education on students’ motivation and attitudes towards school is another important area that is being studied in comparisons among countries (e.g. Giota, in press), across time (Holfve-Sabel, 2006), and between different classrooms (Holfve-Sabel & Gustafsson, 2005).
Since the late 1990s researchers in the group have been involved in work with comparative studies of educational outcomes. This work has comprised both the performance of the Swedish component of the international reading study IEA PIRLS 2001 (Rosén, Myrberg, & Gustafsson, 2005) and the analysis of data from this and other IEA studies. A central issue is how the reading performance of Swedish students has changed over time, which is being investigated through the use of data from 1970, 1991, and 2001. In connection with this, researchers are investigating possible causes of the differences that have been observed. Another question involves the significance of students’ social background in different countries (Myrberg & Rosén, 2007, in press; Yang, 2003a, 2003b), and whether the connection between social background and school achievement has changed as a consequence of changes in Swedish schools.
Data and methods
A common feature of much of the research in the group is that it is based on large-scale investigations and often on register data. As mentioned above, since 1961 longitudinal studies of successive cohorts have been carried out at the department in close collaboration with Statistics Sweden, which has led to the collection of unique data material, presently called UGU in Swedish (Evaluation through follow-up in Swedish). In connection with various research projects, new data, including register data, have been added to the database. This database constitutes an extremely valuable resource, both in a national and an international perspective.
Much research is also being done involving the databases that have been built up from the comparative studies of students’ knowledge and skills, primarily IEA studies. Above all, reading studies have been in focus, but work has also been carried out on mathematics and science, which will be developed further.
Another common feature of much of the research is the use of multivariate statistical methods. Using these methods, many explanatory variables can be analysed simultaneously, and it is possible to work with latent, not directly observable variables. Further, these methods make it possible simultaneously to analyse data from several levels of observation (such as class and student), which opens up the possibility of studying questions that were previously difficult or impossible to address. The group is also interested in further elaborating such analytical methods.