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International Large-Scale Assessments in Political and Professional Decision Making in a Nordic Welfare State.

Conference contribution
Authors Daniel Pettersson
Gun-Britt Wärvik
Published in At the panel "Educational Facts in the Making? International Large-Scale Assessments in Research, Mass Media, and Policy Discourses", AERA Annual Meeting in Toronto, April 5-9.
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Education and Special Education
Language en
Keywords Science-society interactions, education governance, large scale assessments
Subject categories Pedagogy


The paper focuses on the science-society interaction in education through the lens of how large-scale assessments are used in political and professional decision-making in Sweden on the educational agora (cf. Nowotny et al, 2001). The notion of agora is here seen as a dynamic intersection of a manifold of actors with often diverging interests and voices, embracing institutions and experts involved in production of knowledge about education. The aim of the paper is to illuminate how a specific reasoning on measurements took form in the mid 1950s and has changed over the decades through the introduction of ILSA, and in connection with changing relations between research and policy making on the educational agora. The paper consists of three parts: The first part is a historical investigation on how national large-scale assessments were used in Swedish policy-making during the late 1950s and early 1960s for legitimation and construction of the Swedish compulsory comprehensive school in terms of handling questions on differentiation, talent, individual learning tracks and “social engineering”. This part of the study is based on media analyzes from the 1950s and 1960s and includes significant events and actors involved. Later on, international large-scale assessments came to be built on this reasoning (Hacking, 2002), but instead of justifying reforms for improved quality, measurements are now used to show the outcomes of reforms in terms of quality, also meaning changing relations between policy and research on the agora. Therefore, in the second part, we further elaborate on the specific reasoning framing large-scale assessments on the Swedish educational agora (nationally and internationally), including new positions and practices. This part is based on interviews with 16 actors deeply involved in the development of large-scale assessments in Sweden, representing research as well as policy. In the third part, based on the historical media analyzes and the interviews, we “construct” a presentation of knowledge producing dynamics and the making of differences at the agora, increasingly centered around very local/national, thin, and time-bound hierarchies of value (cf Nybom, 2013) – not only of relevance for the Swedish case but has larger international representativeness both historically and contemporary. In conclusion, the paper deals with how educational reasoning relates to measuring students’ performances for the purpose of guiding policy as well as how research is performed for guidance on educational decisions for higher educational “quality”, but based on different reasoning. Thereby, we can show how the notion of “quality” changes as well as how education is “thought” alters.

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