Elisabeth Hovdhaugen, Iped (UiO)/NIFU & Idunn Seland, NIFU
National tests in Norway - a contested standard in education
An OECD report on Norwegian educational policy in 1990 recommended sample tests to measure students’ learning outcomes and monitor quality development in a highly decentralized school system. In the report, the OECD investigators discussed what they perceived as “anxiety about standards” in the Norwegian educational system. Hence, the tests were suggested as tools for school development rather than standard setting.
The central idea of the national tests in Norway, as they were first introduced in 2004, is that they should be able to give both management information and pedagogical information at the individual level. Following a market-inspired ideal of providing comparable information about school quality, the authorities also publicize the results and mean scores, giving the impression of standards in education.
In this article, we investigate how the tests are employed to meet these diverging ends in Norwegian primary schools. We find that principals and teachers struggle to unite the idea of standard setting that the tests have come to represent, and the potential for pedagogical development the tests can provide. As neither purpose seem satisfactorily fulfilled by the current use of the test results, a modification from anxiety to reluctance about standards in Norwegian schools can be explained.