Establishing national standards for students' writing: A discussion of methodological approach
This presentation focuses on the process of establishing standards for students’ writing at two specified grades in Norway. The study aims at answering the question: Which specified norms of writing competency can reasonably be expected at the beginning of 5th and 8th grade – and thus serve as standards for students’ writing at these levels? The study is part of a larger research project (Developing national standards for the assessment of writing. A tool for teaching and learning, 2012-16) anchored in a social semiotic construct of writing (cf. Thygesen et al 2007).
The main challenge at the departure of this study was to decide on how to get hold of knowledge about students’ writing competency. Assuming that experienced teachers are the ones that best hold this (often tacit) knowledge, we search answer to our question among teachers. By assessing students’ texts and verbalizing their assessments, our assumption is that the teachers will reveal their norms of expectations of students’ writing. We thus seek support in a reconstructing method (Habermas 1991).
Data was collected in a set of ten geographically distributed schools where teachers from 4th and 7th grade were observed while assessing texts. The teachers worked in groups and individually, their conversations and monologues being recorded. This situation is inspired by the “think aloud”-method (Ericsson & Simon 1993). The teachers were also interviewed about their expectations of the students writing and their grading of the texts related to a differentiated scale of assessment. Twice the teachers from the schools met to assess texts together and discuss where the bar should be put as to what it is reasonable to expect of the students’ writing. On the background of analyses of these data, combined with empirical findings on children’s writing development and calibrated against the curriculum, the final standards were put together and refined by the researchers.
These norms of expectations in writing (standards) will be discussed, with a focus on challenges related to accountability and validity.