We are reaching out to the AEA-Europe community in search for national assessment policy experts that are willing to contribute to the generation of policy information on Educational Assessment Systems in Europe (EASE). Acknowledging the validity problems of producing valid and comparable ‘thick’ policy descriptions, the EASE project seeks to cooperate with several assessment researchers and practitioners in each European country in order to substantiate and validate policy descriptions. The policy information is generated through two research projects funded by the Swedish Research Council (‘Vetenskapsrådet’) and the Swedish National Agency for Education (‘Skolverket’), chaired by Professor Christian Lundahl at Örebro University (Lundahl et al 2015, Lundahl et al 2016 forthcoming). These projects have been developed in relation to the research projects Paris to Pisa – Governing education by comparison 1867-2015 and Assessment and Selection in the Scandinavian Education systems (ASSESS). Doctoral student at the University of Oslo, Sverre Tveit, is in charge of the digital platform for generating and validating policy descriptions and the correspondence with policy experts across the European countries.
The generated policy information largely builds on information provided by the EURYDICE network. Facilitated by the European Commission’s Education, Audiovisual, and Culture Executive Agency, Eurydice provides European-level analyses and facilitates comparison of education policies in Europe developed to assist national states’ policymakers. Eurydice can be described as a form of Web-based encyclopedia using a similar structure as, for example, the country systems report in the International Encyclopedia of Education (Lundahl, 2014). Research about social knowledge has often been interested in the (micro) processes that shape scientific knowledge (e.g. Camic et al. 2011).
Encyclopedias often claim to be collections of facts—i.e. a knowledge storeroom. Typically, we perceive facts as ‘unconstructed by anyone’ (Latour and Woolgar 1979/1986). But producing an encyclopedia is not a straightforward and simple editorial process. Sections, headings, topics and the structure of the entries are constantly changed based on new insights and on circumstances beyond anyone’s control. A better way to frame the knowledge in an encyclopedia would be to understand it as a product of a specific epistemic culture—the actual and theoretical conditions of the production of knowledge (Knorr Cetina 1999). To put it differently, it is not only ‘truth criteria’ (or the preservation/development of knowledge) that can be expected as a reason to produce an encyclopedia. Encyclopedias can be treated as we treat other kinds of knowledge. Knowledge is geographical, sociological and chronological (Burke 2012). In other words, we can expect editors of an encyclopedia such as Eurydice to struggle with geographical and periodical frames, translations and issues of deciding on relevance and limitations of content and of contributors.
There is not much written about the use of this type of comparative data describing countries’ educational systems. In order to facilitate an overview and in-depth insight into characteristics of European countries’ policies on educational assessment, we investigate Eurydice data sources, OECD reports and country profile articles in the journal Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice journal along with other scholarly work. So far we have observed serious validity problems related both to the construction and use of data intended to facilitate such comparisons. These include methodological challenges with regards to classification of information from national education systems within standardized categories, but also problems of establishing conceptual equivalence (Schriewer, 2003) related to concepts such as ‘grades’, ‘accountability’, ‘high-stakes assessment’, ‘formative assessment’ and ‘summative assessment’. Thus, different interpretations across countries may cause vast reporting variations. These problems of constructing and using comparative policy data prompt complex challenges for researchers and for policymakers alike, when referring to research studies or borrowing policies from other countries.
Burke, Peter 2012. A Social History of Knowledge II: From the Encyclopédie to Wikipedia. Cambridge: Polity.
Camic, Charles, Neil Gross, and Michèle Lamont (Eds.) 2011. Social knowledge in the making. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Knorr Cetina, Karin. 1999. Epistemic Cultures. How the Sciences Make Knowledge. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Latour, Bruno and Steve Woolgar, S. 1979/1986. Laboratory Life. The Construction of Scientific Facts. NJ: Princeton University Press.
Lundahl, Christian. 2014. “The Book of Books – Encyclopaedic Writing in the Science of Education in the 1980s.” In Transnational Policy Flows in European Education, edited by Andreas Nordin and Daniel Sundberg, 79–103. London: Symposion Books.
Lundahl, Christian, and Sverre Tveit. 2014. “Att Legitimera Nationella Prov i Sverige och i Norge – en Fråga om Profession och Tradition.” Pedagogisk forskning i Sverige 19(4–5): 297–323.
Lundahl, Christian, Hultén, Magnus,Klapp, Alli, Mickwitz, Larissa (2015). Betygens geografi – Forskning om betyg och summativa bedömningar i Sverige och internationellt. [the Geography of grading – research on grades and summative assessments in Sweden and internationally: Stockholm: The Swedish Research Council. https://publikationer.vr.se/produkt/betygens-geografi-forskning-om-betyg-och-summativa-bedomningar-i-sverige-och-internationellt/
Lundahl, Christian, Hultén, Magnus, Tveit, Sverre (forthcoming 2016). Betygssystem i internationell belysning [Assessment systems in an international perspective). Stockholm: Swedish National Agency of Education.
Schriewer, Jürgen. 2003. “Comparative Education Methodology in Transition: Towards a Science of Complexity.” In Discourse Formation in Comparative Education, edited by Jürgen Schriewer, 3–52. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.