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FINNUT-Forskning og innovasjon i utdanningssektoren

Practices of data use in municipalities and schools

Alternative title: Læreres, rektorers og kommuners bruk av elevresultater

Awarded: NOK 4.9 mill.

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Project Period:

2014 - 2018


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In PraDa, we have studied practices of data use in Norwegian municipalities and schools. Although there has been an increase in student performance data available for local authorities, school leaders, and teachers, knowledge about how the data is used is scarce. In the project we have studied teachers, principals and school owners in three secondary schools in three different municipalities (with different quality assessment systems) over three years. We have observed meetings, conducted interviews and performed document analyzes. We have found how national tests have resulted in new organizational routines such as "performance meetings" between school leaders and teachers, and also between schools and between the principals of a municipality. When summarizing the findings of our qualitative study, we see that the use of national test data at the school level includes various dimensions, namely: (1) integration of knowledge sources, and what we can describe as a knowledge dimension, (2) use of equalization strategies and simplification strategies from school leaders to get in a position to conduct development work, and (3) negotiation between different values, which can be described as a value dimension. These dimensions are closely related and are important for understanding the processes of using student test data in schools. If we move from school level to municipality level, this level is characterized by municipal leaders who have developed different goal hierarchies and governing styles. This means, among other things, that they, in accordance with the municipalities' objectives, vary in perspectives of what learning outcomes are about (if understood in broad or narrow sense) and in how they organize the work of influencing school leaders (if they are more important to dialogue for development or control of results). The variations in goal hierarchies and governing styles reflect local variation, local quality assessment systems, personal goals and values, and how they think about their own role and how they can affect the work of leaders and teachers in school. From the quantitative survey among teachers, school leaders and municipal school administrators, we have seen that different profiles are identified in the players' use of student results and other types of sources of knowledge to assess the schools? work. For the school leaders, the results of national tests and the so-called pupil survey come forth as the most important sources of information to assess the school's work. These sources are also important for the municipal leaders, who in addition consider user surveys among officers as more important than the school leaders. Teachers use results from national tests to a lesser degree than the school leaders and the municipal leaders. Although teachers perceive national tests as an important knowledge source, they also use a number of knowledge sources that are more closely linked to the teachers' practices and, of course, allow them to follow up the students more closely. It also appears that results from national tests have an important function at the system level by providing information about the students? competence at the individual school. This is supported by the school leaders 'answers to how they use results from national tests, which are partly about using the results for different purposes at their own schools (monitoring the school's performance development over time, developing strategies for development work, evaluating teachers' work, decided upon the need for professional competence), and to compare their own school with other schools in the municipality. Although there are important differences in how student results are used in municipalities and schools, especially considering different quality assessment systems, some of the interesting things we find in our study are related to what is similar aspects of data use across municipalities and schools. In summary, we can say that the differences are greatest at municipal level, less at school level and least at the teacher level. In particular, we see this in the performance meetings between managers and teachers, which shows why observations of the concrete practices in which the results are used is important in understanding data use. We can also say that the practices are characterized by being hybrid and that the players are characterized by a desire to take control of what the student data and use should mean to them. For example, we do not really find many objections to the national tests. Seen in relation to the review study of international research, the findings thus also show the importance of building a critical mass of studies conducted in Scandinavian and Nordic context for further development of the research field.

This project proposal is for the Young Researcher Grant and addresses issues under priority area C; it also contributes to areas A and B. The project will explore practices of data use in municipalities and schools. During the last decade, although there has been an increase in information available for local authorities, school leaders, and teachers in terms of student performance, knowledge about how data are used is scarce. Practices of data use will be investigated in terms of what happens when indivi duals interact with two assessment tools: national testing and grading. The first tool represents a new innovation, while the second is a more traditional mode of assessment. From a governance perspective, the first represents a way for national authoriti es to coordinate actions and activities; as such, it has a stronger accountability logic. Even though there is a growing interest in the study of data use internationally, only limited research has been carried out on data use at different organizational levels; equally, theories of organizational development that might suggest possible pathways between practices of data use and student outcomes have not been developed. Such investigations will be made possible through a multi-methodological and longitudi nal design, where a cohort of students (and thereby their teachers, principals, and local authorities) in three lower secondary schools in different municipalities are followed from levels 8 to 10. Two surveys and qualitative studies (observations of meet ings, interviews, and documents) will be conducted. Municipalities with different characteristics in terms of quality assurance systems will be cases that merit closer investigation. The surveys will be conducted in a third of the municipalities of Norway , also using data that are already available on student performance. This research will develop new knowledge of national and international significance in the field of data use and educational accountability.

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FINNUT-Forskning og innovasjon i utdanningssektoren