Academic journal article Journal for Educational Research Online

How Do Teachers Prepare Their Students for Statewide Exit Exams?: A Comparison of Finland, Ireland, and the Netherlands

Academic journal article Journal for Educational Research Online

How Do Teachers Prepare Their Students for Statewide Exit Exams?: A Comparison of Finland, Ireland, and the Netherlands

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Statewide exit exams (SWEE) have specific and sometimes diverging or competing functions within school systems. SWEE are used to assure comparable, objective, and trustworthy certification and selection (e.g., Eckstein & Noah, 1993). In addition, they are often accredited with a positive effect on school effectiveness and student achievements (e.g., Bishop & Wößmann, 2004). The extent to which SWEE can actually affect and standardize the outcome of schooling, however, has not yet been clarified. Studies that investigate the association between graduation requirements and performance levels, performance variance, or achievement gains have varying results across different states, exam formats, subjects, course types, and stages of education (e.g., Baumert & Watermann, 2000; Bishop, 1995; Cosentino de Cohen, 2010; Holme, Richards, Jimerson, & Cohen 2010; Shuster, 2012). Evidently, SWEE do not affect the outcomes of schooling in a direct and uniform way. However, they have an indirect influence on teaching and learning processes.

High stakes testing (HST) research in the USA suggests that HST has a limited positive impact on the quality of instruction, but can have tremendous side effects on organizational features (e.g., reallocation of educational resources), teacher cognitions (e.g., increased stress), and teaching and learning habits (e.g., teaching to the test). This is especially the case with schools that face challenging circumstances (e.g., Au, 2007). These findings, however, are not directly comparable with SWEE especially in Europe, since HST often differs from SWEE in content and organization (e.g., minimum competences vs. end-of-course exams) and the stakes attached (SWEE usually have high stakes attached for the students, but often only limited if any consequences for the schools) (Klein & van Ackeren, 2011). The effects of SWEE on instructional processes and the features of the exams that affect schools across different exam systems have so far only been investigated to a very limited degree and in specific regions. Moreover, SWEE studies usually explore one or two very similar SWEE systems so that it is difficult to identify the extent to which the observed effects are valid in other contexts. In addition, instructional processes are often studied shortly after a new exam system has been implemented, making it difficult to differentiate implementation effects from the long-term effects of SWEE (Klein, Krüger, Kühn, & van Ackeren, 2014).

This paper reports the results of an exploratory study that analyzed the strategies used by teachers to prepare their students for the upcoming exams in three European countries with SWEE systems that were introduced several decades ago. The SWEE systems differ in terms of design and the stakes attached for students and schools. In the study, teachers in upper secondary education in Finland, Ireland, and the Netherlands were asked about their preparation strategies in a standardized questionnaire survey. The goal was to shed light on the association between teachers' in-class preparation strategies and their attitudes towards the exams (i.e., motivation, confidence, and perceived de-professionalization) in the three different SWEE systems. The study outlines how the exams may affect instructional processes in theory and summarize the current state of research on SWEE. The study design and methodology are described as well as the SWEE systems in the three countries. Finally, the results of the study are reported.

2. Conceptual framework

SWEE are often believed to influence both the contents that are taught in schools and the way in which they are taught. SWEE therefore: prompt schools to try to ensure that students meet achievement standards through a positive backwash effect (Prodromou, 1995) that aligns the delivered and the intended curriculum (e.g., Eckstein & Noah, 1993); help the state emphasize core contents; support a quick implementation of curricular innovations (e. …

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