Measuring, recording and judging the value of individual achievements and societal phenomena is nothing new. In one sense, it is a natural part of what it means to be a human among humans, that is, a phenomenon that is part and parcel of culture. The systematic character and scale of evaluation today, however, reflect a more modern, rational approach to this activity. The increasingly frequent use being made of evaluation and assessment is linked to the assumption that individuals and societies are amenable to development. Associated with this is a goals–and–means philosophy, with planning and evaluation as key components. Although – or perhaps precisely because – this rationality has been challenged, much emphasis is placed on the importance of carefully following, monitoring and evaluating activities and their out-comes. Nowadays, moreover, our dependence on knowledge is underscored. Concepts such as a knowledge economy or society, and lifelong and life-wide learning, can be seen as examples of this. In political and economic terms, the result has been a growing interest in the contribution education can make to the development of society.
In 2008 some three million individuals were involved in child day care or in preschool, primary, secondary, adult or higher education in Sweden. In addition, there were the people employed in school and other education and in research, and the 2.1 million who participated in some form of staff training.
Education, in other words, is an activity that tangibly affects a great many people. Although education for children and young people is provided in both the public and the private sector, it is funded mainly from the public purse. That means that, economically, education is our biggest policy area, a fact which in itself invites considerable interest in questions concerning its meaning, effectiveness and benefits, for both the individual and society.
From the standpoint of educational science, assessment can be regarded as one of the systems by which education signals what knowledge is important and how knowledge, skills and proficiency can be expressed, discerned and communicated. Together with curriculum and pedagogy, assessment or evaluation is thus one of what the sociologist of education Basil Bernstein (1971/1980) called the “message systems” of education. Grades and diplomas also serve as tools for selection, opening or closing doors to different educational pathways and careers. Assessment and grading by teachers thus crucially influence students’ life chances. Against this background, it is hardly surprising that questions of pupil achievement, school results and the effects of education are high on the agenda of public and educational debate. Here, it will be explored whether this is also the case in research.
Stockholm: Vetenskapsrådet , 2010. , 141 p.