Assessment of learning outcomes in A syllabus of English in basic education grade 7, autumn 2018
The Finnish Education Evaluation Centre will assess the learning outcomes of basic education grade 7 pupils in the A syllabus of English in September 2018. The assessment will include both schools where the language of instruction is Finnish and Swedish-speaking schools. In basic education grades 1 to 6, English is the most commonly studied foreign language: in autumn term 2016, it was studied by 71% of the pupils in total, either as a common or a free-choice foreign language. At that time, 18% of the pupils were studying other foreign languages. In practice, all pupils in grades 7 to 9 were studying English (Statistics Finland 2017).
The purpose of this assessment is to obtain reliable information at the national level on the achievement of the objectives set in the National core curriculum for basic education (EDUFI 2014) at a transition point of the education system as the pupils move from lower to higher comprehensive school. This is a longitudinal study, which means that the same pupils will be re-assessed at the final stage of grade 9. Key questions in the assessment are the pupils’ language proficiency in content areas described in the National core curriculum for basic education 2014 (Interaction skills, Text interpretation skills, Text production skills). The assessment will also investigate what pupils do to improve their language study skills and language awareness, for example whether they set targets for their personal learning and how they use different learning environments. The links between learning outcomes on the one hand, and the pupils’ background factors and features of the learning environment on the other, will produce information on the realisation of equality and fairness in education.
The assessment will be carried out electronically, using a laptop or desktop computer. According to the National core curriculum, the teaching and learning of languages should also promote the development of pupils’ multiliteracy (EDUFI 2014, 219). Information and communication technology provides a natural opportunity for implementing language assessment based on authentic situations (EDUFI 2014, 221).
Different conclusions can be drawn and recommendations made for the development of teaching, studying and learning English on the basis of the key learning outcomes in the A syllabus in English. The most important ones have been compiled below.
The majority of the projects on starting language learning at an earlier age focus on the English language (www.oph.fi/kehittamishankkeet/kieltenkarkihanke, link in Finnish) and the consequences of this should be considered.
- The majority of the pupils who participated in the evaluation in autumn 2018 reached the good level of knowledge and skills corresponding to grade 8 at school (proficiency level A2.1) after only four years of studying. We should therefore reflect on how the current good level of proficiency is proportioned to the increased number or lesson hours. Should the level required for good proficiency at the end of 6th grade be raised?
- Information on the effects that starting language learning at an earlier age has on the learning outcomes should therefore be gathered when the first age groups that started at an earlier age reach the final stage of 6th grade. The effects of the increased number of lesson hours could then be assessed.
In the instruction of English, attention should be paid especially to supporting pupils who have difficulties in learning and studying English at the end of primary school.
- Because it is not possible to influence pupil’s background factors (e.g. parents’ educational background), pupils who perform weakly must be supported in their studies at the earliest possible stage.
- A division into pupils with good and weak skills in English can already be seen at the beginning of lower secondary school and it may affect pupils’ plans for further education. One in five pupils who completed all the skill components did not reach a good level of knowledge and skills in any of them.
- Using English in their free time significantly improved pupils’ skills. Pupils should therefore be encouraged to take advantage of the versatile material available in English also in the future, as digital technology enables diverse places for language learning regardless of where the pupil lives.
Practice in working skills that support learning English must be increased at school and assessment practices must be diversified.
- Setting objectives for one’s own learning was rare in primary school, although the National core curriculum emphasises the importance of pupil’s participation. Learning languages requires perseverance and diverse, continuous and encouraging feedback on one’s strengths and weaknesses. Only some of pupils’ skills can be captured by written tests.
- Based on feedback received from teachers and pupils especially on the oral test, more efforts must be made to improve oral proficiency and confidence to speak. Oral skills are currently an integral part of language proficiency.
- Pupils’ positive attitude to the English language must be made use of as a valuable resource in learning. One way to do this is to give pupil’s interest in the English language in their free time a visible part in the school’s assessment practices and also otherwise in studying at school.
Teachers must be given the opportunity to develop their assessment literacy.
- Criterion-referenced assessment has already been used in the learning and teaching of languages for almost two decades. However, this evaluation showed that interpreting the criteria and using them in teaching is still not a natural part of the competence of all teachers of (the English) language. Considerably more attention should therefore be paid to this competence need in teacher education and in-service training of language teachers.
- The development of teachers’ assessment literacy must be goal-oriented and continuous activity, in which good practices are disseminated to teachers in an easily available form. To support teachers in their assessment work, for instance, test performances in speaking and writing from learners of different ages should be gathered to be used as typical examples of different proficiency levels. In Finland, such material is not available especially as regards young learners’ knowledge and skills in English (aged between 12 and 13).