How to Support the Development of Generic Skills in Subject Courses Through National Assessment? *
In recent years, the education researchers at the University of Tartu have focused on ways to support the development of students’ generic skills in Estonian schools, where the national curriculum is subject-based and teaching has traditionally focused on subjects.
This article describes how we have developed standard-determining tests to enable the assessment of students’ general skills and thus better support their development together with subject teaching. International tests do not provide sufficient feedback on students’ learning performance at the school, class or individual student level. Nor are they flexible enough to tailor assessment to changes in the national curriculum. In our article, we discuss the development of national assessment in two focus areas within PISA tests – Mother Tongue and Sciences.
It is internationally accepted that the aim of studies and assessment of learning outcomes in science-related STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects is developing scientific literacy. The national curriculum of the Estonian basic school defines scientific literacy as the ability to observe, understand and explain objects, phenomena and processes existing in the natural, artificial and social environment; to identify and define problems in the environment and solve them creatively, using the scientific method; the ability to value biodiversity and a responsible and sustainable way of life and to appreciate being in nature. The national assessment of sciences evaluates the levels of students’ achievement at the end of schooling. The standard-determining test is based on the models of inquiry-based learning and socio-scientific decision making developed at the Institute of Education. These models support the students’ ability to search for patterns in processes in real world contexts, to formulate hypotheses and questions, to check them through experimentation or observation, and to take into account different considerations in decision-making and to justify their position. Both of the theoretical models, which are central to the national assessment in science, focus on skills that are generic and applicable more widely than in science subjects. Permitting the use of the Internet in answering the national assessment questions also supports the developing of generic skills. As an additional important innovation, each student is electronically sent personalised feedback and suggestions for further learning after completing the standard-determining test.
In assessing proficiency in the Estonian language, distinction is made between the literal, the inferential and the evaluative levels of understanding of the written and oral text. In the first stage of schooling, students’ text comprehension at the literal level is measured. In the second and third stages, the focus is on the student’s ability to compare, analyse and evaluate information. However, it appears that the developmental change of the students is not always taken into account when designing text comprehension tests. In order for the national assessment to really support the effective learning and teaching of the mother tongue, it is important to make sure that the standard-determining tests that measure the same competencies and have a similar level of difficulty are used to assess the skills of students of the same age in different years.
In conclusion, we can say that the national assessment standard-determining tests direct to solve the problems and adopt decisions systematically, but also show that problems often do not have one and only one solution. Developing of more complicated skills, recognising the ability to solve problems and provide new creative solutions, using of the available knowledge wisely should to be acknowledged more widely in the Estonian society, because these skills will be applied to novel situations that we cannot even imagine today.
* Peer-reviewed article