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Urge taking a critical perspective to international research on schools

Researchers have looked at what research says about tests and student performance and discovered that it is not always transferable to the Norwegian context.

Happy schoolgirls reading to their classmates.

National Tests in Norwegian Schools

The national tests in Norwegian schools have been a debated issue for many years. Many have strong opinions about student performance and how the tests should be used.

"To put it bluntly, student performance is the solution to many things in schools to some people, while for others, the results are a problem for development in and of the school," says Sølvi Mausethagen, researcher at the Centre for the Study of Professions (SPS) at HiOA.

"There are few Norwegian studies in this field, however."

This means that schools must look to international research to find good information. Researchers have now studied what this international research actually says about student performance. They believe that it is not always transferable to the Norwegian context.

How Is Student Performance Used?

"Municipal managers, head teachers and teachers have received more and more information about student performance over the past decade. Knowledge of how the data should be used is nonetheless limited," explains Tine S. Prøitz. She is associate professor at the University College of Southeast Norway and one of the researchers behind the study.

The team has reviewed English, German and Scandinavian research. They have seen that the students' perspectives are barely included in the research.

"The studies largely deal with the structure and organisation of student performance, but less about how the teachers actually use the data in practice and which problems they encounter," says researcher Guri Skedsmo at the University of Oslo.

"Student performance data are easily taken to be effective and useful, without them necessarily being effective and useful to those who are going to use them," says Sølvi Mausethagen.

She points out that it is necessary to use several sources when interpreting the performance data and working on developing the schools' own practice. However, this matter is not raised in current research.

"The head teacher is generally emphasised as the key person to use student performance data, while there is little research on the actual interaction between head teachers and teachers. We could say that there is more about the school than for the school," explains Prøitz.

Different School Systems Give Different Research

"The USA, for example, has long traditions of using externally designed and standardised tests, while in Europe, many countries have tended to use the teachers' own internal assessments, such as tests they have drawn up themselves, in assessment and development work," explains Prøitz.

"There is also different research traditions. In the USA, the focus has been on student performance being useful to schools and less questions have been asked in relation to negative consequences. In the Nordic countries and Germany, tests of this kind have been introduced at a later date and researchers have taken a more critical perspective to the use of student performance, not least because it represents something new that breaks with traditions," says Skedsmo.

Differences in the Role of the Teacher in Schools

The researchers therefore underline the importance of being aware of differences in school systems and different research traditions, and that we must be cautious when directly transferring research results from studies carried out in other countries to the Norwegian context.

"This could be problematic since there are major differences in school systems and in the role of the teacher in schools. It is also interesting and important to discuss the use of performance data across these systems and traditions," emphasises Mausethagen.

"At the same time, this is a young field of research and the use of student performance is often imprecisely dealt with in the literature. Our study shows that this is a field of research that lacks theory."

"It will be exciting to follow the fields' development. To what degree will Scandinavian and German research traditions influence the international debate on standardised test results?" Prøitz wonders.

Read More About the Project

The project Practices of data use in municipalities and schools (PraDa) aims to enhance knowledge about how the information regarding student performance on national tests and students' grades is used by municipalities and schools.

Read More About the Research Group TEPEE

The research group  Studies of the teaching profession, teacher education and education policy (TEPEE) studies issues related to the interaction and tension between educational policy and the different levels of the educational system. This also details research on the teaching profession in the past, present and future and the development of teacher training programmes.


Tine S. Prøitz, Sølvi Mausethagen and Guri Skedsmo: Data use in education alluring attributes and productive processes. Nordic Journal of Studies in Educational Policy. 2017.

Anniken Jess Iversen Published: Updated: