Maria Frisch
Maria Frisch

Maria Frisch:
Teachers' understanding and assessment of oral proficiency.

Granskare var docent Raili Hildén, Helsingfors universitet.

In contemporary discourse on education in Sweden, there is a focus on educational efficiency and student achievement. Aspects of uniformity and equity in grading are often emphasized and the lack thereof is frequently attributed to teachers. English is one of the most important subjects in school, according to policy documents and also according to teachers and students. In an effort to explore one part of English language proficiency taught in school and how it is graded, this study investigates how twelve skilled language teachers define oral proficiency, how they grade the oral part of the national test for English for year 9 and what influences their grading practice.

The analyses of the interviews and the discussions reveal a variety in perceptions of oral proficiency among the teachers. These different orientations to the phenomenon seem to be based on teachers' individual pedagogical philosophies. It is through their orientations that the informants in this study interpret the policy documents, and their orientations thus permeate their teaching as well as their assessment practice.

The analyses of the data further show that the informants are well acquainted with the current policy documents and the national test. However, they feel pressed for time when it comes to assessing the tests and wish for more time for discussions on assessment.

The informants themselves also express concerns about certain local factors influencing them in in their assessment and grading of oral proficiency. They point to the group of students they are teaching as well as the community of colleagues at their local schools impacting their judgment.

The subjective judgment of an expert teacher is needed for qualitative assessment of a complex proficiency as oral communicative competence. Professional judgment introduces subjectivity into the rating process, which will be a constant dilemma in a fairness and equity perspective. Therefore extended discussions to minimize variation in grading are needed.

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