Forkastet eller anerkendt? Et eksplorativt studie i folkeskoleelevers afgangseksamen i 'Dansk, skriftlig fremstilling'

    Publikation: AfhandlingPh.d.-afhandling

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    'Rejected or recognized? An exploratory study of the Danish written composition exam taken by students in their final year of compulsory education' is a socioculturally-based case study which investigates exam writing in context. The thesis takes the form of an anthology comprised of three research articles, each of which relates to the associated substudy, and concludes with an overarching summary. The three articles appear in the middle portion of the thesis and are bookended by three introductory and two summarizing chapters.
    In a so-called 'constellation analysis' of the writing prompt used to elicit student writing, of the student texts answering the prompt, and finally of the raters’ responses in the form of evaluations, first the prompt itself and then the student texts are illuminated qua social act, disciplinary discourse and text. Thereafter the perspective is turned towards the raters’ evaluative responses to the student texts. The rater’s quality norms are investigated as they come to expression, partly in the situated evaluation practice and partly reflexively and more generally in focus group conversations about the quality of exam writing.
    The backdrop to the study is current exam practice in the final year of Danish lower secondary education. This practice is characterized by variability, a degree of complacency and a knowledge deficit. Variability makes itself felt at many levels, but two features in particular stand out. Over the past five years the school leaving exam has moved from being a voluntary test to a high stakes exam that students need to pass to be eligible to go on to youth education programmes. Moreover, a new assessment practice has been introduced which involves only one rater, with concomitant low reliability and the absence of any dialogue between raters and teachers. Exam writing thus takes place in a context that is at once both consequential and fraught with insecurity. In addition, research has shown that both the exam and the teaching of writing are compromised by an absence of scrutiny, the ‘naturalization’ of writing and a degree of unreflectiveness. And lastly, there is a deficit of research that could deepen our understanding of exam writing as a quite specific genre with a specific contextuality. This socioculturally-based case study of exam writing as it currently stands seeks, among other things, to remedy this lack.
    Taking the student perspective as starting point and adopting an exploratory, knowledge-seeking approach, the overarching research question runs: What characterizes student exam writing qua text within the context of Folkeskolen’s school-leaving exam in written composition? This question is addressed through three subquestions, each relating to a substudy in the overall project and dealt with in the respective research article, together with a fourth, perspective-providing, question.
    1.What characterizes writing prompts for the Danish composition exam as a text within a context? This includes considering how the writing prompt constructs disciplinary discourse. And how the writing prompt positions its implied recipient as a writing subject.
    2.What characterizes the student texts from the school-leaving exam in written composition in terms, respectively, of social act, disciplinary discourse, and text from global to local level? This includes the textual norms inferable from the student texts. And how the students construct themselves as writers participating in textual culture.
    3.What qualitative norms form the basis of the raters’ evaluations and their award of particular grades at the school-leaving exam in Danish written composition? This includes considering how the raters construe their role in evaluation. And their perception of the student writers.
    4.What reflections do these studies prompt in relation both to research and Danish exam practice?
    The research question is addressed through a text-ethnographic study of a paradigmatic case: the Danish composition exam at the Case School on 4th May, 2017. The empirical material in part comprises readily available texts in the form of exercise material and framework documents, as well as 57 student texts, but also in part researcher-generated texts in the form of think-aloud evaluations and focus group conversations with raters.
    While self-standing in its own right, the project is a natural extension to the studies in writing cultures and writer development that were part of the project Writing to Learn, Learning to Write. Moreover, there are parallels with Norwegian research into exam writing, in particular the KAL project on the Norwegian school-leaving exam, and also with Swedish research on written composition tests in lower and upper secondary school. Theoretically the study is grounded in Nordic and international literacy research, with exam writing viewed from a sociocultural perspective as contextually grounded, displayed and developed in social interaction. Taking inspiration from New Literacy Studies and anthropological text theory, the exam situation is construed as a literacy event whose cultural and situational context contributes to the text’s structure and configuration. By the same token, the raters and the qualitative norms evoked in their evaluations operate within a context, and evaluation results need to be read in light of this.
    A specific analytic heuristic, the so-called Constellation Analysis Model, theoretically underpins this study, as well as offering an important methodological tool through enabling the analysis of the exam constellation’s literacy events in context. Given that this last is currently marked by variability and serious consequentiality, a key aim of the project has been to develop a methodology able to capture both the contextuality and intertextuality of the texts but also the complexity of the students’ discursive self-construction: students naturally seek to obtain (rater) recognition as worthy participants in textual culture, and by implication in the education system and society as such.
    The three substudies jointly illuminate the exam as a writing constellation in context. The first substudy, the article entitled “An invitation you can't refuse. An analysis of the final examination in written composition with a special focus on the writing prompt”, analyses the writing prompt qua text, and thus utterance in Bakhtin’s sense, and its positioning of the student writer. The findings show that the writing prompt is ambiguous in many aspects. It implicitly forces the student to operate in a complex and ambiguous communicative context with dual addressees and genre expectations. The student needs therefore to master dual positioning strategies such as, for example, signalling a fictional intentionality in addition to the immediate aim: to pass the exam. This duality is not made explicit, which may pose a challenge to those students in particular who do not intuitively pick up on the tacit norms.
    The second substudy, the article “Handling ambiguity under pressure: Student writers’ text norms and ‘writing selves’ at the final examination in written composition”, analyses the case’s 57 student texts – first extensively as part of the process of text selection for intensive reading, and then close analysis of those selected – taking into consideration how they were graded at the exam. The findings show that the texts exhibit a marked diversity and complexity, with correlations between textual construction and the grade awarded being relatively unclear. However, a multimodal design and careful attention to the demands of the writing prompt are rewarded only in part, while verbal text in a consciously literary style is acknowledged, and in part compensates for divergences from the explicit demands. Further, it appears to impact the assessment if the student understands how to position him/herself vis-à-vis the twofold aim of exam writing. The substudy’s close analyses identifies four different student approaches to the exam qua rhetorical act: strategic creativity, straight-up narration, intuitive staging and culturally competent communication.
    The third substudy, the article “Say it with neologisms! Raters’ use of qualitative norms and positionings in evaluating the school-leaving Danish composition exam”, investigates these norms and positionings in the indexes of them that appear in the think-aloud evaluations of a small selection of texts and in focus group conversations. The findings reinforce previous research-based critiques of the fact that exam grades, despite their weak reliability, continue to be used as a student selection tool. Most specifically, the study uncovers a double-edgedness to the raters’ qualitative norms: writing prompts are ex-pected to be answered in student texts but that does not suffice. The raters also place high value on the capacity to meet veiled qualitative norms not explicitly communicated to students and teachers. There are indications of a discipline-specific interpretative community among raters, as well as individual variations, which is problematic, given the importance of interrater reliability. To some extent, raters read student texts as were they metonymic representations of the writers, while remaining confident that the exam system is fit for purpose.
    The condensed findings from the three substudies are melded into a proposal for the modelling of exam writing as a semiocy event. The model combines the theoretical underpinnings of this thesis with the empirical findings to provide an exemplary analysis of the exam answer of one of the students, Anna.
    Fundamentally, the thesis regards exam writing as a social act and thus as a distinct genre in neo rhetoric terms. It is argued theoretically that the sociocultural perspective and methodological participant focus, which first privileges the student perspective and thereafter the rater perspective, brings important insights that can usefully supplement the more widely used psychometric analysis in research on exam writing. In conclusion, certain findings are discussed that bear on the current Danish exam system’s status as a high stakes exam in an evaluation system marked by low reliability, and the continuing need for further research as well as a research-led revision of current practice.
    Bevilgende institution
    • Syddansk Universitet
    • Elf, Nikolaj, Hovedvejleder
    • Berge, Kjell Lars, Bivejleder, Ekstern person
    Dato for forsvar2. nov. 2020
    StatusUdgivet - 20. nov. 2020


    • Exam writing
    • Literacy studies
    • Danish secondary school
    • School-leaving exam
    • Written composition