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The influence of national curricula and national assessments on teachers’ beliefs about the goals of school mathematics
Umeå University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics.
2014 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

What students should learn in school and therefore also what teachers should teach is an important issue worldwide. Mathematics teaching (and teaching in other subjects) is often regulated by some form of governing text in a written curriculum communcating a set of standards. Another common mean through which policy is communicated is assessments, which for example can convey policy by communicating desirable outcomes in student learning. A common problem with regulating what teachers do through policy means is that it often is difficult to achieve intended changes.

This study investigates the impact of a national reform in Sweden initiated in 1994, introducing mathematical competency goals by communicating them through the national curriculum and national assessments. The study is based on analysis of data obtained from the Swedish Schools Inspectorate (SSI), which conducted a quality review of upper secondary school mathematics teaching. During this quality review, the SSI collected data on a representative sample of 145 upper secondary mathematics teachers through interviews, observations, and surveys. This was done in 2009 and 2010, which means that the reform from a time perspective has had ample time to exert influence on teachers. In the study the data obtained from the SSI was analyzed in order to answer two questions: 

  1. have teachers changed their beliefs about the goals of upper secondary school mathematics in line with the intentions of the reform, and
  2. why have, or have they not, changed their beliefs about the goals of upper secondary school mathematics in line with the intentions of the reform?

In research on teachers’ reception of policy messages, similar to the one introduced in Sweden, it has been found that a common response to these messages is that teachers are positive to the message. However, although positive, teachers have often been found to only adopt superficial properties of the reform while still maintaining a highly traditional view of teaching and the goals of teaching, not consistent with the intentions of the reform. Therefore, the questions in this study were examined by using a model that can explain why teachers, when confronted with a reform message, change their beliefs in profound or superficial ways, or not at all. Through analysis of the SSI-data, measures on constructs of the model were obtained, and with statistical means it was examined whether the model can account for the changes in teachers’ beliefs about the goals of upper secondary school mathematics.

The results of the study suggest that the Swedish reform has had a relatively small impact, and that the model can give an explanation to why some Swedish upper secondary teachers of mathematics have changed their beliefs in line with the reform, some have changed them in superficial ways, and some have not changed them in any discernable way. Whether teachers perceive the reform as entailing an important and non-trivial change for them seems to be of utmost importance. The results of this study suggest that if teachers do not perceive this, they will not process the message deeply, which by the results of this study suggest that there is little chance for them to change their beliefs in a profound way. If they however do perceive the message as entailing an important and non-trivial change, this study suggests that chances are greater that teachers will change their beliefs in line with the reform. Teachers’ interest in the subject and their perceptions of the usefulness of the documents communicating the message are then in this study suggested to be important factors influencing whether teachers will process the reform message systematically, which in turn heavily influences whether they will change their beliefs in a profound way. One practical implication, suggested by this study is that when policy communicates a new and non-trivial message with the intention of influencing teachers, it is important that the message is communicated clearly. Such clarity makes it more difficult for a teacher to superficially interpret the message as being in accordance with the teacher’s earlier beliefs, and thus not entail any need for change. However, to attain such clarity of a complex message is not an easy task to accomplish.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet , 2014. , 231 p.
Doctoral thesis / Umeå University, Department of Mathematics, ISSN 1102-8300 ; 55
Keyword [en]
mathematical competence, competency goals, policy, reform, national curriculum, national assessment, teachers’ goals, teachers’ belief change
National Category
Research subject
didactics of mathematics
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-88067ISBN: 978-91-7601-053-2OAI: diva2:713421
Public defence
2014-05-16, MIT-huset, Ma121, Umeå universitet, Umeå, 10:15 (English)
Available from: 2014-04-25 Created: 2014-04-23 Last updated: 2014-04-23Bibliographically approved

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