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Institute of Education State-Wide Exit Examination Study

Key Questions and Hypotheses of the Study

The three key questions of the study each relate to different content areas, comparing the two testing systems "class-based Abitur" and "state-wide Abitur" and comparing annual data from each of the two systems. In the following, we present the three key questions, each of which encompass a large number of subordinate questions.

a) Topic Area "Implementation Processes"
This set of questions focus on analyzing the process of implementing state-wide Abitur examinations from the perspectives of different groups of actors (school administrators, teachers, and students).

Key questions

  • What importance do the different groups of actors ascribe to the new examination policies?
  • To what extent do they integrate these new policies into their own schemes of action and decision-making processes, and to what extent do they ignore or circumvent them?
  • How are the new legal regulations being integrated into the specific contexts of schools and the various review panels?

Based on the recontextualization processes described by Fend (2006), the main hypothesis here is that administrative reforms which are introduced into the educational system in a top-down manner will be adopted, rejected, or reshaped depending on the specific school cultures, the professional orientations, and the individual objectives and intentions of those involved. Systematic differences are therefore to be expected between the schools and review panels within the schools.

b) Topic Area "Effects on School and Instructional Processes and on Individuals (Teachers, Students)"
The questions in this topic area focus on analyzing how the introduction of state-wide Abitur examinations affects school organization and instructional design and the students’ and teachers’ individual strategies of learning and motivation.

Key questions

  • To what extent do students’ and teachers’ individual perceptions reveal intended or unintended changes in school and instructional practices throughout the process of introducing state-wide Abitur examinations? What individual and structural characteristics can explain these changes?
  • To what extent can differential teaching-learning contexts be identified in this regard, and to what extent are these systematically associated with aspects of the introduction of state-wide Abitur examinations?
  • What specific strategies of learning and motivation can be observed in students (e.g., in Abitur preparation within and outside the classroom, in attribution patterns for examination success both before and after the Abitur exam, and in problem-solving strategies for answering Abitur questions) and in teachers (e.g., cooperative behavior) for meeting the demands of the state-wide Abitur and achieving successful examination outcomes?

We expect that the schools and the actors within the schools will differ significantly in how they react to the externally imposed demands of state-wide Abitur examinations. We also expect that the effects on school organization and instructional design as well as on students’ deep processing learning will tend to be positive if the actors in question are able to recognize a systematic order in the structure and content of examination questions and in examination grading, entailing variation in the externally formulated examination items by level of demands and content design and should also involve complex task structures (Baumert & Watermann, 2000; Maag Merki & Holmeier, 2006b). We expect negative effects, such as a problematic reduction in the breadth of instructional content or school subjects to focus narrowly on those covered in the state-wide examination, or the practice of “cramming” for examinations, when the pressure on teachers and schools increases and when insecurities arise about expectations or arbitrariness of demands.

c) Topic Area "Evaluation Practices and Standard Assurance in Schools"
This set of questions focuses on systematically analyzing Abitur grades, the grades from the final year of Gymnasium (academically oriented secondary) school, and the association between Abitur grades and achievement test results.

Key questions

  • To what extent does the distribution of Abitur grades change over time (overall and within the individual examination subjects), and to what extent do grades from the final year of Gymnasium change within and between the schools?
  • In this regard, to what extent do different trends appear in Abitur grades and grades from the final year of Gymnasium in annual comparison?
  • To what extent does the association between students’ competencies measured through standardized achievement tests and those measured in the Abitur examination change over time?

The established findings (Baumert & Watermann 2000; Ministerium für Bildung, Jugend und Sport im Land Brandenburg 2008) suggest that, alongside general effects, differential effects will emerge depending on the subjects studied, the level of demands (advanced and basic courses), and students’ levels of achievement. It is to be assumed that the introduction of externally defined examination practices will tend to strengthen the association between results in standardized tests and Abitur grades due to an increased uniformity of standards and increased diagnostic competency of teachers in the final year of Gymnasium.