Finnish primary school pupil’s performance in learning to learn assessments:
A longitudinal perspective on educational equity
During the last decade, Finnish pupils’ performance in educational assessment studies has steadily declined. At the same time the differences between pupils – and in the capital area also the differences between schools – have increased, and girls usually outperform boys in most assessed domains. The aim of the present study was to examine how these differences develop during primary education, with a special emphasis on the development of the performance of pupils in need of support for their studies. This was done by following three different samples of primary school pupils in two municipalities: In Helsinki a sample of 608 pupils was followed from the beginning of the first grade to the end of the sixth grade, and in Vantaa two full cohorts (N≈2000 in each) were assessed in the first/third grade and again in the third/sixth grade. In the beginning of the first grade the pupils took a learning preparedness test, and teachers evaluated their initial reading skills. At the turn of the third and fourth grade the pupils completed the Finnish learning to learn scales, which addressed a wide scope of cognitive competences and learning-related attitudes. Learning to learn assessments were repeated at the end of the sixth grade before the transfer to lower secondary education. Additional information was collected about pupils’ social relationships, task interest and effort as measured by time investment, based on the log files of computer-based assessment. Multiplegroup structural equation modelling, repeated measures general linear modelling and variance components modelling were applied in four substudies for testing the hypotheses about the influences of prior cognitive competences, attitudes, interest and effort on performance and about the different trajectories of their development within municipalities, schools, classes and peer groups.<!–more–> The results showed that whereas girls were evaluated by their teachers as being slightly better readers already when they came to school, there was no gender difference in pupils’ performance in the learning preparedness test. Girls, however, gained slightly more in reading comprehension during the first three years of basic education. Boys in Helsinki outperformed girls in mathematical thinking in the beginning of third grade, but girls closed the gap by the end of the sixth grade. Mothers’ lower education and pupils’ support needs were related to lower initial competences, but the differences did not increase during the first three years of basic education. In contrast, in regard to reasoning skills pupils with support needs even closed the gap to some extent. The gap between pupils with support needs and others, however, increased from the beginning of the fourth grade to the end of the sixth grade in both municipalities. Between-school differences slightly increased during the six years of follow-up in Helsinki, but in Vantaa the variation remained between classes in schools. From the end of the third grade to the end of the sixth grade girls improved their performance slightly more than boys in both municipalities. The log data analyses of the computer-based assessment in Vantaa revealed that girls’ advantage could be completely explained by their more positive attitudes and greater effort as measured by their time investment in the tasks. Reduced time investment and higher levels of detrimental attitudes also provided a partial explanation as to why pupils with identified support needs did not reach their expected level of performance in the sixth grade assessment. As expected, learning-related attitudes declined with age, but this change was unrelated with the changes in performance. Changes in task interest, however, were a meaningful predictor of later performance. Changes in attitudes and interest happened to some extent in classes and peer groups, and boys – who were also identified as having support needs more often than girls – seemed to be more vulnerable to the influences of their boy classmates both regarding their attitudes and task behaviour in the assessment situation.