University of Jyväskylä

Dissertation: 7.10.2017 (Dis)empowering assessment? Assessment as experienced by students in their upper secondary EFL studies (Pollari)

Start date: Oct 07, 2017 12:00 PM

End date: Oct 07, 2017 03:00 PM

Location: Teacher Training School / secondary school (Yliopistonkatu 1), auditorium (3005)

Pirjo Pollari Picture: Riitta Huovila
Lic.Phil. Pirjo Pollari defends her doctoral dissertation in English "(Dis)empowering assessment? Assessment as experienced by students in their upper secondary EFL studies". Opponent Docent, Ph.D. (Educ.) Raili Hildén (University of Helsinki) and custos professor Ari Huhta. The doctoral dissertation is held in Finnish.


Assessment has a great deal of power over students. However, there is little research on how students experience assessment and its power in the school context. The purpose of this mixed-methods study is therefore to examine how students in one Finnish upper secondary school experienced assessment and (dis)empowerment in their EFL studies. The present study, which situates itself within the realm of teacher research, also aims to experiment with alternative assessment methods in order to investigate whether they could foster empowerment in upper secondary EFL studies. The study comprises five articles and a monograph, and is divided into two parts, each with its own research aims. Part 1 and its three articles focus on students’ experiences of assessment and (dis)empowerment and explore what factors might predict disempowerment in assessment. In addition, Part 1 focuses on feedback as well as stress and test anxiety in connection with high-stakes testing as possible predictors of disempowerment.  The data for these articles was gathered in March 2014 by means of a web-based questionnaire. The aim of Part 2 is to explore whether less traditional assessment methods could promote students’ empowerment in assessment. The first article in Part 2 focuses on cheat-sheet tests as a way of engaging and empowering students. The second article explores individual choice in corrective feedback. These teaching experiments took place in six upper secondary groups in 2013-2016. The third study in Part 2 is a monograph describing an earlier portfolio programme in EFL teaching.

The present study shows that although most students were quite satisfied with the assessment in their EFL studies, a significant minority of students found the assessment disempowering. Several factors, such as inadequate or unhelpful feedback or stress and anxiety caused by assessment, predicted assessment disempowerment. However, students seemed to react to assessment as well as to these factors in a highly individual way. Furthermore, although the alternative assessment methods investigated in the teaching experiments proved useful and also empowering additions to the EFL assessment repertoire, students experienced them in different ways.  There should therefore be a range of assessment methods to cater for different assessment purposes as well as for students’ different learning strategies, needs and personalities.

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Pirjo Pollari
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