Assessment and National Exams in Social Studies and Social Sciences (JSSE 2-2023)


The Journal of Social Science Education will publish a Special Issue on assessment and national exams in Social Studies and Social Sciences. For this Special Issue contributions are called for that address the multiple questions of assessment, evaluation, national exams and tests in the context of Social Studies and Social Sciences.

This issue will be edited by David Rosenlund (Malmö University, Sweden), Birgit Weber (University of Cologne, Germany) and Jan Löfström (Turku University, Finland).

Questions of assessment have been very much in the focus of discussion in education and education policy during the last 30 years. Possibly the move in this direction has been partly a reflection of the New Public Management trend where more emphasis has been laid on calculating and quantifying input and output in public services like education. The keywords have been efficiency, productivity and accountability. In teaching and education, the trend has also had negative consequences, schools and teachers having been led to focusing on results in evaluations and tests rather than educating the students.

But the increased emphasis on assessment and evaluation has also been motivated by an interest to support learning processes and enhance equality and fairness in assessment, by way of developing guidelines and instruments of assessment. For example, making assessment criteria more clear and transparent has been expected to give more concrete signals to students (and teachers) in what they should learn and how the learning results should be judged so that assessment is valid, reliable and just. Justice in this context includes, among other things, that within the same polity, a country for example, there is a reasonable level of unity and shared standards in how students are assessed and the results of teaching and learning evaluated. This aim is widely shared but there are differences between school subjects in how knowledge and skills in them is described and operationalised and how, consequently, the challenge of reliable assessment appears in them. For example, designing a Social Science exam and defining the assessment criteria is a challenge because of the complexity and open-endedness of social-scientific questions and the diversity of approaches in their analysis. Of course, also assessing students’ responses to exam assignments poses considerable challenges and demands to teachers and evaluators.  

National exams and tests can have in this context a multiple role. They can serve as instruments of selection, students being selected to higher-level education on the basis of their achievement in such exams or tests. The final year exams, like the German Abitur, the French baccalauréats, the A-level exams in Britain, and the more than 170 years old ylioppilastutkinto in Finland, are all examples of institutions that centrally have had a selection function. For schools and teachers national exams can serve as a measure of what knowledge and skills students are expected to master after their studies and how these are assessed in school. If the exam results have a great impact on student’s future opportunities, the exam can be characterised as a high-stakes test. Such exams are likely to have a considerable backwash effect, students and their teachers accommodating their learning and teaching strategies to what is asked in the exam. For the national education policy agencies national exams and tests are an instrument for a follow-up and predicting trends in students’ skills and knowledge in the relevant areas.

The afore mentioned developments and considerations have been particularly visible in matters that relate to school subjects like Mathematics and Natural Sciences. Social Studies and Social Sciences has not been among the school subjects that get most attention when students’ skills and knowledge – or the lack of them – have been discussed and development plans and strategies for improving the students’ performance have been presented. However, many of these questions are relevant also for Social Studies and Social Sciences, for example in developing assessment solutions that can support student’s skills to deal with societal issues. In Social Studies and Social Sciences particularly some questions about assessment are especially intriguing. For example, in what extent can focusing on individual students in assessment capture the collective and social dimension in the development of students’ democratic consciousness and political orientation? How to do justice in assessment to the nature of societal questions as a space of agonistic relations?

Contributions to the Special Issue can discuss the topic areas below, for example. Assessment and test results are not a topic area in the Special Issue, except if discussed from the perspective of the theoretical and methodological questions in the analyses of assessment data. We encourage authors to send us an enquiry if in doubt how their topic meets the scope of the Special Issue.

Topic areas:

  • History of assessment and national exams in Social Studies/Social Sciences
  • Content and development in national exams in Social Studies/Social Sciences
  • Public and educational policy discourses on national exams in Social Studies/Social Sciences
  • Motives and uses of data from national exams in Social Studies/Social Sciences
  • Consequences of standardisation and national exams in Social Studies/Social Sciences
  • Methods, politics and philosophy or assessment in Social Studies/Social Sciences
  • Developing tools and instruments in assessment in Social Studies/Social Sciences
  • Research on assessment in Social Studies/Social Sciences

The timetable in the processing of the Special Issue is following:

  • Submission of abstracts (requested, not mandatory):   15.07.2022
  • First submission of texts by authors to editors:   15.10.2022
  • Response to authors from editors:   15.12.2022
  • Final submission of texts by authors:   28.02.2023
  • Final reviewing and papers ready for layout.   15.05.2023
  • Publication:   15.06.2023