Improving students’ test results may require changing the number of lessons or adjusting the way languages are taught.Grades awarded in the matriculation examinations do not reflect candidates’ actual language skills.

Students sitting their matriculation examinations are failing to reach the language skill levels set for them in intermediate Swedish and Finnish in the national curriculum.

Over 70 per cent of candidates had not gained the skills in Swedish and Finnish set as the goal for students at the end of upper secondary school, reveals a report by the Matriculation Examination Board on candidates’ language skills in advanced English, intermediate Swedish and Finnish and basic German and French.

“We have to consider if it is possible for students to achieve the expected level with the number of lessons they are getting, seeing that so many fail to do so,” says Taina Juurakko-Paavola, a language teaching expert from HAMK University of Applied Sciences.

One proposed solution is to lower the target skill level but Juurakko-Paavola does not consider this option feasible because universities require students to have at least the current level of language skills.

“The question is, should we do something about the number of lessons or the way languages are being taught?” she speculates.

In English, a large number of candidates achieved the target level while students taking the basic language examinations did even better, with a third surpassing the target level. One reason for this may be that many students who take more advanced courses in the language still sit the basic level exam.

Grade M for candidate with good language skills

• Curved grading is used in assigning grades in matriculation examinations.

• Currently grades are assigned so that bottom 5 per cent are given improbatur, 11 per cent approbatur, 20 per cent lubenter, 24 per cent cum laude, 20 per cent magna cum laude and 15 per cent eximia while top 5 per cent are awarded laudatur.

• According to the Matriculation Examination Board, a candidate who has a good command of the material taught at the upper secondary school, should achieve grade M, and anyone surpassing that level should be awarded either E or L, which does not happen under the current grading system.

• A new grading system will be applied to the matriculation examination from next spring in some subjects and possibly in all subjects from 2016 or 2017.

Good grades too easy to achieve in English

Based on a comparison of grades in the 2012 language exams and the target skill levels, the Matriculation Examination Board concluded that the practice of assigning grades so that they fit on a bell curve puts students on an unequal footing.

According to the report, achieving a good grade in the basic level German and French is unreasonably difficult while the situation is the opposite in intermediate Finnish, making it impossible to compare grades for different languages.

This led the board to reconsider the grading system to give the students taking German or French a fair chance of achieving a good grade.

“From next spring, it will be easier to compare grades. German and French are likely to be included in the first stage of the grading reform, but there is no final decision on subjects yet,” explains Kaisa Vähähyyppä, the Secretary General of the Matriculation Examination Board.

In English and Swedish, the grading system was more successful, albeit a good grade was awarded a little too easily.




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