The relevance of the DICE project for research in education and educational theatre and drama

Although the Lisbon Strategy has identified eight key competences as recommended objectives of education in Europe, the widely used and known large-scale student assessment programmes such as PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) or PIRLS (Programme for International Student Assessment) target two of them almost exclusively: Communication in the mother tongue and Mathematical competence and basic competences in science and technology. Large-scale international student assessments are unfortunately limited not just in their focus but in their methodological approach as well. They use, almost exclusively, self-reporting questionnaires and individual paper and pencil tests to assess students’ competences, and there are only very rare efforts to document not just the measuring of the students but the teaching process leading to the particular results.

In the DICE project we were experimenting with new approaches and tried to step over these barriers. We targeted competences usually forgotten by assessment programmes and tried to use wider methodological tools, including teacher reports, independent observations, self-reported programme descriptions. We collected data not just about the competence itself but also about the way the competence was developed. Instead of having a single point data entry, we had input and output data, and along with each target group we had a control group as well, in order to measure the effect as precisely as the present statistical and psychological tools would allow us to do.

DICE demonstrated that there are available, reliable and valid tools to assess some of those competences that have been forgotten by large-scale student assessment programmes. If other competences besides literacy, numeracy and digital competences are really valuable for Europe, then the assessment of these should be embedded into future student assessment programmes.

We do not think that the tools we are suggesting are the best or the perfect tools to assess students’ competences, but on the other hand we are aware that the methods used in PISA and other assessment programmes are the subject of pedagogical critique.  In sum, we believe that with the appropriate resources it should be possible to develop reliable and valid assessment tools for those competences which are nowadays forgotten by large-scale student assessment programmes.

DICE has tried to complement not only the large-scale student assessment programmes but also previous research studies in the field of educational theatre and drama. The most prevalent feature of these research studies is their qualitative nature. On the one hand there is a philosophical basis to this: researchers in this field often state that the nature and real effect of educational theatre and drama cannot be caught by any hard data, because quantification inevitably means simplification, and certainly masks the most important features of theatre and drama. If you compare for example how broad is the definition of communication in the mother tongue (including reading, writing, oral comprehension and expression) and how narrow is the methodology usually used to assess it (paper and pencil test) you can understand the basis of this criticism.

On the other hand a qualitative approach cannot easily describe the effect of educational theatre and drama in a quantitative way, and this can lead to difficulty in communicating its value outside a narrow circle of specialists, keeping it marginalised and still largely undiscovered in mainstream education. That is why DICE tried to collect the available evidence from both qualitative research studies and some existing quantitative trials, and on the basis of these we tried to develop a methodology which could serve as a bridge between the qualitative and quantitative approaches, and use the advantages of both.

To our very best knowledge, DICE is the largest research study that has been conducted in the field of educational theatre and drama so far, with the largest population sample and the most complex design.  We hope we have been able to contribute to the measurement of some more complex skills and attitudes with a set of newly tested tools. We truly hope this research is just a beginning and that on this basis many similar research studies will be launched – the field of educational theatre and drama really needs this.

142455-LLP-1-2008-1-HU-COMENIUS-CMP "This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein."