Preschool teachers observe children’s behaviors and assess their abilities in relation to explicit or implicit expectations and norms daily. In Sweden as in the OECD generally, the pressure to assess children’s development has increased immensely over the last decade, even in the preschool.
This ethnographic study investigates assessment as a part of the daily routine of Swedish preschools. The setting is two preschools: a multi-ethnic preschool in a disadvantaged area, and a preschool that teaches children with predominately Swedish middle class background. The study includes data from participatory observations, recorded conversations and interviews with teachers as well as written documentation about the children.
Using Giddens’ constructs of structuration, rules and resources, I found that preschool teachers (re)structured the institutional practice in everyday activities. In everyday practice they used available resources in order to comply with the curriculum, within the institutional frames of rules. Recently imposed assessments were assimilated to the ordinary routines of the preschool.
Furthermore, new demands of documenting the development and learning of individual children contradict an earlier statutes that preschool children should not be subjected to assessments. To resolve this conflict, teachers adopt modes of writing and talking about the children, which seemingly focus on the performance of the preschool, but construct the children “between the lines”. The stories of individual children are thus hidden in stories about the institution. This can be understood as soft governance (Foucault) or symbolic violence (Bourdieu).
Finally, the socializing messages were different in the two preschools: adaptation to given linguistic and social norms predominated at the culturally diverse preschool; whereas creativity and pliability towards children’s wishes prevailed at the culturally homogenous preschool. This suggests that assessment practices both indicate and reinforce different institutional habitus in different preschools which may be seen as a threat to the role of education in promoting equity.