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Assessment policy: introduction - Austria

How can assessment meet the demands of inclusive education? Which beneficial and obstructive conditions can emerge?

If a child needs help and support, it is granted from several points of view or not. In case of obviously disabled children (with mental, physical or sensory disabilities, etc.) there is a number of services for help and support available already before they start school. But for those children - who form the majority of all children with a confirmed special educational need (SEN) - whose difficulties are not obvious, the process of diagnostic procedures plays an important role because it is only possible to give suitable support after having diagnosed certain difficulties, deficits or even forms of disability. As a consequence, first the special educational need must be identified before those supplementary services become effective (e.g. additional support by a special teacher) which comply with the allocation of resources according to the number of pupils with special educational needs. As a rule, only after the identification and issuing of a special educational need can specially trained teachers be deployed (except for e.g. the resources for the support of pupils with language impairments and behavioural disorders or the care for children in hospitals.)

In this spirit, the Carinthian Provincial Report sets out the following concept: 

It is a challenge to turn the defect oriented approach of expert opinions detecting a special educational need (which is necessary for the allocation procedure) into a process-oriented approach for support in order to effectively establish the bases for the Individual Education Plan. There we face a misconception which is intrinsic of the system - the labelling with SEN in fact requires deficit diagnoses!!! (Zöhrer D.,2005)

Despite the fact that in Austria it has turned out that over the years no more than 2.7% of all pupils at compulsory schools were considered to be "disabled", we now see that an allocation model for teacher resources (2.7% is considered to be the maximum for the financing of additional measures) cannot become effective in the area of prevention.

The dilemma is twofold. Firstly, it seems that the number of children who would need educational support is increasing (cf. issues such as difficult behaviour, ADHD, reading and writing disorders, etc.). It is, however, not possible to grant full support due to the lack of resources. Secondly, the problem becomes more severe because due to intensive assistance and support in the field of pre-school, encouraged by expert opinions and reports, the desire for further support at school level persists.

Through the allocations of SEN the impression is given that in terms of diagnosis it is possible to separate children into two groups, that is, into children with or without disabilities and with or without SEN. Children are stigmatised by manifold "special offers" such as special teachers, special syllabuses and special programmes as "special children". In the field of assessment, as a rule judgements only deal with individual points instead of accompanying the pupils continually and through dialogue. It thus becomes more difficult to implement the basic approach of integrative pedagogy uniting two groups to one inseparable group, which is heterogeneous in certain areas. (Cf. Hinz, A.,1997.)

The logical consequence of this concept would be that the allocation of resources does not only depend on the number of disabled pupils but rather on the demand for preventive measures. Other appropriate regulation systems should therefore be initiated and developed.

The recent developments of pedagogy and school organisation entail that we should reconsider the approaches of provision pedagogy and make them easier to be applied in practice. Concepts such as the "dynamic support concept", a school start period free of selection, "Neue Grundschule" (The New Primary School), etc. have to bring about a paradigm shift in the work with children with learning difficulties concerning the manifold approaches of support.

The SEN diagnosis and the resulting measures have to be sensibly co-ordinated with all resources at our disposal trying to find the best possible solutions for the children.

Today, it is impossible to imagine our current integrative school system without the approaches of special needs education. Due to the currently high standards of further training in the field of special needs education and the increasing practice of integrative school placement of children with learning difficulties and disabilities, special needs-oriented approaches of support are addressed and used ever more for didactics in "mainstream" classes.

Before definitely issuing a decision for a special educational need, all preventive means of support which are feasible at the respective school should be fully applied over a longer period of time (individual remedial instruction, employment of advisory and support teachers, shift to another class, different learning environments, repetition of a grade, etc.)  The early detection of deficiencies and possible difficulties is significant for the diagnosis of special needs.

Sources: 

  • Hinz, A.: Integrative Diagnostik: zwischen Ressourcenbeschaffung und Verstehensprozessen. In: Meißner, K. (Hrsg.): Integration: Schulentwicklung durch integrative Erziehung . Berlin. Diesterweg. Pg. 159-169. 1997
  • Zöhrer D., Unveröffentlichter Länderbericht Kärntens, Mai 2005. Unpublished Report of the Province of Carinthia, May 2005
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