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Assessment practice: introduction - Belgium (Flemish speaking community)

In primary education teachers work towards attainment targets, taken from the idea that every pupil, or at least the majority of pupils in the classroom, have to achieve these minimum goals. These targets are thus the starting point for the curriculum and the assessment.

The situation changes when a pupil in such a classroom has an individual education plan. His/her (personal) goals in this case are different from the goals of the other pupils in the classroom. It is obvious that the curriculum as well as the assessment for the pupil has to been adapted to suit the pupil. In the next paragraphs we will describe the method and the main idea behind this method of adapting assessment and curriculum within mainstream education for children with special educational needs.

When the parents of a child with special educational needs wish the child to go to a mainstream school, the parents will discuss this with the head teacher and the school team and school external support services. When all parties (school co-ordinator, parents, teacher, supporters, physiotherapist, logopedist, etc.) come to the agreement that the child is able to join classes in the mainstream school, the observation period starts. After a certain period of time (eg. 3 weeks) all these parties will meet to exchange their experiences: how is the child reacting in the different situations the child is in, what do we expect to be good for this child, what do we have to stimulate, etc. Taking these observations into consideration, there will be made a ‘goal plan’ (IEP). The plan starts with some general objectives (“Our wishes for…”). The main goals are lined out in the sections: Social emotional skills, communicative skills, cognitive skills, physical skills and skills at home and in leisure time. For each of these categories, there will be a distinct difference between priorities and “goals which are almost reached but still need attention”. This caring network will meet every 6 months (or if needed more often) to assess the latest period and to reconsider the goal plan. A new goal plan will then be implemented or the old goal plan will continue.

The classroom teacher has a crucial role in this goal plan. Therefore it is necessary for him/her to receive support. Nowadays there are only restricted possibilities (support in the framework of integrated education, inclusion for pupils with mental retardation, educational support within the basic resources of schools, assistant budgets from welfare) for this kind of support  (this will change in the near future, see: http://www.ond.vlaanderen.be/leerzorg/documenten/archief/files/051219-discussienota-leerzorgkader.pdf) but in almost all of the cases of inclusive educational settings some kind of voluntary support is available. This supporter provides an adapted curriculum and assessment method for the pupil embedded in the curriculum and assessment of the classroom teacher. Pupils with special educational needs in mainstream education first of all want to belong in their class group. To belong to a group is more than training their social skills. It implicates that children need to get the opportunity to join others doing the same activities. The framework that creates this belonging has to come from adults by adaptations in the curriculum and assessment, by extra support. To adapt a curriculum and to encourage the belonging of all children is to work with the same books on the same pages, but with adapted instructions or exercises.

For example:

A class works on sums in mathematics. One of the pupils has as goal in his IEP ‘to recognise the numbers 1 to 5’. This pupil will not make the sums but will colour all the numbers 2 that he finds on that page (the same page on which the other children are making their sums) in the workbook.

To achieve that the pupils needs to feel that he/she belongs in the class, this method asks a lot of flexibility from the classroom teacher. He/she has to work with different goals, a different curriculum, different assessment, a different tempo, little professional feedback without the specialised team (such as is provided in special needs education), But still it is not the flexibility that seems to be the biggest obstacle of inclusive education. The most difficult aspect seems to be “the first step” for the teacher into inclusive education: pupils with an IEP in mainstream education do not have to achieve the same goals as the other pupils. It is the contrast of the vision on inclusive education and the practice with the attainment targets in mainstream education that almost excludes inclusive thinking.

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