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Assessment in inclusive classrooms - Cyprus

Assessment practices in inclusive classrooms in pre-primary and primary education will be examined against the backdrop of ongoing educational reform and examples of good or best practice will be teased out and highlighted.

Pre-Primary Education

Teachers are advised to conduct initial (or baseline) assessments in order to ascertain each pupil’s level of development on entry.  Such assessment include obtaining information from parents through questionnaires and/or interviews regarding the medical and developmental history of pupils. It also includes observation, informal assessment or completion of more formal checklists (criterion based assessment).  Teachers are provided with guidelines and samples of questionnaires and checklists but there is flexibility as to the use of particular methods and procedures especially if the school unit under the guidance of the head teacher adopts these. Areas assessed include psychomotor ability, language and communication skills, cognitive skills, emotional development, development of social skills and personal adjustment. 

There is heightened awareness among pre-primary teachers of the importance of early identification and intervention and pre-primary teachers are especially careful to refer any pupil showing problems in language and speech development.  Moreover, in a recent (2005)  study concerned with the piloting of a set of tests for early diagnosis of learning and other difficulties, conducted by the University of Cyprus and the Educational Psychology Service of the Ministry of Education and Culture, it was found that “overall, the ratings given by the classroom teachers appeared to coincide with those obtained by the administration of the psychometric tests”.  This is taken as an indication of teachers´ heightened awareness and sensitivity in picking up signs that pupils in their charge may be having difficulties.  

In cases where teacher assessment shows that a particular pupil may lag behind developmentally or have other emotional or behavioural difficulties then he/she has the option to follow the procedures set out by the recently introduced Mechanism for Identification and Support of Pupils with Learning and Emotional Difficulties (2004) . 

Teachers may be informed of pupils with special needs on entry either through parents (in the manner described above) or through other services (paediatric departments, pupil psychiatric units, social services etc) or through the Service for the Co-ordination of Early Intervention.  In such cases, if the pupil has not undergone assessment by the appropriate District Committee for Special Education and Training as prescribed by Law (1999) , he/she is referred by the teacher following the proper procedures. 

Teachers who are designated as members of a multi-disciplinary assessment team by the District Committee for Special Education and Training are required to formally submit a written report containing information about the developmental and learning attainments of the particular pupil under assessment.

Ongoing assessment is mostly curriculum - based and the methods adopted are usually observation in the group, one- to-one interviews with the pupil, samples of work done in class etc. The teacher usually keeps a descriptive record plus a work file or portfolio for each pupil. Teachers use this information to help them plan class lessons and activities and to monitor progress towards goals. Teachers share this information with parents and try to involve, guide and support parents in contributing to the development and progress of their pupils. Teachers are also required to share this information with other colleagues in order to enable them to contribute effectively in the education of the pupil. They may share this information (with parental permission) with the educational psychologist, the speech therapist or as the need may be, with doctors, social workers and others within the framework of the Mechanism mentioned above.  It is emphasized that teachers should be discreet and respectful and should observe the principles of confidentiality. 

In cases where the District Committee for Special Education and Training decides that a pupil has special needs then the teacher is required to co-operate with the special teacher and/or speech therapist as well as the educational psychologist and any other professional involved for the drafting of an Individual Education Plan and for its implementation and monitoring.

Final assessment which is conducted at the end of the year by teachers using the methods described above helps teachers and parents ascertain the pupil’s readiness for primary school.  It is again curriculum based and assesses readiness in all areas of development, including emotional development. If there is any doubt as to the readiness of a pupil to attend primary school, the advice of the educational psychologist is sought; if it is found necessary, after psycho-educational assessment is conducted, and with the consensus of the parents, then special permission is formally asked from the Director of Primary Education to allow the pupil to be retained for a year in pre-primary class.  Good practice is reflected in early identification of children with difficulties so that procedures are set in motion and provision (as needed) is made to help the child throughout the year before entry into primary school.

It is perhaps worth mentioning here that the Educational Psychology Service of the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Psychology Department of the University of Cyprus are currently engaged in collaborative research that aims at the standardization of psychometric and other tests for the identification and diagnosis of learning difficulties in pre-primary and early primary age children. This is a long-term project that includes the development of remedial packages intended for use by teachers.

Primary Education

Initial assessment usually takes into account information that is passed on from pre-primary School or from previous class teachers.   In addition, teachers conduct their own assessment of pupil’s baseline learning attainment. There is no standardized assessment instrument and there is wide flexibility as to the choice of methods and instruments that can be used.  Teachers use tests that are centrally prepared or tests that they prepare themselves. They may also record their own observations of pupils’ class work.  In some schools, after the first month when teachers have had time to observe and to gather information on each pupil, parent-teacher meetings are arranged, especially for parents of first graders.  These meetings help create a climate of co-operation and sharing of goals. It helps teachers meet parents, get an idea of the pupil’s family background and also get information about the pupil’s history, present conditions, etc. At this time, parents may also learn about the results of the initial assessment from the teacher. Thus, better planning of instruction is facilitated. Sometimes, (usually in 1st and 2nd grade) open classes are held and parents are invited to sit in and observe lessons.  

In cases where a teacher feels that a particular pupil may have learning or emotional difficulties then he/she has the option to follow the procedures set out by the recently introduced Mechanism for Identification and Support of children with Learning and Emotional Difficulties (2004).  

In cases where pupils are thought to have special needs, they are referred for assessment by the appropriate District Committee for Special Education and Training as prescribed by Law (1999).  Teachers who are designated as members of a multi-disciplinary assessment team by the District Committee for Special Education and Training are required to formally submit a written report containing information about the developmental and learning attainments of the particular pupil under assessment.

Ongoing assessment: teachers are required to follow the centrally regulated Curriculum.  In keeping with inclusion, they are encouraged to employ learner centred, individualized approaches to instruction; however, at the present time, the majority of teachers do not find that this is possible because, as they claim, the number of pupils per class is still large (maximum 30 per class), with a very full Curriculum and there is a shortage of effective teaching time.  Moreover, some teachers feel insufficiently prepared to implement such methods. Thus, learner-centred instructional approaches and assessment methods that are designed to monitor the progress of each pupil towards his/her own learning and development goals can only be highlighted as reflecting best practice. 

Within this context, good practice is reflected in the willingness of teachers to assume responsibility for the progress of each pupil in their class towards the attainment of their individual learning goals, to be pro-active in partnering with parents and others in helping each pupil achieve to their potential. Better practice is reflected in teachers being allocated out-of-class time for providing individualized support to pupils who need it. In this way class teachers are in a better position to assess needs in further detail, to design strategies for help, to motivate pupils and raise their self-esteem, to monitor their progress and to provide feedback to the pupils and their parents. Best practice is facilitated in school units where the head teacher is knowledgeable and experienced and has the confidence to lead, to inspire, to motivate, to coach, guide and support colleagues and to empower them to adopt learner-centred attitudes, approaches and methods. In such schools head teachers play a key role in facilitating a positive and helpful learning climate for teachers as well as pupils and in facilitating teacher-learner interaction and teacher-parent co-operation.  A case example of such a school unit is Meniko Elementary School in the Nicosia district, which is described in more detail in the 'Learning and Teaching' section.

As mentioned before, at the present time, teachers are expected to assess and monitor the progress of their own pupils against curriculum goals using either centrally prepared tests or tests of their own design but are not required to formally submit the results of such assessments to anyone (e.g. parents, other teachers, administrators or other decision-makers) during the year; although, a class record book plus an individual file or portfolio for each pupil is kept by the teacher in the classroom.   Assessment is usually both written and oral and the teacher takes into account the pupil’s motivation and involvement in everyday activities.  Good practice is reflected in descriptive records of each pupil’s development in all areas, including personal and emotional adjustment and not just attainment of lesson goals.

Feedback is provided to parents mostly in the form of notes written in a home-school book, marked class work or tests being sent home and in weekly oral communication. Such communication is optional, that is, teacher – parent consultation periods are scheduled into the timetable, and it is up to parents to avail themselves of these periods for weekly consultation. (As might be expected, socio-economic & educational background of parents relates to the degree to which they may avail themselves of weekly consultation opportunities). Feedback as to the pupil’s progress is usually descriptive and is accompanied by samples of the pupil’s work within the classroom; the results of periodic “diagnostic tests” that are given at the end of lesson units may also be presented.  On this basis teachers may also inform parents of the ranking of the pupil against peers in the same form group. Pupils themselves are not required to be present at such consultations but good practice is reflected in teachers extending invitations to pupils to participate in such consultations, to talk about positive and negative experiences and what they find helpful or not. Such meetings end with the setting of goals for the further development and learning of the individual pupil and the undertaking of responsibility by teacher, parent and pupil to see that goals are met. 

In cases of pupils with Individual Education Plans according to the Law for the Education and Training of Pupils with Special Needs (1999), teachers are required to participate in periodic meetings of the multi-disciplinary team with the purpose of monitoring the pupil’s progress and to formally submit their assessment report to the District Committee for Special Education and Training every six months.

Curriculum - based final assessment is conducted by the teacher and may include oral and written tests, observations, descriptions and samples of work.  Again there is flexibility as to the choice of assessment methods and materials. Many teachers will just use all the information cumulatively gathered throughout the year, which was included in each pupil’s portfolio. This, together with a letter-grade ranking of the level of attainment of each pupil is passed on to the next teacher who takes over the class the following year. 

Formal end-of-term or end-of-year reports regarding pupils’ learning attainments are not given to parents.  What is given is a certificate of promotion to the next grade. Apart from exceptional cases, especially in first grade, all pupils are promoted.  Once they reach sixth grade all pupils enter lower secondary school and their letter-grade ranking and other pertinent information is informally passed on to the new school.

 

Sources:

  • Υπουργείο Παιδείας και Πολιτισμού, (2004) Μηχανισμός εντοπισμού και στήριξης παιδιών με μαθησιακά, συναισθηματικά ή/και άλλα προβλήματα. Φακ. 7.16.07,  Λευκωσία, Αύγουστος 2004.
  • Papadopoulos, T., Iacovou-Kapsali, M. and Ioannou, M. (2005) “Educational psychology practices in Cyprus: the process and value of early identification of children at-risk for learning difficulties”. Abstracts:  European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction, 11th Biennial Meeting, August 22-27, 2005, Nicosia, Cyprus.
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