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Innovations and developments - Denmark

The following sections describe some examples of innovation and development of good educational assessment practice in the Danish Folkeskole. A presentation of a research project focusing on good school practice is followed by the description of a project of pupils’ individual educational plans (IEP’s), with specific focus on pupils with special needs in mainstream schools. The report is rounded up with a description of current assessment work and methods as practised in the Danish Folkeskole. Part of this work aims directly to increase the level of inclusion, another part takes a more indirect approach. There is at present no valid information to prove any direct cause and effect relationship between inclusion and the development of different assessment methods.

The Danish Ministry of Education’s publication on inclusion (”Rummelighed – fra ide til handling”), available (in Danish) from http://pub.uvm.dk/2003/rummelighed/helepubl.htm presents a number of articles with different aspects of inclusive development in the Danish Folkeskole. One of these (Jakobsen, 2003) describes an assessment method that aims to increase inclusion, the so-called “self-assessment” method. The method is described in detail; however, there are no references as to how it is used in a specific school situation; and therefore it will not be described further in this report. The objectives of this progress report have been somewhat restrained, but we have no current Danish information that describes the positive and negative consequences of certain specific assessment methods with regard to the inclusion of pupils with special needs. Until 2000, research on special education was very limited in Denmark (Baltzer, 2005), and we still need research to illuminate positive and negative consequences of different assessment methods in the Danish school system in particular. The report is based on interviews with key persons who are involved in assessment procedures, and on information from publications about assessment and inclusion. Furthermore, several articles have been used as information sources.

A number of Danish municipalities have initiated their own projects to develop efficient assessment methods. Legislators as well as local politicians and municipal administrators seek to find methods to compare quality in different schools, e.g. on the basis of grade point averages. These initiatives are often made on the basis of a wish to develop new assessment methods that are more detailed than ordinary tests.

Below is presented a Danish research project to identify factors that characterise a school with high performance results.

Good examples”: A research project

In 2004 the Danish Ministry of Education conducted a study, “Good examples”, which describes conditions in a number of Danish schools (Mehlbye, 2004). 400 Danish schools were contacted, and of these 200 were selected for the study. 100 of the selected schools are so-called high-performance schools, which means that they obtain better results than are expected on the basis of the pupils’ socio-economic backgrounds. The other 100 are low-performance schools, thus they present lower results than expected from the pupils’ socio-economic backgrounds. The results are measured on the basis of the grade point averages obtained at the end-of-term tests in Year 9, and these are compared with the socio-economic background of the pupils. As proved in the study, the socio-economic background has a major effect on the pupil’s performance level, in the Folkeskole as well as later on during higher education. 

A questionnaire was sent out to the 200 schools. 146 returned complete answers and of these, 15 schools were selected for a qualitative analysis of the conditions in the individual school. 11 of the 15 schools were high-performance schools, and the remaining 4 were low-performance schools. The study shows that performance levels in the schools are under influence from some very complex and dynamic inter-action mechanisms between various factors. Below we have listed some of the prevailing characteristics of a high-performance school.

Management, including:

  • clear management structures
  • a visible management team
  • the management team follows up quickly on decisions
  • the management team supervises and guides the personnel
  • the management team conducts an on-going dialogue with the personnel
  • the management team ensures the developmental plan of the school is elaborated in close co-operation with the personnel

Organisation:

  • activities are planned and well structured
  • working procedures are clear
  • future challenges, such as generational changes, are well planned for in advance
  • the development of subject skills and the support for weak pupils are areas of high priority

Teacher teams:

  • younger and older teachers work together in teams
  • teachers use each other’s qualifications for mutual professional sparring
  • teachers prioritise their pupils’ academic as well as social development

Pupils:

  • pupils prioritise own learning and good assessment results

Mission statement:

  • the mission statement of the school is well-known by everyone
  • the mission statement is well integrated into the daily practice of the school
  • all teachers know how to implement the mission statement in the daily work

Teaching:

  • academically weak pupils are not excluded from joint academic activities
  • detailed and thorough planning will promote continuity and order in the classroom
  • teachers are flexible and stimulate the pupils’ commitment
  • group work will create commitment
  • teachers are open towards communication and co-operation, which will enhance the pupils’ commitment
  • teachers will pay attention to the pupils’ various cultural, personal and academic prerequisites
  • teachers will acknowledge the children as people and not just pupils

The study shows big differences in assessment methods. Most often it is the teacher and not the school who determine the content, methods and scope of assessment. Many teachers elaborate their own materials for assessment. Typical assessment tools are log books and portfolios. A log book contains the pupil’s own records of joint goals, class goals and individual personal goals. It is often used for comprehensive project descriptions (Johansen & Langager, 2002). The log book often contains questions for the pupil to answer, such as: What did you learn? How did you learn it? What was good and what was bad? Have you reached your goals? (ibid.). 

The portfolio contains a systematic collection of the pupil’s activities – in principle these are selected by the pupils themselves. A main thought behind this portfolio is to make the pupil develop his or her ability to reflect upon own learning and estimate own performance level in relation to certain personal and desirable goals as well as general goals (ibid.) 

”Good examples” also analysed good classroom practice within 3 schools. The main conclusions of this show, that it is not possible to prove a direct link between certain methods of practice and the grade performance level, however, it is possible to show how different practice may enhance or limit the pupils’ participation and learning. Furthermore, it is concluded that the availability of methods of practice to enhance pupils’ academic competencies and learning motivation depend on the conditions and possibilities available at the individual school. These vary a lot amongst the participating schools. Furthermore, what is good practice in one class and for some pupils may not be good for other pupils or classes in other schools (Mehlbye, 2004).

The report is available in full from www.uvm.dk (on-line publications), but unfortunately only in Danish.

“Good examples” is a study with a broad empiric foundation. Furthermore, it is of current interest and it clarifies some important factors to be considered in relation to the creation of a high-performance and inclusive school. The study does not focus upon the needs of specific groups of pupils, neither on inclusion or assessment, but indirectly it touches upon all three aspects. Thus, an inclusive school that focuses upon assessment as more than just traditional and formal testing requires certain standards to be met with by the Danish school system. The study reveals these standards, but at the same time it is clear that the development of good school practices is a complex procedure determined by a variety of factors.

 

Sources:

  • Baltzer, K. (2005): Inkluderende og rummelige skoler i forskningen. (Including and inclusive schools in research). Psykologisk Pædagogisk Rådgivning. 42/3.237-267. (In Danish)
  • Johansen, J & Langager, S. (2002): Andre mål, nye evalueringsveje. (Other goals, new assessment methods). Danish University of Education, Copenhagen. (In Danish)
  • Mehlbye, J. (2004): De gode eksempler. (The good examples). Uddannelsesstyrelsens temahæfteserie nr. 13 – 2004. Undervisniningsministeriet, Copenhagen. (In Danish)
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