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Mainstream assessment systems - Denmark

The Folkeskole does not end with an exam as such, and the pupils have until 1997 been free to choose whether they want to be examined or not. However almost all pupils, 95% in 2003 (UNI-C, 2004), took exams and the grades are noted in their certificates. From 2007 all pupils have to be examined with exception of pupils with severe special educational needs. No average is calculated and entrance to upper secondary schools is based on the wish of the students and their parents, supplemented by a statement of competence from the teachers. Written exams are developed by officers responsible for different subjects in the Ministry of Education. However, from 2002 the results from the school leaving exams are published as averages for schools.

Students in special needs settings will, as mentioned, in most cases choose not to take these final exams but will instead leave school with written verbal statements about their proficiencies. There are no statistics regarding reasons for not taking these final exams. There is an ongoing public debate saying that some school principals try to persuade students with special needs, not to take final exams.

At the institutional level, the quality of education has since 1958 been the responsibility of the school owners, i.e. the municipalities for the Folkeskole and the counties for the Gymnasium. However, the only formal assessments are done at the exams, when state authorized external examiners report on the general level to the school principals and send summary statements to the Ministry of Education, mainly reporting on the function of the centrally developed tests. 

Until 2006 with the establishment of the committee for supervision of quality in the Folkeskole, there was no central inspectorate of education. However in 1999 the Danish Evaluation Institute was established to carry out systematic and mandatory evaluations of teaching and learning at all levels of the education system. The institute is now well established and has developed methodologies to suit the nature of its mission. Self-evaluations are very central elements in the evaluation procedures, while tests – until now – have been almost unused. The institute has carried out pilot evaluations of two school districts and has looked at the school leaving examination – the Afgangsprøve - the experience of the first three years of schooling, the international dimension in education, and English in the Folkeskole. In 2003, it completed an evaluation of teacher training. From 2007 the committee for supervision of quality in the Folkeskole will take over the responsibilities of the Danish Evaluation Institute regarding the Folkeskole.

There have been several  initiatives to raise standards in the Danish education system. In 1987, the Ministry of Education established a ‘Perspective Committee’ with the task of making a survey of the basic knowledge and general values which the school should give Danish young people to prepare them for life in the 21st century. A report with a comprehensive catalogue of ‘basic knowledge’ was submitted in 1988. In 1991, the Folkeskole was included in the IEA study of reading and was found to perform well below the international average (Elley, 1994), a result which sent shock waves through the Danish education system. In 1997, the Danish Ministry of Education published a booklet called Quality which can be seen, in which the need for a closer monitoring of output and the decision about participation in PISA are mentioned. Also in 1998, a project entitled The Folkeskole in the year 2000 was started as a collaborative effort of the Ministry of Education, the National Association of Local Authorities and the Danish Teachers Union (Mehlbye, 2000). In 1999, the Danish Evaluation Institute was established, and Denmark is participating in the PISA cycles 2000, 2003 and 2006.

Results from PISA 2000 also showed disappointing results (OECD, 2001. Andersen et al., 2001) Denmark was no. 16 in reading, no. 12 in mathematics and no. 22 in science out of 32 participating countries. Moreover results showed that Denmark had less success in compensating for home background factors than other Nordic countries (Pilegaard et al., 2003), and had less success in integrating bilingual pupils (Egelund, 2003). There were, however, also positive results. School leaders, teachers and support staff are dedicated; pupils are confident and express a high degree of ‘sense of belonging’ and a good relationship with teachers.

The latest act from 2003 is the result of a development over the preceding six to eight years in which the central government established new powers in relation to the use of the specification of goals. There have always been goals for the final exam: Realeksamen after 10 years of Folkeskole until 1975 and the Afgangsprøve after 9 or 10 years of Folkeskole after 1975. In 1993, the Ministry of Education  issued Central knowledge and proficiency areas and  booklets indicating possible content for each subject, but it was up to the school owners (municipalities, counties) to make more detailed plans, curricula and syllabi, which, however, seldom was done (Mehlbye, 2000). It was most common for teachers to follow textbook systems alone or in combination (Mehlbye, 2000). 

Keeping in mind the fact that Danish teacher training for preschool, primary and lower secondary school is carried out in institutions that are below university level, as well as the fact that formal written assessment is a very uncommon activity (Egelund, 2002), it is understandable that the Ministry of Education has since 2003 issued guidelines for competences to be achieved in each subject in the Folkeskole for two-year intervals – a change which only marginally passed through Parliament as it was considered ‘un-Danish’.

Moreover, from 2002, results from the Afgangsprøve after 9 years of Folkeskole have been published on the homepage of each school and on the Ministry of Education’s website. In this way, the Danish education system is in a transition between an emphasis on ‘inputs’, such as resources per student, to ‘outcomes’, such as results from the final tests and examinations, the latter being instigated by an act dealing with the ‘openness and transparency’ of information and compulsory intermediate goals.

Finally from 2007 the national, adaptive tests, the national competence profiles, the teacher ‘toolbox’, and the committee for supervision of quality in the Folkeskole is the latest attempts to raise the output quality of the Folkeskole.



  • Andersen, A.M., Egelund, N., Pilegaard, T, Krone, M., Lindenskov, L & Mejding, J (2001). Forventninger og færdigheder (Expectiations and proficiency.)  Copenhagen. Institute of Social Research. (In Danish)
  • Egelund, N. (2002) Hvad skal der til for at skabe kvalitet og faglighed i læreprocesser og resultater? [What is needed to produce quality and proficiency in learning processes and results] Uddannelse, 35, 11–21. (In Danish)
  • Egelund, N. (2003): Tosprogede og dansksprogede (Bilingual and Danish language speaking pupils) (Copenhagen, The Danish University of Education). (In Danish)
  • Elley, W. B. (Ed.) (1994) The IEA study of reading literacy: achievement and instruction in thirty-two school systems (Oxford, Pergamon Press).
  • Mehlbye, J. (2000) Evalueringen af programmet Folkeskolen år 2000 : midtvejsrapport : status over kommunernes arbejde med Folkeskolen år 2000 [Evaluation of the developmental programme Folkeskolen year 2000: Midterm report: Status for the municipal work with Folkeskolen year 2000] (Copenhagen, AKF; DLH,DPI,SFI). (In Danish)
  • OECD (2001) Knowledge and skills for life: first results from PISA (Paris, OECD).
  • Pilegaard, T., Turmo, J. & Turmo, A. (2003) Reading literacy and home background, in: S. Lie, P. Linnakyla & A. Roe (Eds) Northern Light on PISA (Oslo, University of Oslo), 83-99.
  • Undervisningsministeriet (2003): Fælles mål (Common gouls). Uddannelsesstyrelsens håndbogsserie nr. 9 – 2003. Copenhagen. (In Danish)
  • Uni-C. The Danish IT Centre for Education and Research (2004) Private communication.
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