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Innovative assessment tools and methods - Finland

Early prevention and intervention are based on the efficient identifying of the risks in the learning and schooling of a child. The perspective is to be holistic which means assessment of different areas of development - the prerequisites concerning academic skills as well as the pupil’s developmental level in emotional and social areas. Systematic and regular health examinations are provided to children by local health centres. Particularly the health examination at five years old is important concerning the early identification of the possible risks in learning. The health examination at the age of five usually consists of a test on the basic skills needed in primary school. The test also gives very important data of how mature the child is in preparation for starting school at the age of seven. The quality and the contents of the early childhood health examination vary between different municipalities; consequently this means that the service is not equal for every child. Therefore the Ministry of Social and Health Affaires and the Ministry of Education have been planning a national uniform test for measuring the children’s risk-factors and difficulties in learning before school start.

Pupil welfare plays an important role in assessing and identifying difficulties in learning at school. Pupil welfare usually means services provided by a team of different experts and professionals at school; a psychologist, a nurse, a social worker and teachers. This teamwork is crucial in assessing pupils’ difficulties in learning and also assessing the possibilities concerning the support of the pupil. It also helps to draw a holistic and systematic picture of the prerequisites of the pupil. A teacher benefits from a multi-professional perspective from arranging the appropriate learning environment for a pupil with SEN. There is not a pupil welfare team in every municipality and every school.

The most common assessment tool in Finnish SNE is the IEP which is implemented with every pupil who has an official diagnosis of having SEN. Together with an individual plan the teachers use initial and on-going assessment tools and pedagogical log-books for gathering follow-up data. A larger range of small tests that every teacher could use when required would be ideal along with tests that are user-friendly and tests that provide adequate information to assess pupils’ abilities and progress. The Teachers also have to be encouraged to use these tests. 

The idea of differentiating the lessons has recently been come more common. The question is how a class teacher or subject teacher can handle it in a large and heterogeneous group of pupils. Initial and in-service teacher training does its best to offer teachers ideas for differentiating the lessons. To make differentiating function well there has to be flexible timetables and team-work between the teachers in a school. Furthermore, by increasing the use of models in differentiating the lessons it is possible to decrease the need for segregated lessons. 

In some schools it is possible to bring, for example, a speech therapist, an occupational therapist or a physiotherapist into the lessons. A therapist can observe a child and also help her/him during lessons. This kind of operation means integration of rehabilitation and assessment and has been very effective and helpful.

There are different kinds of standardised tests in use among special needs teachers in Finland. The tests are for identifying learning difficulties. Most of the tests are measuring linguistical and mathematical abilities and difficulties. There are also new tests in use which correspond better to the qualities of the school and pupils of today. One of the most popular tests in Finland is designed for the early years of schooling and which examines the maturity of the children in pre- primary school. It is a group test where the social skills of the pupil can be assessed as well as the basic academic skills. 

Special schools are very important in helping local schools to assess and support pupils with SEN. They operate as resource centres, giving advice to teachers and parents on the practical issues with learning difficulties. They help in recognising learning problems and produce special learning and assessment material. The experts of the resource centres visit the local schools if needed. A pupil with SEN can also study in a special school for a period of time. The period of assessment consists of precise analysis of the pupil’s learning difficulties. 

In different projects specialists of SNE have produced standardised computer-based programmes for assessing and training basic linguistic and mathematical skills. These programmes are for use of pupils in pre-primary and primary school. 

A network of SNE has been put onto the national web sites. These sites are designed to aid people with learning problems, provide information concerning learning difficulties and assessment and the interventions concerning them. There is also a lot of material and tools produced for virtual learning for pupils with SEN. This service is addressed to teachers and parents.

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