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Mainstream assessment systems - Finland

Two Paradigms of Pupil Assessment

Broadly speaking there are two different paradigms of assessment in educational systems: examination-based and school-based student assessment. The national examination is taken after general upper secondary school. The purpose of this examination is to discover whether students have assimilated the knowledge and skills required by the curriculum and whether they have reached an adequate level of maturity in line with the goals of the general upper secondary school. Passing the Matriculation Examination entitles the candidate to continue his or her studies at university. The examination is arranged twice a year in upper secondary schools.

There is no examination or compulsory national test for students after the 9 year comprehensive basic school. Instead, school and sample-based student assessment procedures are used. These procedures enable schools to use a larger variety of assessment tools, aid teachers in diagnosing low performance students enabling them to help these students during their school years. It also becomes possible to apply sample-based methods in the national evaluation of school performance and expands the possibility to assess and to evaluate the progress of the students.

Since there is no school inspection in Finland, both the local authorities and the National Board of Education have the obligation to evaluate the efficiency of education and produce information about learning results, the purpose of this being to monitor the quality of education at the national level and the adaptation of the national core curriculum, as well as to collect background information and to provide information on the achievement levels to the education providers, subject teachers and to the government.

The aim of this national evaluation system is to support the local/municipal education administration and the development of schools as goal-oriented and open units and to produce and provide comprehensive up-to-date and reliable information on the operational context, functioning, results and effects of the education system in the central target areas within the national frameworks.

External evaluations within the education system are implemented in such a way that achievement of the objectives for the target activity is evaluated on the basis of predefined criteria. The purpose is to yield information about the state of the school for the needs of decision-making concerning the development of education at the municipal, regional or national level. The data from external evaluations are needed both for national development schemes and for international comparisons. Evaluation data may also serve as a basis when applying funding based on results and when granting rewards for good educational quality.

From the point of view of education providers - who are mostly the local municipalities - and schools, the National Board of Education is an external evaluator. The Ministry of Education emphasises that education must be evaluated regularly and the volume of evaluation must be in balance with the educational targets. Evaluation must be done independently e.g. the persons responsible for the preparation of the targets and contents of education are not allowed to be evaluators at the same time.

The information sources, compilation procedures and analysis methods used in evaluation are to be recorded and justified. The aim is that the information used shall be qualitative and quantitative, as reliable, comparable and valid as possible, timely and compiled from a variety of sources in a systematic fashion, economical and analysed through methods justified and explored as well as possible.

National-level evaluations of educational results are carried out by a unit with broad and versatile expertise which is reliable, neutral, autonomous and customer oriented in its work and also involved in international co-operation. The autonomy of these operations refers to the fact that the work is funded entirely by the state and that the evaluators are independent experts and civil servants. Large scale policy or system evaluations are the responsibility of the Education Evaluation Council.

Curriculum Based Pupil Assessment

The national core curriculum is the national framework on which the local curriculum is formulated. In the local curriculum, decisions are made regarding the educational and teaching task of basic education. The objectives and contents are specified according to the national core curriculum as well as other factors bearing on provision of the education. In formulating a curriculum for basic education attention is to be given to the coherence of basic education. The coherence of the curriculum requires co-operation among the different teacher groups in drafting it. Particularly, the pupils’ parents and guardians must be able to influence the contents as also the pupils may be involved in the curriculum work. As it concerns pupil welfare and home-school co-operation the curriculum must be drafted in collaboration with the authorities charged with the tasks that are part of the implementation of the local authority’s social and health services.

Underlying Values of the Curriculum

The underlying values of basic education are human rights, equality, democracy, natural diversity and the endorsement of multiculturalism. Basic education must provide an opportunity for diversified growth, learning and development of a healthy sense of self-esteem. Pupils must be given the opportunity to acquire a general education and complete their educational obligations so that they can obtain the knowledge and skills they need in future life. To guarantee that these goals are achieved, the school system has to be flexible in its provision of lessons and support of studies. In Finnish basic education, supporting studies is divided into general and special support. General support includes co-operation between home and school, the learning plan, provision of educational guidance, remedial teaching, pupil welfare and club activities. Special support includes part-time special needs education and the lessons of pupils who are enrolled in or transferred into special needs education (an official decision).

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