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Assessment in inclusive classrooms - Germany

The basic elements of inclusive teaching practice include general teaching concepts on the one hand and knowledge about underlying problems obtained through diagnostics on the other. Teaching practice based on special needs diagnostics needs to assure that the required amount and quality of support measures is provided. According to the 1994 recommendations of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs Standing education of young people with disabilities must be recognised as a joint task that equally concerns all schools. In this context, special education is increasingly regarded as complement to and focalisation of general education.

Among other features, this process is characterised by:

  • experience in special educational needs in schools for special education, known as Sonderschulen and in mainstream schools;
  • a new understanding of the integration of disabled;
  • a more effective early detection and support;
  • the enhancement of educational approaches in Kindergärten (pre-school establishments), Kindertagesstätten (day-care establishments for children under the age of 3) and Allgemeine Schulen (mainstream schools) as well as extended support, especially in Grundschulen (primary schools);
  • the use of enhanced technical support;
  • the improvement of diagnostic techniques;
  • greater appreciation of the benefits to children of attending a school close to their home  

Assessment in the Field of Inclusive Education

Altered forms of learning in the Grundschule are contributing towards a new understanding of what is conducive to learning, and of assessing pupil performance. The focus has shifted to encouraging each individual pupil to achieve all that he or she is capable of, guided by the learning requirements for the respective school year. In order to do this it is necessary to monitor the individual development and performance of each pupil on a constant basis, as well as their working and social behaviour, and assess these factors comprehensively. 

Educational progress is normally examined by constant monitoring of the learning processes and by the use of oral and written controls. In primary Years 1 and 2, the focus is on direct observation of the pupils. In Year 3, pupils also begin to be familiarised with written class tests in certain subjects.

Assessment is always based on syllabus requirements pupil achievement, in particular written tests, oral contributions and practical performance. Written exams and tests taken during the school year, take place at regular intervals. 

In the Länder which has established the corresponding laws, education and instruction of pupils with SEN is increasingly regarded as a joint task of all school types. This implies a new understanding of the integration and assistance of disabled. In addition, a new understanding with regard to the detection of SEN and diagnostic techniques has gained ground. Today, special support is less related to school types than it used to be in the past. Instead, focus has shifted to individual, personal and ecological aspects of learning and living environment. 

Applied Methods / Criteria of Selection

Special needs education requires a systematic and criteria related observation of all learning and development processes of a pupil. 

Diagnostic techniques essentially include:

  • criteria related observation of school -internal and -external situations,
  • criteria related observation of confrontations with new tasks
  • interrogations and exchange with pupils, parents, teachers and other educational and therapeutical staff,
  • diagnostic examination procedures (commercial and non commercial) predominantly of informal type, which are usually coupled with  
  • evaluation scales and progress chronologies as well as with age and grade norms for the purpose of result interpretation.

Essentially, all diagnostic procedures including formal means of examination are also analysed on a qualitative basis. The diagnostic results constitute the basis for individual SEN planning. The special education plan contains the essential objectives, support measures, and offers from internal and external co-operation partners. The results of learning process related diagnostics are documented and followed up in the education plan on a continuous basis. Problem relevance of procedures (they must be suitable to analyse and break down the initial problem) and their support relevance (they must allow justified action with regard to achievable goals, appropriate learning contents and suitable methods) constitute the main criteria for the selection of appropriate diagnostic techniques.   

The Object of Diagnostics

As a rule, the detection of SEN points at an initial problem with educational relevance. At the same time, this initial problem implies that the person concerned has limited capacities to deal with every day life (cf. 1.1.2). Thus, the object of special needs diagnostics includes all aspects that relate to the initial problem and can help contribute to a better understanding and to its diminution. These aspects include among others:

  • A description of the problem and the history of its origins from the point of view of all persons involved in the process (the child itself, its parents, teachers and  classmates, external attendants and therapists, etc.)
  • Personality traits (intelligence, perception, speech, concentration, motivation, …),  but only insofar as their evaluation appears to be important for the understanding of the background of the determined problems (e.g. speech development, reading and writing weaknesses),
  • Pupil achievement (individual achievements compared to age, development and syllabus norms),
  • School and class conditions, in particular conducive and non conducive learning conditions,
  • Environmental conditions, individual capability to deal with every day life and possible confinements (including the question at which point in the person’s life the learning contents may become relevant from a subjective standpoint),
  • Realised didactic concepts, their success and failure, their adequacy from the teachers’ point of view, and
  • Participation and co-operation of schools and parents or legal guardians (if necessary, further “helpers”).

References to Individual Education Plans (IEP)

Special support is performed on the basis of special IEP. These document the pupil’s history with regard to his/her development including the required special educational support. A continuous evaluation of the measures taken is connected with the pupil’s progress and the guidance of all persons involved in the educational process.

Learning diagnostics is a constitutive part of the teaching and learning process. It takes place within and outside of school lessons. Methodological didactics and diagnostics are directly interrelated. The aim is to analyse how pupils learn, how their learning methods and foreknowledge can be taken up in class and how they can be supported and assisted in the best possible way. In addition to the individual stage of a pupil’s development with regard to intelligence and learning abilities, his/her personal perception of his/her emotional and social situation has to be taken into account as well. All observations are based on the following set of questions:

  • What foreknowledge does the pupil have?
  • Where do his/her strengths lie?
  • What is yet to be acquired?
  • Which learning methods and aids have been successfully employed so far?
  • Which competences are required for their acquisition?
  •  What are the next learning steps?

The IEP determines the planned learning steps under reserve of their feasibility, (leaving sufficient scope for flexibility) and how their achievement can be evaluated. As a rule, the IEP comprises four different didactic areas of decision: It explains and justifies (1) the objectives aimed at, (2) which subject matter (in the sense of framework curricula as well as individual requirements of a cognitive, motor, sensory, and linguistic nature) is to be imparted, (3) which methods appear to be adequate in general or in the individual case, and (4) which type of learning media and materials can be used. Decisions made within these four areas are justified at most on two levels of argumentation: Firstly, they are justified on the basis of theory, i.e. the decisions are legitimised on the basis of scientific findings, theoretical development principles, or didactic concepts. However, this line of justifications is of a general nature and not framed to the individual’s peculiarities. Secondly, the decisions are justified on the basis of diagnostics. On this level of argumentation the peculiarities of the individual are taken into account. This is also where information about pupil achievement, individual basis of conduct and conditions related to the individual’s life come in. 

Special needs education is founded on expert opinions and process diagnostics and always involves several parties requiring a common work basis. For this purpose the IEP lays down

  • the aims of special educational support in the individual case,
  • the general conditions regarding the conception of the work place, specific (technical) aids, support and guidance,
  • possibilities of obtaining the aims agreed on, and
  • the method of evaluating pupil achievements and performance. 

IEP contain statements about support types according to the following focal points (example of an Individual Education Plan)  

Planning decisions can be incorporated on a diagnostic level in different ways. Microanalyses of peculiar aspects in a restricted sense regularly constitute part of this procedure. These may include detailed speech analyses of children with SEN, in particular with regard to the syntactical structure of their utterances, their vocabulary, phonological patterns and realisation of utterances. Microanalyses with focus on physical and motor refer to posture and movement under certain circumstances, microanalyses with focus on learning abilities and strategies with regard to reading, writing and arithmetic. Conclusions for IEP can be drawn from these diagnostic findings, in particular regarding which targets and other subject matter seem appropriate for the individual. 

Secondly, microanalyses are increasingly complemented by behaviour and use analyses. Essentially, they deal with processes related to pupil achievements which are then made accessible for analysis on a micro-level. These include behaviour patterns which can be observed externally as well as individual conditions related to the act of accomplishment and living conditions. Regarding special support with focus on mental development this implies e.g. analysing orientation behaviour in every day life (e.g. reading of timetables) to develop hypotheses about the fundamental principles of behaviour (e.g. what does the pupil know about means of public transport, which time and space concept has he/she developed, what does he/she know about the abstract sign system in formalised timetables, why should he/she learn to read timetables and which purpose can it serve in his/her every day life?). These analyses help establish important connecting links on a didactic level. These in turn may have a decisive influence on the decision making, either content wise or from a methodological point of view, to name only two possibilities.

Finally, microanalyses are complemented by biographical analyses. They deal with individual backgrounds under different aspects, e.g. what do the parents expect from their child, how are these expectations communicated to the child, how do the parents motivate their child, how do the parents co-operate with the school and where might changes be required, what types of hobbies does the child have, etc. This type of information is frequently used to adapt the didactic targets, to tailor content-related decisions according to the child’s foreknowledge, to turn to account their learning processes and to choose the forms of methodological access which may also help the child accomplish their every day tasks outside of school. 

Resources

In this context, resources refer not only to the allocation of funds for learning material and lessons, but also to the availability of capacities and competences in the respective systems.  

Due to its federal structure Germany has no homogeneous system for the allocation of resources. Every year in spring the Sonderschulen and Förderzentren (special education units) determine a period of 1 to 3 weeks during which the assessment of the special educational needs of all pupils who have been registered takes place. The Länder do not provide any homogeneous regulations governing the additional availability of teaching staff, neither for the assessment process itself nor for related consultation, planning and co-operation activities. On the basis of existing rules and regulations the Länder, communities and partially also schools are granted a certain freedom of discretion.   

Offers for further education in special needs diagnostics have increased lately. These courses offer teachers and other persons involved in special support matters the possibility to extend their range of knowledge, skills and proficiencies. Some Länder offer special modules for SEN diagnostics, consultation and/or successful implementation of inclusive education in practice.

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