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Descriptions of the legal system for assessment - Germany

The assessment of pupil achievement is a pedagogic process; it is, however, an administrative act as well, based on provisions laid down by law. Teachers and teaching staff are given some scope for discretion. The general legislative framework, as a rule, falls in the realm of the Länder sovereignty. The guidelines refer to the respective levels and types of schools. 

One of the characteristic features of the German education system is its federal organisation. As a consequence, educational guidelines for assessment within the scope of special needs education can be classified according to the following three levels: (1) The recommendations of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs frame mutual resolutions into supraregional general guidelines. The 16 Länder (2) are required to give concrete, and, where applicable, nuanced form to the general guidelines through their own school legislation. In the form of national school decrees these guidelines are laid down in a very broad sense and require further manageable concretion which (3) is stipulated in the rules and regulations of the school supervisory authorities. It is therefore through the recommendations of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs in terms of supraregional general guidelines that the broadest diversification can be achieved.

Recommendations on Special Needs Education in the Schools of the Federal Republic of Germany: "Empfehlungen zur sonderpädagogischen Förderung in den Schulen in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland" 

These recommendations provide an insight into the new approach on special support. It is in this framework that the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs observes that on Länder level the accomplishment of special education is not confined to Sonderschulen, i.e. schools of special education, and that, as a matter of fact, mainstream schools including vocational schools can increasingly respond to special educational needs. The recommendations describe the different venues and forms of special educational needs pinpointing their specificities and objectives and provide an insight into staff employment and its qualification in this particular field. 

Meanwhile, the following recommendations for the individual types of special education have been adapted from the 1994 Recommendations for Special Needs Education in the Schools of the Federal Republic of Germany: 

  • Recommendations for special needs education with focus on hearing (resolution of the KMK from 10 May 1996) - Empfehlungen zum Förderschwerpunkt Hören (Beschluss der KMK vom 10.5.1996) 
  • Recommendations for special needs education with focus on physical and motor development (resolution of the KMK from 3 March 1998) - Empfehlungen zum Förderschwerpunkt körperliche und motorische Entwicklung (Beschluss der KMK vom 20.03.1998) 
  • Recommendations for special needs education with focus on sight (resolution of the KMK from 3 March 1998) - Empfehlungen zum Förderschwerpunkt Sehen  (Beschluss der KMK vom 20.3.1998) 
  • Recommendations for special needs education with focus on instruction for sick pupils (resolution of the KMK from 3 March 1998) - Empfehlungen zum Förderschwerpunkt Unterricht kranker Schülerinnen und Schüler  (Beschluss der KMK vom 20.3.1998)
  • Recommendations for special needs education with focus on mental development (resolution of KMK from 26 June 1998) - Empfehlungen zum Förderschwerpunkt geistige Entwicklung  (Beschluss der KMK vom 26.6.1998)   
  • Recommendations for special needs education with focus on speech (resolution of the KMK from 26 June 1998) - Empfehlungen zum Förderschwerpunkt Sprache  (Beschluss der KMK vom 26.6.1998)
  • Recommendations for special needs education with focus on learning (resolution of the KMK from 1 October 1999) - Empfehlungen zum Förderschwerpunkt Lernen  (Beschluss der KMK vom 1.10.1999) 
  • Recommendations for special needs education with focus on emotional and social development (resolution of the KMK from 3 March 2000) - Empfehlungen zum Förderschwerpunkt emotionale und soziale Entwicklung (Beschluss der KMK vom 10.3.2000) 
  • Recommendations for special needs education with focus on the education and instruction for pupils with autistic behaviour (resolution of the KMK from 16 June 2000) - Empfehlungen zu Erziehung und Unterricht von Kindern und Jugendlichen mit autistischem Verhalten (Beschluss der KMK vom 16.6.2000) 

The guiding principles of assessment in the field of special needs education (pronounced by KMK in the form of recommendations) are set forth as explicitly on the general level as they are on the second level of school decrees. On one hand, special educational needs can be characterised as an institutional category: Special educational needs can be presumed in learning venues where children or young people without special educational assistance cannot be sufficiently supported (1994, 5 Resolution of the KMK). In this logic, special educational needs emerge from the discrepancy between educational opportunities of young people and teaching conditions in mainstream schools. On the other hand special educational needs can be essentially characterised as a personal category: Not only do they describe the individual prerequisites of the adolescent and his/her educational and personal situation, but also the possible impact of special educational needs on his/her educational career and further well being in the event of life-long disability. According to its 1994 recommendations the KMK correctly pinpoints the urgent tasks in school development and implementation of special educational needs as follows:

  • "identification of disabilities/impairments as well as their sources and progressive dynamics;
  • assessment of the individual disability’s significance with regard to the child’s or adolescent’s school career and further well being;
  • on the basis of the collected findings, realisation of the educational requirements in terms of education, instruction and special support in such way that the persons concerned acquire the ability to live with their disabilities and achieve to lead a meaningful life embedded in social surroundings and, whenever possible, to achieve a decrease or compensation with regard to the disabilities and their implications” (KMK, 1994, 4).

On the third level of regionally differing regulations the Länder are in the process of putting into practice the guiding principles by and by. Due to the fact that not all Länder have completed the transposition according to the recommendations there are still rules and regulations in place which have not yet adjusted to the changes in education policy.

Central Topics

Assessment is always based on syllabus requirements and the knowledge, abilities and skills acquired in class. Assessment is carried out by the teacher responsible for lessons, who is responsible educationally for his or her decision. 

Aims, Contents and Methods are laid down in the General Legislative Outlines - Dealing with Heterogeneity  

The essential legislative outlines are described in detail in the 1994 Recommendations for Special Needs Education in the Schools of the Federal Republic of Germany (Empfehlungen zur sonderpädagogischen Förderung in den Schulen der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (06.05.1994)).

The recommendations have triggered a change of paradigm: The focus on institutions is more and more giving way to the focus on the needs of the individual. Education and instruction of disabled pupils is being increasingly recognised as a joint responsibility of all schools, schools for special education and mainstream schools. Thus, special education is no longer viewed as an isolated field of general education, but as a complement and focal area within. According to the recommendations of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs the main characteristics of this process include: 

  • 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; technischer Hilfen
  • the improvement of diagnostic techniques;
  • greater appreciation of the benefits to children attending a school close to their home.

This is why the formerly prevailing concept of Sonderschulbedürftigkeit (the need for education at a special school) has been largely superseded by the concept of Sonderpädagogischer Förderbedarf (special needs education) which is defined as follows: It can be presumed that children or young people have special educational needs if their opportunities for education, development and learning are limited to such an extent that they cannot be sufficiently promoted in mainstream schools without special support. This definition shows that the accomplishment of special needs education is not confined to Sonderschulen, i.e. schools of special education, and that this type of special support can also be achieved in mainstream schools (including vocational schools). The recommendations specify the following aims and tasks: The aim of special education is to enable pupils who are either disabled or facing the threat of disablement to exercise their right to a form of schooling and education that is tailored to their personal capabilities. Pupils receive support in the form of individual assistance measures so that they can achieve the highest possible level of integration at school and at work, participate in society and lead independent adult lives as far as possible. In evaluating the special needs of pupils with disabilities special emphasis is placed on the assessment of:

  • learning and performance behaviour,
  • language, speech and communication,
  • emotional and social development,
  • mental development,
  • physical and motor development,
  • hearing,
  • sight,
  • physical and psychological constitution.  

In this context it is important, in how far the disabled manage to deal with their impairments. In addition to the Sonderschule as the traditional place of special education, the aim is to promote the concept of inclusive classes at mainstream schools, so that pupils with special educational needs can attend mainstream schools provided that the required special educational assistance, practical support and the right physical environment are guaranteed. Co-operative forms between Sonderschulen and mainstream schools would be imaginable as well. In the future these forms of teaching can be increasingly put to the test and practice in the special education units which are being established in many parts of the country (national overview Germany). 

Subject Areas of Assessment

SEN assessment deals with various subject areas. According to the recommendations of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs these serve to establish quantitative and qualitative profiles directed at special support measures (1994, 7, Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs). The subject matters of this profile consist of data which can be roughly subdivided into 4 categories: (1) Provided a relevant problem exists, the data concerns pupil achievement, potential discrepancies between pupil achievement and learning requirements related to the respective school type, and, if possible, progress oriented statements about the next learning steps and their feasibility. (2) Secondly, the data concerns individual achievement capabilities described as personality traits or measured according to age. The personality traits may include i.e. cognition, speech, motor function, perception, sociability. (3) Thirdly, diagnostics should consider the pupil’s environmental conditions which may influence learning processes in school as well as the depicted “outset”. Formal aspects such as class size or amount of lessons are associated with this category in the same way as textual aspects such as didactical approaches, teaching methods and media.  (4) The fourth category covers extra scholar environmental conditions, i.a. family situation, co-operation between school and parents’ house or medical-therapeutical support systems.

 

Sources:

  • Hausotter, A.: National Overview - Germany. European Agency for Development in Special Needs and Inclusive Education. Middelfart 2003 national overview 
  • Kanter, G.: Die KMK-Empfehlungen von 1994 zur sonderpädagogischen Förderung. In: Drave, W./Rump¬ler, F./Wachtel, P. (Hrsg.): Empfehlungen zur sonderpädagogischen Förderung. Allgemeine Grundlagen und Förderschwerpunkte (KMK) mit Kommentaren. Würzburg 2000, 45-54. 
  • KMK (Sekretariat der Ständigen Konferenz der Kultusminister der Länder in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland): Empfehlungen zur sonderpädagogischen Förderung in den Schulen in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Beschluss der Kultusministerkonferenz vom 06.05.1994. Bonn 1994. 
  • KMK (Sekretariat der Ständigen Konferenz der Kultusminister der Länder in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland): Empfehlungen zum Förderschwerpunkt Hören. Beschluss der Kultusministerkonferenz vom 10.05.1996. Bonn 1996
  • KMK (Sekretariat der Ständigen Konferenz der Kultusminister der Länder in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland): Empfehlungen zum Förderschwerpunkt Sprache. Beschluss der Kultusministerkonferenz vom 26.06.1998. Bonn 1998a. 
  • KMK (Sekretariat der Ständigen Konferenz der Kultusminister der Länder in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland): Empfehlungen zum Förderschwerpunkt geistige Entwicklung. Beschluss der Kultusministerkonferenz vom 26.06.1998. Bonn 1998b. 
  • KMK (Sekretariat der Ständigen Konferenz der Kultusminister der Länder in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland): Empfehlungen zum Förderschwerpunkt körperliche und motorische Entwicklung. Beschluss der Kultusministerkonferenz vom 20.03.199¬8. Bonn 1998c
  • KMK (Sekretariat der Ständigen Konferenz der Kultusminister der Länder in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland): Empfehlungen zum Förderschwerpunkt Lernen. Beschluss der Kultusministerkonferenz vom 01.10.1999. Bonn 1999.
  • KMK (Sekretariat der Ständigen Konferenz der Kultusminister der Länder in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland): Empfehlungen zum Förderschwerpunkt emotionale und soziale Entwicklung. Beschluss der Kultusministerkonferenz vom 10.03.2000. Bonn 2002
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