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Mainstream assessment systems - Germany

Assessment in pre-school

Children's performance at Kindergarten is not assessed, as teaching does not take place in the sense of lessons at school. The educational staff monitors children's development and informs parents of their child's progress and of any problems he or she may experience within the group.

Within the compass of measures for the improvement of linguistic competence in the pre-school sector, the range of methodical instruments for the diagnosis and improvement of linguistic skills is currently being further developed. Important instruments in this regard are the assessment of the stage of linguistic competence before school entrance and, if necessary, subsequent language promotion courses. These and other measures are designed to particularly support migrant children and children with deficits in language development as well as to compensate for social disadvantages.

Assessment in primary education

Performance is assessed according to a six-mark system adopted by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder:

  • very good  = 1
  • good = 2
  • satisfactory = 3
  • adequate  = 4
  • poor  = 5
  • very poor = 6 

Each pupil’s performance is noted in a report twice a year in the middle and at the end of the school year. As a rule, pupils do not receive grades in the first two school years. Instead, their individual learning progresses and levels of achievement are documented in the form of a written report. During the school year, each assignment is marked by the respective subject teacher. On the report, the grades for each subject are given either by the subject teacher or, on the subject teacher’s recommendation, by a teachers conference known as the Klassenkonferenz. In addition to the marks in the various subjects, the report may contain comment or marks on class participation and social conduct at school. Certifications qualify for promotion to the next year or further course of education. 

Before an assessment through marks and later on accompanying pupils’ class assessment, takes the form of a report at the end of the school year describing in detail a pupil's progress, strengths and weaknesses in the various fields of learning. At the end of Year 2, or sometimes later, pupils start to receive their reports at the end of each half of the school year with marks, which enable the individual pupil's performance to be recorded and placed in the context of the level achieved by the entire teaching group, and thus a comparative assessment to be made. In addition to the marks awarded for the individual subjects, the reports can also contain comments or marks on class participation and on social conduct in the school. 

Assessment in secondary education

Irrespective of school type, Years 5 and 6 constitute a phase of particular support,

supervision and orientation with regard to the pupil’s future course of education and its particular direction. 

Years 5 and 6 comprise the following main features:

  • A common and elementary choice of education with compulsory key areas of learning,
  • Differentiated learning requirements with the objective to support and develop individual efficiency in the best possible way,
  • Measures to counterbalance different backgrounds and aptitudes which may also be linked to the social background
  • The observation of individual efficiency and learning progresses, also with regard to the requirements pupils are expected to meet on their future educational paths and in subsequent school grades.

(further information from the Secretariat of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs from 6 December 1999).

Beginning in Year 7 the school types and courses of education increasingly diverge in terms of the subjects offered, the requirements with regard to individual specialisation and the qualifications being aimed at. 

In the 1993 Agreement on Types of Schools and Courses of Education at Lower

Secondary Level (Vereinbarung über die Schularten und Bildungsgänge im Sekundarbereich I) as amended in 1996 the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder laid down the framework schedule for the types of school and courses of education at lower secondary level for the Years 5/6 to 9/10 in the education system of the Länder. 

The agreement lays down the common and special features of the different types of schools and courses of education as well as a common schedule. Moreover, the agreement establishes the conditions for the mutual recognition of leaving certificates and qualifications. Its provisions aim to assure a universal and comparable basic structure of the education system in Germany and to stay abreast of further system enhancements. 

The structure of the education system at the lower secondary level is built on a general primary school attendance of 4 years (in two countries 6 years) following which further courses of education including achievable qualifications and admissions are classified according to types of schools, which, in most Länder, include the Hauptschule, the Realschule, the Gymnasium and the Gesamtschule. 

Irrespective of school type, Years 5 and 6 constitute a phase of particular support, supervision and orientation with regard to the pupil’s future educational course and its particular direction. The Abitur examination covers at least four and at most five components. As a rule, at least three written examinations and one oral examination are taken. A fifth subject can be examined in either written or oral form, or can be a particular achievement covering subject matter of at least two school terms. All three subject areas have to be covered in the examination. If a particular achievement is incorporated into the Abitur examination it may cover one of the three subject areas according to the legislation in place in a Land. All pupils must be tested in German or in one foreign language, continued after lower secondary education. Whilst the conditions and contents of Abitur examinations vary from Land to Land the Ministries of Education and Cultural Affairs are presently aiming at introducing a supraregional standardisation of the Abitur examination after only 12 school years in the sense of a Zentralabitur, a centralised form of examination. The provisions regarding the gymnasiale Oberstufe, i.e. upper Gymnasium level are laid down in the following agreement of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs:

  • Agreement on the Organisation of the upper Gymnasium at the Upper Secondary Level (resolution of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs from 07 July 1972 as amended on 16 June 2000) 
  • "Vereinbarung zur Gestaltung der gymnasialen Oberstufe in der Sekundarstufe II" (Beschluss der KMK vom 07.07.1972 i.d.F. v. 16.06.2000)  

Other evaluation and assessment procedures – comparative studies of pupil achievement

Ongoing public debates have shown that the pupil achievement issue has become an object of central interest. Based on a resolution of October 1997, referred to as the Konstanzer Beschluss, and the participation in national and international comparative studies the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs has made quality assurance a central issue on its agenda. At the same time the Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs emphasised that competition between the Länder plays a key role in quality development.   

By means of regular achievement assessments strengths and weaknesses of the education system can be identified to serve as indicators for targeted measures leading to the improvement of quality. The Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs is presently involved in the following studies of pupil achievement: 

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