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Assessment policy: introduction - Iceland

Assessment Policy – Introduction 

In 1994 Iceland ratified the Salamanca Declaration on special needs education, and its ideology is clearly reflected in the general section of the National Curriculum Guide for Compulsory Schools of 1999. It says: 

the compulsory school shall endeavour to have its work accord as well as possible with the nature and needs of pupils, supporting the all-round development of each of them. Compulsory schools are to welcome all children, no matter what their physical or mental capabilities, their social and emotional situation or linguistic development. This applies to both handicapped and non-handicapped children, children of exceptional intelligence or mentally handicapped intelligence and everything in between…

The legal environment, regulations based on the legislation and the National Curriculum Guide support the concept of inclusion (School for All), and of all pupils receiving as equal opportunities as possible for study. The Act states:

the objectives of study and instruction, and the working practices of compulsory schools, shall be such as to prevent discrimination on the basis of origin, gender, residence, class, religion or handicap. All school activities shall take into account the varied personality, maturity, talent, ability and interests of pupils. 

Assessment of pupils with special needs – the legal environment and policy formation

Icelandic primary/lower secondary schools are governed by similar compulsory education legislation to that in other Nordic countries. According to the objectives stated in the Compulsory Schools Act, on which the schools’ work is based: 

Compulsory schools shall make an effort to carry out their activities to correspond as fully as possible with the nature and needs of their pupils and encourage the overall development, well-being and education of each individual.  

In 1994 Iceland ratified the Salamanca Declaration on special needs education, and its ideology is clearly reflected in the general section of the National Curriculum Guide for Compulsory Schools of 1999. Only 0.5% of pupils in compulsory education attend special schools. 

The Compulsory Schools Act contains a special section on study assessment, which is discussed in six articles. These state that the principal objective of assessment of pupils is to encourage the pupils and assist their study. Assessment should be a permanent aspect of school activities, inseparable from study and instruction. The Act states that assessment aims to produce the most dependable evidence possible on the success of school activities, and the success of individual pupils or groups in achieving the objectives set for them. 

The Regulations on special needs teaching, 1996,  state that special needs teaching entails major changes to the study objectives, study material, conditions of study and/or teaching methods vis-à-vis what other pupils of the same age are offered.  According to the regulations on special needs teaching, school staff must assess the needs of pupils with special needs, and prepare an individual curriculum for the pupil in accord with his/her needs. 

The legal framework for study assessment policy is clear. The principal objective of official study assessment is to ascertain as far as possible whether the objectives of the National Curriculum Guide in the relevant subject are achieved. National examinations are also intended to provide information on where schools stand in the subjects examined, vis-à-vis other schools in the country. The tendency is for the State to wish to continue with the examinations, and even to increase the number of examinations. Through flexible study assessment, linked to the teaching methods of each school, and continuous assessment by class teachers linked to their teaching and study, the working methods, diligence and co-operative skill of individual pupils can be assessed better, as the assessment in broader based than that of the national examinations. Flexible assessment within primary/lower secondary school appears to reflect whether the school’s work is guided by flexible teaching methods and individual oriented study. Policy formation in individual communities is important here. 

Within primary/lower secondary schools, great emphasis is placed upon conventional examinations.  Diagnosis of handicapped pupils and those with other developmental disorders is carried out by physicians and psychologists, generally at diagnostic facilities run by the State. The diagnostic findings are then used in order to apply for extra funding. Pupils with learning difficulties are generally diagnosed by special needs teachers and psychologists in consultation with the teacher. Standardised diagnostic assessment tools are used. Individual oriented study, continuous assessment by teachers, checklists and portfolios are the growth areas at this time. With regard to inclusion (School for All) and inclusive assessment, many issues must be considered. Effective development work must be carried out with teachers in the coming years with regard to changing teaching methods and use of assessment tools. It must be considered, for instance, how the gap may be bridged between the diagnostic assessment of physicians and psychologists on the one hand, and changed teaching methods based on the assessment on the other, and how assessment findings may be put to better use in school work by means of more follow-up for the teacher, and collaboration between the school and the healthcare system.  

It must be considered, whether study assessment is used as effectively as is intended by legislation and regulations, with regard to assistance for pupils in their studies. 

Features of assessment policy (general and SEN specific) that support best practice in inclusive primary classrooms as we see it in Iceland are focussed upon the development of flexible teaching methods in an inclusive school and must be effectively linked to inclusive study assessment. 

Changes and diverse teaching methods are the key to diverse inclusive assessment. The policies of individual local governments on individual oriented study in an inclusive school (School for All), and the increasing numbers of handicapped children in mainstream schools, are conducive to flexible teaching methods and more diverse assessment. It is important to see inclusive assessment as part of the overall process in the development of the inclusive school.

 

Sources:

  • Compulsory Schools Act, no. 66/1995 
  • National Curriculum Guide for Compulsory School, General Section, 1999. Ministry of Education. 
  • Reglugerð um sérkennslu nr. 389/1996. [Regulations on Special needs Teaching, no. 389/1996]
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