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Assessment practice: introduction - Iceland

In this report the findings and conclusions on assessment in the ETAI  project (Enhancing Teachers’ Abilities in Inclusion), a case study of exemplary practices of inclusive education in schools in four European countries 1998-2000, will be discussed. Trends in assessment in schools in Iceland recent years will be mentioned, and their implications for pupils with special needs. 

Finally, cases of good practice are reported. The main theme is an interview with a mother with positive experience of inclusive settings. 

Findings in the ETAI study – case study of exemplary practices of inclusive education

The outcomes and conclusions of the ETAI study comprised nine themes:

  1. Preparation for schooling
  2. Curriculum planning and individual education plans
  3. Classroom practice
  4. Collaboration and co-ordination
  5. Pupils’ social interaction
  6. Home/school collaboration
  7. Evaluation, assessment and reflection
  8. Support services
  9. Staff development 

Two are of special importance when reflecting on assessment:

  • curriculum planning and individual education plans
  • evaluation, assessment and reflection 

Curriculum and individual education plans

The curricula of inclusive schools are characterised by their ability to incorporate contents that promote the development of social skills in addition to academic content. It seems that the dynamics of an inclusive school require the constant fostering of these skills. 

The curriculum represents a framework for teachers, support services and families, who are jointly responsible for planning the educational process of pupils. This framework seems to be most effective in facilitating the inclusion of all pupils. The class teachers assume full responsibility for curriculum planning and implementation for all their pupils. 

In order to respond to the different needs of pupils, the curriculum and classroom activities must be directed at all the pupils in the ordinary classroom. On this issue there needs to be unanimous agreement. From this point of view, curriculum adaptations that are made through individual plans will need to strive to guarantee the highest degree of classroom participation possible. 

The school is responsible for curricular planning and decisions, in close collaboration with the families. Specialists, who in the past were ultimately responsible for creating individual plans, now primarily take on the role of assessors and consultants with regard to certain aspects. 

As for individual plans, it is necessary to distinguish writing these from implementing them. When putting theory into practice, what inclusive schools seem to question is the individual attention given to the pupil, and taken away from the rest of the class, and not the creation of an individual plan in itself. Teachers need to beware of individual or personal plans becoming instruments of segregation. 

Evaluation, assessment and reflection

Frequent and collaborative reflection and evaluation seem to enhance practice and give staff assurance and confidence when taking up new practices. 

Schools need to form policy on evaluation and assessment, stating the purpose, nature, form, participants and timeline in each case. 

Internal evaluation needs to be a part of school development. It also serves the purpose of constant reflection on classroom practice. 

A mixture of formal and informal approaches seems to be helpful. Formal approaches seem to be more appropriate when a school desires answers to certain pre-determined areas. The greater number of people involved in the evaluation, the more formal the situation becomes.

Various ways of enquiry are recommended, such as video recording, diary writing, verbal reflection, interviews, questionnaires, study of documents. 

It is worth considering involving pupils formally in the reflection process, in order to improve school and classroom practices. 

Overview and trends in assessment in schools in Iceland – where are we heading?

Examinations and other forms of assessment, usually written, are carried out by individual teachers and schools. Assessment is therefore not standardised between different schools and teachers. The way in which the reports on pupils’ progress are compiled varies greatly: the assessment may be in the form of a numerical or letter grade, or an oral or written commentary. Reports are given at regular intervals throughout the school year and at the end of each year. 

National examinations at the end of compulsory education are optional, i.e. the pupils can choose whether to take the national examinations, and how many. Pupils are able to choose between examinations in six subjects, i.e. Icelandic, Danish, English, mathematics, natural sciences and social sciences.

These examinations are written, marked and organised by the Educational Testing Institute. The purpose of these examinations is primarily to indicate the pupil’s standing at the completion of his/her compulsory education, and to assist him/her in choosing a course of upper secondary study. In grades 4 and 7, pupils take two national examinations. The subjects examined are Icelandic and mathematics. (Ministry of Education 2002) 

Trends

Only a handful of Iceland’s local governments, which number about 100, have a formal written educational policy. The largest community, Reykjavík, where about one third of the entire population or 113,000 people live, has a formal and active educational policy. The four next largest communities, with populations numbering 10,000 to 25,000, also have policies. The policies of these local governments, especially Reykjavík, naturally influence educational work elsewhere. The City of Reykjavík has in recent years emphasised individual oriented study in inclusive schools, and has sought to strengthen educational work which is conducive to those objectives. 

The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture allocates grants each year from the Compulsory Schools Development Fund to schools who are involved in development work. The objective of the Fund is to promote innovation and experiment in the organisation of studies, teaching methods, teaching materials and assessment in primary/lower secondary school. In the last two allocations, the emphasis was upon grants to development work in the field of diverse study assessment. By examining what schools are doing in this development work, it is possible to see where they are heading. It should be mentioned that, not only in Reykjavík but elsewhere, schools are beginning debate on individual oriented study, and they aim to emphasise individual orientation and seek to meet the needs of all pupils. The focus is not specifically upon pupils with special needs; however, they are almost all in mainstream primary/lower secondary schools, and should be included in the discussion of all pupils. 

Examination of applications for grants for development work in study assessment reveals an emphasis on formative assessment in greater participation by the pupils themselves in assessment, using portfolio assessment and various kinds of pupil led conferences. There is also a trend towards more standard based assessment and use of rubrics. In these applications the goal is often mentioned of seeking to assess the pupil’s abilities as a whole, and all pupils’ abilities. Variety and diversification is often mentioned in assessment and assessment tools. 

These trends are also apparent in the curriculum of the University of Education. There students face issues such as: achievement assessment versus performance based assessment, diagnostic and formative assessment, inclusive or exclusive, process or product etc. 

These trends, both in forward looking schools, where teachers are participating in formal professional development, and in teacher education, are still only on the threshold of the classroom or in their infancy in the work of the teachers in the classroom. There are therefore not many cases yet to consider, but we have come across some which are of interest for this report. 

It is of importance to mention that almost all pupils in Iceland, or 99.5%, study in inclusive settings, and the trend in assessment towards a more individualised performance based assessment, with the participation of the pupil, should apply to pupils with special needs, as to any other pupil. 

There is neither an increasing pressure from parents in relation to assessment information nor calls for more comparative information as we see it. Comparative assessment planned and partly implemented in upper secondary schools has not been much talked about. As mentioned there are few specials schools in Iceland, and only 0,5% of pupils in compulsory education attend these special schools. They are one of a kind and no comparison is made between those special schools. 

Cases of good practice

In this section aspects from the agenda will be considered. This will be done via an interview with and thoughts of a mother (referred to as M), whose experience is of successful inclusion in compulsory school for her son (referred to as N) who has special needs. N is severely handicapped. The mother is a special educational needs adviser by profession, and is now a lecturer in teacher education. Reference to another case of good practice will be included where appropriate. In this case the pupil is referred to as D. D is also severely handicapped. Both these pupils study in inclusive settings where there are often two teachers in the classroom. There is often a small room connected to the classroom, to which pupils have access for group work or individual work.

 

Source:

  • Eggertsdottir, R. a. M., G. L., Ed. (2005). Pathways to Inclusion. Reykjavik, University of Iceland Press.
  • The Educational System in Iceland (2002). Reykjavík, Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. http://bella.mrn.stjr.is/utgafur/skolenska.pdf
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