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Implementation of assessment policy - Iceland

Assessment in pre-school is largely carried out by specialists of consultation services, who are usually qualified psychologists and pre-school teachers with postgraduate qualifications. As stated in the ‘Initial assessment’ section, the policy of early intervention is applied. 

If a major disorder is suspected, these specialists refer the child for further diagnosis by diagnostic facilities run by the State, such as the State Diagnostic and Counselling Centre, the Visual Aid Centre for the Sight Impaired, the Hearing and Speech Therapy Centre, the National University Hospital Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Department, and the Centre for Child Health Services.

Funding is allocated for special needs teaching and special support for pre-school pupils with special needs, based upon their diagnosis. On the basis of the diagnostic findings, the pre-school’s consultants make an individual plan for the child, in consultation with the pre-school teachers. 

When children enter primary school at the age of 6, a report and assessment are produced by the pre-school on handicapped pupils and those who require special support in school. With regard to handicapped children, those with severe speech disorders and those with mental and behavioural disorders, assessment is generally carried out by psychologists, physicians and specialists at diagnostic facilities run by the State. They use medical and psychological diagnostic tools on the basis of the ICD-10 diagnostic standard. A medical diagnostic model is thus predominant with regard to handicapped pupils, and those with disorders. At the State Diagnostic and Counselling Centre, which carries out diagnosis of handicapped children other than those with sensory handicaps (visual or hearing impairments), cross-disciplinary teams of physicians, physiotherapists, developmental and occupational therapists, sociologists and speech therapists carry out the assessment. 

A detailed report accompanies the child into primary school.  In the pre-school a report is also prepared assessing the status of the pupil and explaining his/her overall development and social development. In all larger communities, the assessment documents of the relevant pupil are examined by a cross-disciplinary team of the relevant local education authority. 

A diagnostic assessment tool in reading has been developed, in order to assess the skill of individual pupils and general criteria of performance. In Years 1 and 2 diagnostic reading tests, Læsi, are taken in almost all primary schools, either by decision of the local government or on the initiative of the individual school. In Reykjavík the findings show that about 33% of pupils do not achieve 65% in the reading comprehension section of the test, which is the criterion set. These pupils require special support of special needs teaching in reading. Such support is provided by teachers or qualified special needs teachers.

In most schools, in-school examinations are taken, generally at the end of the autumn term in December, or at the end of the spring term in May. They are intended to assess pupils’ skills vis-à-vis the objectives stated in the National Curriculum Guide for the age group. Class teachers also assess pupils’ performance in various topics/stages of study. Teachers use checklists of various kinds to assess working methods, diligence and communication skills. Schools can also administer, in consultation with psychologists, teaching consultants and special needs teachers, various social-relationship tests and class tests, which assess the pupils’ social skills. This is also done on the initiative and responsibility of each school. 

In Year 3 many schools use a diagnostic test in mathematics (Talnalykill) to assess pupils’ mathematical knowledge. Special linguistic comprehension tests are also used. In many cases these tests are administered by teachers and special needs teachers. In Years 4 and 7, the national examinations have some effect upon other study assessment.  Formal in-school assessments related to the intermediate objectives of the National Curriculum Guide are widely used. In class work, the teacher uses continuous assessment, carried out by the teacher alone or in collaboration with other teachers of the Year group. These assessment tools are intended to measure whether pupils achieve the objectives or specific aspects which have been taught. Checklists are also used to identify the pupils who achieve the objectives stated. Teachers also use interviews, formal and informal, for exploration of working methods, diligence and communications. Assessment takes place in school work, every day, in all classes, at all school levels, as teachers assess and provide guidance on pupils’ conduct and correct varied mistakes in study and communications. 

Assessment by special needs teachers is in many cases similar to assessment of pupils in class work, but special needs teachers generally make use of standardised formal assessment tools. 

At the lower-secondary level (Years 8 to 10), assessment of pupils' status is more conventional. Tests of knowledge are used extensively to assess pupils' performance in individual study topics. Pupils also write essays on aspect of the study material. The teacher assesses the presentation and writing skill, understanding of the subject matter and original thought. Formal tests of knowledge at the end of each term are predominant.

At the lower secondary level, national examinations have great influence on teaching methods and examination arrangements. The objective is that as many pupils as possible pass the examinations and thereby gain the right to enter study programmes of upper secondary schools. Those who do not reach the required standard can enter a general studies programme in secondary school (with the possibility of entering one of the upper-secondary programmes at a later stage).

Special schools

Of pupils in compulsory schooling, 0.5% study at special schools. According to information from these schools, study assessment is diverse, and based upon the development and ability of the individual. The study assessment section of the National Curriculum Guide applies also to the special schools, where conduct and social skills are assessed, as well as interests and study skills. When a child is admitted to a special school, documents are submitted by specialists of diagnostic facilities, physicians and psychologists.

In special schools, an individual curriculum is drawn up for every pupil. The individual curriculum is based upon the findings of checklists. In assessment of the pupil’s study performance, all criteria for skill must be based upon the pupil him/herself and the study material assigned to him/her. The study material is divided into manageable stages or steps (enabling objectives) for the pupil in question. It is a key aspect of the work of special schools that study assessment reflect what the pupil is expected to learn according to the objectives of the individual curriculum. 

Continuous assessment is carried out on study and diligence. Tailor-made checklists are used, based upon the objectives of the individual curriculum. In a school for children with social and emotional disorders, the pupils assess themselves, and this is one aspect of building up their self-image. The class teacher discusses progress with each pupil once a week, and draws up a study plan for the following week. A special status assessment, based upon the individual curriculum, is carried out regularly.

Local government policy and implementation of law and National Curriculum Guide.

Policies of local government with regard to implementation of the legislation are variable. In Reykjavík, where over one third of pupils in compulsory schooling live, the city authorities have created a policy of individual oriented study in an inclusive school (School for All). In order to pursue the policy in the work of the schools, various measures have been applied. Several items are mentioned here, but the list is not exhaustive.

  • Funding has been increased for special needs teaching, especially for handicapped children studying in mainstream schools.
  • New professions have been brought into primary/lower secondary schools, e.g. developmental therapists, who bring new assessment tools and approaches.
  • Teachers are offered more opportunities for continuing education in flexible teaching methods and diverse assessment of pupils’ status.
  • School administrators are offered far more opportunities for continuing education on individual oriented study, flexible teaching methods and diverse assessment tools.
  • Schools are required to established problem solving teams within each school, to work with teachers if problems arise. 

In this manner, it is believed that teaching methods and assessment in school work can evolve towards inclusion (School for All), and assessment which is adapted to the ability and needs of the pupil. 

Teachers’ skills

Teacher training institutions have been training special needs teachers for 35 years. In their training, special needs teachers have learned to use diagnostic assessment tools with regard to pupils’ learning difficulties, especially in reading and spelling. These diagnostic tests are administered by special needs teachers, or a teacher and special needs teacher. Those pupils whose results deviate significantly from the norm receive additional help in accord with their needs. 

Teachers’ skills in the utilisation of computers and software in assessment and diagnostic work are not yet well developed. In collaboration with teacher training bodies, an effort in continuing education must be made in this field. The ability of teachers to assess pupils and use diverse assessment tools has increased in recent years. In teacher training more emphasis has been placed upon flexible teaching methods and the use of diverse assessment tools to assess the status of pupils in individual-oriented studies.

Non-specialised teachers are not yet generally qualified to administer standardised diagnostic tests, both on studies and social skills. Many local governments have in recent years increased continuing education in this field, holding courses for teachers in the use of diagnostic assessment tools in reading, spelling and mathematics. There has also been increasing emphasis on diagnostic assessment in conduct and social skills. For instance, educational authorities in Reykjavík have held courses on behavioural diagnosis for teachers in most of the city’s primary/lower secondary schools.

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