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Innovations and developments - Iceland

Innovations and developments are taking place in the assessment factors being introduced by individual schools and local governments. It is difficult to gain an overview of development. By law, each local government has considerable freedom to build up its own educational policy, though within the bounds of law and the National Curriculum Guide. There is great variation in whether and how local governments form educational policy, and what it involves. 

In pre-schools the ideology of early intervention has been applied widely in recent years. Specialists of pre-schools use the Early Intervention Services Assessment Scale in the pre-school, to evaluate the quality of early intervention. This has strengthened the professional work of the pre-schools. 

Due to policy formation by individual local governments, such as Reykjavík, on individual oriented study in an inclusive school (School for All) more children with considerable special needs are studying in mainstream schools. In sparsely-populated regions this has been the case for many years, due to the absence of special schools. Education authorities in Reykjavík have now (2005) issued an assessment tool for individual oriented study, which the schools can use to assess where they stand on the way towards individual oriented study. Debate within Reykjavík schools on the use of diverse assessment tools has become steadily greater, and more focussed. 

Effective use of portfolios in school work has promoted participation by the pupil and parents in assessment of the pupil’s status. Use of checklists to assess pupils’ communication and social skills has increased, as has teachers’ ability to apply behavioural diagnosis in school work. 

New tests in reading and mathematics in Years 1 and 3 have strengthened schools in making effective use of assessment tools to identify pupils who require special support or special needs teaching. Closer collaboration between specialists at schools and diagnostic facilities has strengthened diagnosis and follow-up, although yet more could be achieved.

Changes have taken place in the national examinations in recent years. In Year 10, national examinations are taken in more subjects. A normal distribution scale of grades has been introduced for school averages. A progress index has been introduced, which indicates changes in the school’s status between Years 4 and 7, and 7 and 10. More flexibility has been introduced with regard to applications for waivers of procedure for national examinations in Year 10. 

Considerable debate is taking place on amendments to the Compulsory Schools Act and changes to the National Curriculum Guide. Few changes are foreseen regarding assessment, such as national examinations and their links to the study objectives states in the National Curriculum Guide. The debate focuses primarily on founding of privately run schools, and the effect that the planned reduction of the duration of studies in academic streams of upper secondary schools, from four years to three, will have on teaching and the amount of study material to be covered in lower secondary school.

Within primary/lower secondary schools, great emphasis is placed upon conventional examinations, both formal in-school examinations at the end of each term, and national examinations in Years 4, 7 and 10. 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. Allocations from the Local Government Equalisation Fund are made on the basis of medical diagnostic findings, and not on the basis of the pupil’s needs or the educational need of schools for additional support. 

Individual curricula are drawn up by special needs teachers, developmental therapists and teachers, based on diverse diagnosis by specialists. 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. The debate on inclusive assessment, based upon the development and ability of each individual, is still limited in Icelandic primary/lower secondary schools. Inclusive study assessment is used mainly at the primary level, in Years 1 to 7. 

Individual oriented study in an inclusive school (School for All) has not progressed as far at the lower secondary level (Years 8 to 10) as it has at the primary level (Years 1 to 7), and inclusive assessment is in its early stages. In the lower-secondary departments of some schools, however, study assessment work has begun, relating to diverse teaching methods, use of portfolios, and self-assessment by pupils with their parents. Within primary/lower secondary school computerised assessment is not yet much used. Most schools are well equipped with computers, but they do not necessarily have the correct software. Teachers lack the necessary knowledge and training to use the existing software, or to use computers in assessment. 

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 health-care 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. Development of flexible teaching methods in an inclusive school must be effectively linked to inclusive study assessment. Changes and diverse teaching methods are the key to diverse inclusive assessment. 

Some issues regarding inclusive study assessment in primary/lower secondary school in Iceland have been mentioned here. There are naturally many other issues in Iceland which require consideration and development, in this complex interplay of teaching methods and 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 of development of the inclusive school.

 

Sources:

  • Úttekt á rannsóknum á sviði fræðslu- og menntamála. Október 2005. Rannsóknamiðstöð Íslands og Menntamálaráðuneyti. Reykjavík. [Summary of Research Studies in the Field of Schooling and Education. October 2005. Icelandic Centre for Research and Ministry of Education. Reykjavík]
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