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Assessment practice: introduction - Netherlands

Successful inclusion or mainstreaming of pupils with special educational needs first of all requires ‘adaptive education’ and ‘dealing with differences’. This assumes that every pupil is different, a fact that is reflected in the attitude, teaching methods and behaviour of the teacher. In addition, we need to change the way we view ‘at risk’ children, involving a shift in focus from labelling the child to his or her instructional needs. Instead of concentrating on the child’s handicap, disorder or limitations, we need to look at what he or she needs in education and what this means for the IEP. Assessment in the perspective of making an IEP implies that diagnosis and treatment are no longer different activities (see Pijl, II.3). What targets – given the child’s capacities and limitations – are realistic for this pupil and what does he/she need in terms of instructional and other support to meet these targets? The emphasis of assessment thus shifts from characteristics of the child to those of the teaching process, such as teacher skills, characteristics a teacher can influence.
Assessors in educational settings should recommend interventions based on knowledge about ‘what works’, appropriate education for ‘at risk’ pupils and effective ways of ‘dealing with differences’. Assessors thus focus on a particular pupil’s pedagogical and behavioural needs, the instructional programme required, whether the teacher is willing and able to provide it, and what the parents want. This is what we call “needs-based assessment”. It focuses not only on child characteristics, but also on the instructional needs and the school context. Because objective child characteristics constitute only part of a complex of factors, standard approaches that only target child characteristics (such as subjecting the child to batteries of tests) is insufficient. We need information concerning the educational context as well. Transparency is also vital. The school, parents and pupil must have a clear understanding of what is going on during the assessment process and what the assessor’s recommendations are based on. This requires a common frame of reference – with one language - for all parties involved, only then can they really communicate with one another.
In this report, we present a diagnostic model for needs-based assessment that can provide such a framework. The model is developed by Noëlle Pameijer and Tanja van Beukering and it is described at length in their book “Handelingsgerichte diagnostiek: een praktijkmodel voor diagnostiek en advisering bij onderwijsleerproblemen” [Needs-based assessment: a practical model for diagnostic assessment and recommendations regarding learning difficulties and behavioural problems] (2004). The model has been implemented in many schools and instructional environments in the Netherlands and also in Belgium (Nuytemans, 2004). By now, there have been 10 years of experience with this model in different school settings, regular and special education. Many changes have been made during these years to increase the practical workability.

Conclusions concerning the principles

During the November meeting of the ‘Assessment Project’ of the European Agency for Development in Special Needs and Inclusive Education (Brussels, 2005) ‘trends in assessment’ and ‘features of best practice in assessment’ were discussed by assessment experts from 23 European countries. Related to the five principles above, the following themes emerged:

  • Assessment should be a clear process that is transparent and understandable for those involved: teacher, parent and pupil.
  • On the one hand there are standardised procedures, on the other hand these should be flexible when applied, and only when necessary. Assessment should be goal oriented; it should contribute to decisions concerning the benefit of the pupil.
  • A contextual approach is necessary. Assessment should not only focus on the pupil, but also on classroom practices, teacher-behaviour and parents.
  • There should be a partnership with teachers, parents and students; they should be involved during the assessment process. Self-assessment by students and the use of portfolio’s are also seen as recent features of best-practice.
  • The assessor should also focus on the strengths of students, peers, teachers and parents.


  • Nuytemans, A. (2004). Handelingsgerichte diagnostiek. Caleidoscoop, 6, 26 – 31. (book review).
  • Pameijer, N.K. & Beukering, J.T.E. van (2004): Handelingsgerichte diagnostiek: een praktijkmodel voor diagnostiek en advisering bij onderwijsleerproblemen. Leuven: ACCO.  (book). Needs-based assessment: a practical model for assessment and recommendations regarding learning difficulties and behavioural problems


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