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Challenges and tendencies - Netherlands

Assessment policy focussing on the education of learning disabled and mild mentally retarded pupils prescribes mainly procedures and structures for assessment and regards the content of the assessment procedures as the responsibility of the PCL. All regional school clusters now have a PCL installed and working, but there are differences in the way regional clusters have implemented the policy guidelines.  In a limited number of cases the PCL takes a very active and leading role in special needs education and strives for minimum referral to the former LD/EMR schools in the cluster. Most school clusters however, haven’t gone that far and largely maintain the status quo existing for the implementation of the new policy. It is worthwhile noting that school clusters are free to develop their own policy and maintaining the status quo is a perfectly legitimate choice, although some might have wished them to take other decisions.
Assessment of special educational needs in the Netherlands is a much discussed topic. In these discussions assessment is distinguished by two phases: establishing eligibility (barrier assessment) and assessment in the perspective of making an individual educational plan. Much of the developments described in this report focus on the first phase, which can partly be explained by a history of ever growing numbers of pupils eligible for special needs education leading to growing expenditure in special needs education. Barrier assessment more or less implies searching for hard criteria and focussing on impairments. Making educational plans is then regarded as a school’s responsibility demanding other assessments or other use of existing assessment data. The division into two phases results in assessment procedures tending to search for hard criteria. It is obvious that we need a fair and objective procedure to link funds to pupils in education and to place these pupils in programmes or schools that cater best for their needs. At the same time every attempt to describe the pupil’s problems and to select placement results in labelling is regarded as a strong push towards segregation. The alternative is to focus assessment on developing individual educational plans (IEP). The idea is that only after making an IEP it becomes clear what placement is appropriate and how much additional funding should be made available to implement it. Assessment then is directly linked to making plans, implementing these and evaluating these in order to adjust them. The question of how to develop fair and objective assessment procedures, with a minimum of labelling and while restricting the number of pupils asking for special services is as yet not answered.

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