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Features of best assessment practice - Netherlands

Best practice in assessment is characterised by a methodical way of making decisions on teaching. It focuses on pupils’ educational needs and formulates conclusions in terms of concrete actions described in recommendations, an Individual Educational Plan or an intervention plan. Section 13 Learning and Teaching described the thinking behind this model and the way of working in needs-based assessment. Needs-based assessment stimulates assessment teams not to aim at extensive descriptions of the pupil’s deficiencies as an end product of assessment, but instead to focus, from the start, on assessment in perspective of taking decisions on teaching. The decision to be taken, determines the information to be collected. This increases the chance of collecting relevant data. This way of working almost ‘automatically’ produces recommendations, such as in an IEP, and largely enhances the use of assessment data in practice.
One of the important principles behind this thinking is that parents, pupils and teachers are the ‘consumers’ of the outcomes of assessment. They have a question concerning a decision and they desire an answer: data to support their decision making process. To satisfy them, the assessment results must be relevant for their decision-making in the classroom and in every day life. Teachers decide for example on how to plan, manage and deliver their instruction; they decide on what to teach their pupils and how. When required, assessment can support them in deciding on strategies for effective instruction. Parents decide e.g. whether or not to refer their child to a PCL (see II.1.2) or CVI (II.1.3) and they choose a particular school for their child. They also participate in the discussions on how the ‘budget of the backpack’ will be used in the school. Pupils can decide on the goals they want to achieve in their learning or behaviour, and on what support they desire from their teachers and parents in order to achieve these goals. Assessment is useful when it supports these kinds of decisions. Teachers are seen as educational experts, parents as ‘hands-on’ experts and pupils are also seen as important partners in needs-based assessment. In all stages of assessment they provide important information and can thus function as co-assessors. 
The focus on decisions on teaching further helps avoiding unnecessary labelling. Also, the fact that needs-based assessment focuses on positive aspects of pupils, teachers and parent, avoids the stigmatising effects of these labels. Formulating strengths makes teachers, parents and pupils more confident, gives them perspective and motivates them for change and extra attention for the child. Assessment results can always be interpreted as some form of labelling, but it is obvious that assessment outcomes in terms of decisions on teaching are fairly neutral compared to classical labels such as: ‘intellectually impaired’ or ‘severe behaviour disorders’. This makes needs-based assessment an important supporting factor in implementing inclusive education.

Policy that supports best practice

Education policies in many countries in Western Europe (Meijer, 2003) have actively tried to avoid unnecessary labelling by shifting from an input- to a throughput-system in financing special needs education. They made regional/local authorities responsible for dividing special needs funding and that indeed relieved the central government from running assessment procedures and producing labels in order to decide on eligibility for special needs funding. However, as soon as regional/local authorities had to make decisions on eligibility for special needs funding, they often used input-models and thus still produced labels. The Dutch government decided to use both funding models for different special needs groups and this system still results in producing many labels with very limited practical use. A combination of throughput-models to regions or to school clusters with needs-based assessment seems a way out. The Dutch government opted for throughput-funding for parts of the special needs group and entered making IEP’s for pupils with special needs in legislation and regulations for other groups. These can be regarded as important first steps, but these policy elements need further elaboration and a more consequent implementation in order to support best assessment practice.


  • Meijer, C.J.W. (Ed.) (2003). Special Education across Europe in 2003. Middelfart: European Agency for Development in Special Needs and Inclusive Education.
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