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People involved in assessment - Netherlands

Assessment is not always adequately attuned to the requests from schools, parents and pupils. Nor are parents in the Netherlands always sufficiently involved in the process, despite recent improvements in their legal position. Dutch parents are acquiring an increasing say in the choice of education for their children. They are also becoming increasingly well informed and articulate. Thanks to the internet, parents  and teachers too, have easy access to information on disorders such as autism, ADHD, nonverbal learning disorder and dyslexia. Information on how to assess and treat learning and behavioural problems is also available in the popular press and specialist publications for educators’ and parents’ associations. As a result, parents and teachers often approach assessors with specific questions (e.g. “Does my child have ADHD and can he get Ritalin?”) or clear requests (e.g. “We believe this pupil has dyslexia, and we would like it confirmed in writing”). Needs-based assessors find the client’s questions important. To a large extent, these determine the diagnostic process.
From the outset, needs-based assessment involves openness and transparency in the communication with the school, parents and child. Assessors speak with them rather than about or to them. In needs-based assessment, we view the teacher, the school’s special needs co-ordinator and the remedial teacher as educational professionals. They know this child best as a pupil, they are aware of the child’s school history, how the child learns, the child’s work habits and how he or she functions socially and emotionally. They see the child in multiple situations at school. They know whether or not a particular intervention works for this child and they have insight into the child’s instructional needs. They have an overview of the actual instructional setting and the prospects for change. They are the educational professionals who are responsible for decisions about the teaching programme and any additional in-school support. Without them, an assessor cannot understand the instructional environment, which is why the school plays such an active role in the diagnostic process
Although learning difficulties occur within the school setting, we also work very closely with parents. We view parents as ‘hands-on’ experts: they know their child best, they see the child in a wide range of situations both inside and outside the family. Unless proven otherwise, parents are caring and competent, wanting the best for their child and they are aware of their responsibilities. Parents decide whether or not to accept the diagnosis and recommendations regarding their parenting or the choice of a school.
We also talk to the child, as the school problems centre around him or her. Children can actively contribute to the instructional environment and to the parenting situation. If problems arise, the child’s perceptions of his or her environment should always be taken into account as these perceptions largely determine their behaviour and their motivation to change that behaviour. Important questions to ask children are for example: what do you think is wrong and why? what on the other hand is going well? how come? who can help you and how? Often their own solutions are simple and effective. For example, a child can point out what the teacher is doing when the child does understand the teacher’s arithmetic instruction and can do the sums. A ten-year old girl with poor arithmetic skills gave the following explanation: “I understand the explanation if I’m sitting at the front so I can see the board properly and if the teacher isn’t standing in front of it as she explains. And if she talks while she’s writing the sum, I also understand it better. After that, while the other children are working, she has to come to me (and sit on the stool, preferably not remain standing because that makes me very nervous). Then the teacher does the first sum in my book, and explains what she is doing. The second sum she does silently, with me doing the talking, and the third sum I do myself and if it’s correct, then I do the whole row. And if she’s checked them and they’re all correct, then I start on the second row. But then she also has to check to see whether the first sum is correct, otherwise I might get the whole row wrong”.

Positive aspects of the child, school and parents

Sometimes assessors overlook positive aspects because they are only on the lookout for problems and disorders. By taking problems as their starting point, they look above all for weaknesses, thus overlooking the strengths of the child, the teacher, class or school and the parents/family. However, everyone has strengths and abilities that can be used when tackling learning difficulties or behaviour problems. For example, a child with persistent reading problems may be able to draw beautifully, a teacher with a chaotic class-management may give pupils a great deal of affective support, and an over-taxed mother may receive considerable help from her in-laws. These positive aspects are part of the diagnosis and recommendation. We ask: what can the child do well? what does the child enjoy doing? what are the teacher’s strengths? what are the positive characteristics of the classmates? and what do the parents do well? However serious a problem is each child, teacher and parent has possibilities that offer hope; they are relevant because they are opportunities for change. For example, if a school considers referral to a special education school, positive aspects are often arguments for mainstreaming the child in the school. For the child, these could be a positive work attitude, good social relationships with classmates, or a positive perception of school. For the school, it could be a teacher who provides adaptive education and deals effectively with pupil differences, who is willing and able to give a child additional instruction and opportunities for practice, or classmates that accept the child is different and helps, rather than ridicules, the child. For parents, such aspects could include accepting that their child needs additional care, revising the schoolwork at home, and having a good relationship with the school, supporting the teacher.
Here are some of the different types of protective factors, or educational resilience, that we encounter in the literature (Wang & Haertel, 1995):

  • the child: innate positive characteristics such as an easy going temperament, an ability to cope with stress, intellectual strengths and resilience
  • the instructional environment: good teaching skills, e.g. a teacher who is able to motivate children, showing them what they are capable of and that they can do it themselves, and who is available for extra help when needed
  • the parenting situation: a supportive family climate, a child’s secure relationship with his or her parents and an understanding relationship between the parents
  • the social environment: a group of pro-social friends, membership of a sports club or parents with a supportive social network.

Introducing positive aspects at the beginning of a difficult discussion about an ‘at risk’ pupil can improve the tone of the discussion. Referring to the things that the school, parents and child do well can increase feelings of competence and motivation to do their best for the child. Positive aspects can be elaborated in an IEP, offering hope for the future and enhancing the chance on successful mainstreaming.

Sources:

  • Wang, M.C., & Haertel, G.D. (1995). Educational resilience. In M.C. Wang, M.C. Reynolds & H.J. Walberg (Eds.) Handbook of Special and Remedial Education: Research and Practice (pp. 160-200). Oxford: Elsevier Science.

 

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