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Assessment practice: introduction - Norway

It is the teacher's daily assessment in the classroom that is the most common in the intermediate forms (11-13 years of age) in Norwegian schools, and it is probably also the greatest learning-promotion potential if it is developed in conjunction with the participation of the pupils and with an understanding of the needs of the individual pupils. The daily assessment is often a type of informal assessment that can seem somewhat unsystematic in form. It can certainly work both to offend as well as to praise, but it will not always have a clear learning focus in relation to the pupil. In recent years a number of assessment tools have been developed that can make the assessment more systematic and arrange for the pupils to develop better learning strategies. They can also affect the planning of the teachers and function in a more informative manner towards the parents. These assessment tools have for the most part been developed locally at individual schools, and these tools will be reviewed later in the article. 

In addition to the local development of new formative assessment tools, as mentioned in the first article, national tests and exams have been implemented at the primary school level in Norway. The national tests are, as stated previously, compulsory and are held nationally. There are on the other hand both national competence centres and private companies that develop and offer diagnostic tests to the schools. When these tests are adopted for use, it is on the basis of local assessments by the individual school. The school can hold individual survey tests on its own, including reading, writing and mathematics as a supplement to the national tests and as a part of the continuously on-going surveying. It is either the teacher of a class who plans and carries out the tests that he thinks are most appropriate in relation to the individual pupil or it takes place in co-operation between the teachers at the school. If there is a need for further elucidation of the difficulties being encountered by an individual pupil, he/she is referred to the psychological pedagogical service. The Norwegian Education Act requires that all municipalities have a psychological pedagogical service. Educationalists and special educationalists comprise the largest group of professionals in the service; however psychologists and sociologists are also represented. If the competence of the psychological pedagogical service is not sufficient, it will seek advice from or directly refer the pupil to the National Support System for Special Needs Education. The National Support System for Special Needs Education consists of different competence centres and a competence network that will assist the municipalities in diagnosing pupils and in giving advice concerning the education that can be offered. The National Support System for Special Needs Education possesses competence in the following areas: language/speech, sight, hearing, conduct and composite learning difficulties. 

On this basis we see that the resources that are available in an assessment range from the guiding informal comments that the teacher in passing says to the pupil through a broad spectrum of more systematic assessment tools to the structured survey tests and the national tests. It is the responsibility of the school and the teachers to utilise the different tools in a pedagogical, learning-promoting manner where the overall goal of the assessment is the learning benefit received by the individual pupil. There thus exists an expectation both in the curricula as well as in public documents that the school will employ manners of working in which the pupils develop responsibility for their own learning, a meta-understanding concerning their own learning strategies and confidence in their own abilities to learn.

The objectives of the assessment process 

The pupils in Norwegian primary schools must, as mentioned earlier, not receive any assessment with grades. This only occurs when they enter the lower secondary school. This separation has created two slightly different assessment traditions and different attitudes towards assessment in Norwegian schools. One is associated with an assessment tradition that seems to have been dominant in primary schools. In this tradition it seems as if the assessment has been turned over to the individual teacher and in a manner privatised with respect to both how the assessment was made and precisely which criteria it was based upon. The assessment has not been a shared affair of the school, but rather in all essence the responsibility of the individual teacher. It also seems that the parents received little information about the learning benefits being received by their child. The attitudes that such an assessment tradition were based upon had the pupil at the centre. It was important to support and praise the pupil for the work almost regardless of what he/she had done. The teachers at the primary school level perceived their main task as raising the pupils to be self-disciplined, diligent and industrious, whereas the professional goals took a back seat. On the basis of more recent Norwegian research it seems that this tradition continues to be strong, and that general praise and esteem is extremely frequent in primary schools (Klette 2003). When the pupils subsequently arrive at a lower secondary school, they meet a different valuation tradition where grades and subject criteria are the most important, and where one only to a lesser degree receives praise for industriousness and self-discipline. 

These two traditions have led to there seemingly being a latent contrast in attitudes in Norway to assessment among primary school teachers and lower secondary school teachers. The teachers in Year 1 to Year 7 are preoccupied by the balance between the individual-related and the goal-related assessment. Many are of the opinion that  individual-related assessment is crucial because it takes into account the full competence of the pupil, which is the subject/intellectual, the individual learning capabilities and the school's ability to arrange the social aspects of a good learning environment. Many of the teachers at the primary school level can seem to have a simplified understanding of goal-related assessment. It is first and foremost associated with formal assessment with grades, and viewed as a purely summative assessment. It also seems though that these attitudes are changing. Haugstveit (2005) states in an article in which she builds upon interviews with teachers concerning assessment and assessment practices, that it can seem as if the teachers have become more preoccupied by assessment in recent years. A teacher states: 

I […] believe that there has probably been a higher level of awareness concerning what assessment is, and probably also more discussion concerning what we are conducting with an assessment. 

It can be the case, however, that we are caught in a classic assessment dilemma that is also occurring outside Norway. In some research work on assessment, the attempt has been made to strengthen the awareness of the goal-related, learning-related assessment in the primary schools. However this cannot occur by taking up traditional summative assessment forms, but rather, for example, by taking into use new formative assessment tools where the pupils become active participants in the assessment of the subject goals, the individual learning strategies and the understanding of the social frameworks that the work will occur under. 

 

Sources: 

  • Haugstveit, T. B., Sjølie, G., Øygarden, B. (2005) Rapport fra prosjektet ”Vurdering som profesjonsfaglig kompetanse” [Assessment as a Professional Competence]. Høgskolen i Hedmark. Institutt for humanistiske fag. Avdeling for lærerutdanning og naturfag.
  • Klette, K. (2003): “Lærerens klasseromsarbeid; Interaksjons- og arbeidsformer i norske klasserom etter Reform 97.” [The Teacher's Classroom Work; Forms of Interaction and Working in the Norwegian Classroom after Reform 97] I Klette, K. (ed.): Klasserommets praksisformer etter Reform 97 [Forms of practice in the classroom after Reform 97] Oslo: Pedagogical Research Institute, University of Oslo
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