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People involved in assessment - Norway

Participants in the assessment process

The pupils have received continually increasing responsibilities in many areas of the school, but when it comes to the issue of assessment there has certainly up to now been a fundamental viewpoint shared by the pupils, parents and teachers themselves that this is the responsibility of the teachers and where the professionalism of the teachers shows itself the strongest. This emerges in part from an interview concerning how the pupils participate in the assessment (Haugstveit et al, 2005) in which a teacher says: 

“In my experience many pupils think: but it is of course you [the teacher]. It is the teacher who must do it, who must evaluate whether this is correct or good or bad. However, if they are assigned the task, then they do it, but they are extremely careful because it is the teacher who has the answer”. 

This has also become an attitude that is in the midst of changing. There is a trend from the teacher-controlled assessment over to there being greater pupil participation. Some schools have gone further in its development, but also in balancing this interplay and co-operation concerning the assessment between the pupil and teacher. 

One of the driving forces in its development in Norway has certainly been the national curriculum that since 1997 has emphasised giving the pupil a new role in the assessment process. “The pupils must be active participants in the work of assessing and training their abilities to take shared responsibility for and evaluate their own work” (L97 national curriculum). In the newest subject plans from 2005 such an ability to participate in formative assessment processes is inserted into a number of competence goals for different subjects. In the plan for the native tongue subject it is stated as a goal that after Year 7 the pupils will, among other things be able to:

  • listen to presentations of others and express what they have gained themselves
  • make use of feedback on written work from teachers and fellow pupils, and give relevant feedback themselves to others (2005 national curricula) 

A quite tangible description is given here of the content and activities that can promote reflection about one's own learning and develop a skill in giving feedback to fellow pupils both in relation to performances in subjects as well as co-operation. It becomes the teacher's responsibility to plan teaching in which each individual pupil, on the basis of his/her own preconditions, manages to reach this goal. 

Even though these central provisions are obligatory for schools, there is a large difference in how the schools arrange for the pupils to participate in assessing the school's enterprise, the activities of the class and their own work. Results from PISA show that it is a special characteristic of those schools that score well that they arrange for such pupil involvement (Turmo 2004).

In order to arrange for a pupil to be able to have good learning strategies, they should both through self-assessment as well as through peer assessment, implement forms of work and assessment instruments that require varied strategies. On the whole, this will be tools that promote a formative assessment, and a major objective with them must be to strengthen the participation of the pupil and to arrange for him to develop an ability to reflect about himself as a learning individual. The pupil must be actively involved in planning his own work, be involved in setting up criteria for the assessment and be able to have a viewpoint concerning what he wants to be assessed and who should be involved in making the assessment. These are not structures and tools that must be used each time, but rather the pupil must develop an understanding and a responsibility for the interrelationships in the learning efforts, from the planning through the different phases of work and co-operation and to the assessment. By integrating the assessment in the course of the teaching in such a manner, the pupil is able to utilise the insight that the assessment creates in later assigned tasks. 

The objective of all assessment is to promote learning. However, the teacher must show a large amount of patience when it concerns the abilities of the pupils to put assessments into use in this manner. Firstly, it is important to see that it takes time to develop an understanding of and experience with self-assessment. It is necessary to arrange for the pupils to participate regularly in different assessment activities. Secondly, one must understand that these are cognitively demanding processes that the pupils are becoming involved in. To study and evaluate one's own work process, own products and own ability to co-operate requires abilities to decentralise and a certain overview of situations and processes. 

One demanding aspect of all assessments is the verbalisation itself, the language costume in which the assessment, regardless of whether it is praise or criticism, must be communicated. Children are compared and assessed in many contexts other than in school, particularly at home and among their friends. However they do not face the school with any shared understandings or experiences with assessment from home. Making assessments in a schooling context is connected with linguistic forms of expression that the pupils must in fact learn in a school setting. It is the teachers who first and foremost will be the leading models for how it takes place, and over time also the pupils as the pupils gradually pick up the ability to make assessments, to view their own work objectively and to describe it from an external point of view. 

When a pupil is in the middle form and probably has no experience with assessment, simple phrases often generally occur. They think something is Good! or Great! Boud (1995), who in fact actually works in the field of adult education, mentions Rorty's term “final vocabulary.” “This is”, he says, “the use of vocabulary which includes terms such as ‘good’, ‘right’, ‘rigorous’, ‘professional standards’ and the like. Even though it is apparently positive, it is language which leaves no room for manoeuvre. It has the final say. (…) They are empty rhetoric, and have no place in any discourse about learning”. These words, the concepts and the use of the language that is associated with assessment, and which the pupils encounter through the assessment practices of the teachers, become models for their own assessment. Through conversations and comments, both written and oral, the teacher must formulate questions and pose problems in such a manner that they promote meta-cognitive processes. Without this understanding, the work involving assessments can easily turn into exercises, controls and predictable rituals that do not lead to further development. 

Peer assessment means a social expansion of the assessment situation in relation to an individual self-assessment. This social situation can seem to create some methodological difficulties, and it can be some of the reason for the varying use of peer assessment in Norwegian primary schools. It is a challenging and demanding manner in which to work. Individual teachers have had the experience that if the pupils in a group have to give a response to a piece of work, they often repeat each other's assessments. If the first pupil says that something is “Good”, then the others will easily continue saying the same. One can imagine here that the teacher encourages other manners in which to give a response and provides certain guidelines for the activity. All the pupils can for example ask the pupil who is to receive a response a question, with nobody being allowed to repeat what has been said previously. Or the one who is to receive a response can request specific responses by posing questions to the group. In general, peer assessment must really be developed by employing different techniques. 

One challenge in developing good peer assessment lies in how one can activate the weakest pupils through such an assessment. Peer assessment can occur between two pupils or in groups that give each other responses and help with the subject matter. Regardless of how one wishes to form the groups, some questions quickly arise. This involves whether the groups should be homogeneous or not, whether the weakest pupils gain benefits from mixed groups, whether the strongest pupils receive enough challenges or whether the teacher should decide who should band together and give each other responses, i.e. or whether the pupils can choose who they wish to have do it? Resolving such questions must be included as a part of the planning and reflection of the teachers and faculty. 

How parents are involved in the assessment process

In Norwegian schools there is a legally mandated meeting twice per year between parents and teacher, in which assessment must be a theme. Documentation such as portfolios, individual planning books, tests and other things can be presented during the meeting and be a point of departure for ensuing dialogue. Such tangible documentation can make the pupil dialogue an important forum of assessment with parents and teachers as participants, including the pupil as a participant once he is over 12 years old. 

The individual planning book, which is discussed in more detail later in this article, is an example of a tool where there is room for the pupils, teachers and parents to enter comments, read what the others have written and have open communication concerning the pupil's learning efforts. The rhythm can be that every two to three weeks the parents will receive information about the pupil's work. The assessment can switch between clear subject-related assessments to the self-discipline of the pupil or to how the pupil has functioned in working with others. 

Forms of communication aimed at good contact between school and parents have been under development for many years. Meetings between pupils, parents, teachers and school management at the class or group level as well as at the school level, commonly called parents meetings, are common practice. Sending tests home with the pupils in order to obtain parental signatures and comments is also widely used. Weekly newsletters, contact logs and individual planning books are used by many teachers as a permanent communications channel between the school and parents. Information is given here on the goals, presentations and content, etc. for the week, with room for the pupil's self-assessment and the comments of the parents back to the school. 

We can refer to an example that shows how the pupils in a Norwegian school have become actively involved in planning and assessment through the use of subject-related groups. A subject group usually represents one subject in one form or a unit that has joint presentations and instruction. Subject groups consist of three to five pupils plus the teacher. Participation in a subject group is voluntary, and the pupils sign up for the subject groups they are interested in. Groups have meetings about once per month and evaluate the preceding period and make proposals for changes. The pupils can switch subject groups and there is a rollover that ensures that all pupils can participate. There can be subject groups for all subjects, but in order to not make the programme too comprehensive it can be appropriate to select a limited number of subjects at a time and thus alternate between which subjects have subject groups. Each group keeps minutes of its meetings in its own subject book, and what is entered there will be taken up and discussed together with the viewpoints of the pupil representatives and the teacher. 

The purpose of the subject groups is for the pupils to have better opportunities to influence the presentation, content and manners of working. Subject groups can make for better contact between pupils and teachers, and can be an arena where the pupils dare to provide constructive criticism and suggestions for changes, and where a teacher can develop new ideas jointly with the pupils. Such subject groups will also be an arena for the individual pupil to develop an understanding of democratic working processes and an education in relation to reflecting over codetermination, responsibility and equality. 

Some schools practice an arrangement called the school's annual meeting. It is carried out in such a manner that the school first has an assessment performed of its teaching and the conditions in its classes/groups using a questionnaire given to pupils and parents. The responses to these questionnaires will be systematised and used at a meeting as a starting point for dialogue where pupils, parents and teacher are present. This meeting should preferably take place towards the end of the school year, and the purpose is to evaluate the entire school year and use the experiences that have been attained in the planning of the next school year. 

As the assessment work gradually opens up to greater pupil participation and increasing parent participation, and becomes a stronger joint responsibility between colleagues, it will become extra important to ensure that there is a shared technical understanding of levels and criteria for the assessment. Awareness that the schools have pupils from different home backgrounds must be built into such an understanding, i.e. they have different preconditions and are from different cultures with different attitudes towards schools and education. If co-operation on assessment is to function and be developed it must be grounded in the operating plans of the school. Among other things, creating a shared assessment practice and developing a common interpretative fellowship as a basis for the assessment are crucial. 

Such shared practices are important in the daily assessments, but particularly in relation to the scoring of the national tests since in Norway it is the teachers who mark the pupil's answers to them. In order to strengthen such a shared understanding, the authorities hold a course for all the teachers at the relevant year levels where the assignments are reviewed with the aim of having the most homogeneous marking practices as possible. One can also see that this is a responsibility that the schools should continue to conduct in their daily development of shared assessment practices and understandings of assessment. It is the responsibility of the school to ensure an interpretive and assessment fellowship within the individual class team, in subject groups, etc. The development of such an interpretive fellowship is certainly extra important at the lower secondary school level where the assessment leads to a grade, however with national tests at Year 5 it should also apply to primary school level. With competence goals for subjects being formulated in the new curricula, extra demands are also being posed for a shared understanding of how the assessment is to occur, precisely which requirements must be posed and the criteria that is associated with these goals.

Relevant issues for developing an assessment fellowship at the primary school level can be:

  • discussing the overall vision of assessment that has been inserted in public documents and to determine a local understanding of such
  • analysing the results from national tests in order to integrate these into a formative learning process for the pupils
  • how should the pupils participate in the assessment
  • how does the assessment take place in relation to the central competence goals in the subjects
  • how to inform parents, when should this happen in addition to the semi-annual meetings?

Sources:

  • Boud, D. (1995 reprinted 1997): Enhancing Learning through Self Assessment. London Kogan Page
  • 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.
  • Turmo, A., Lie, S. (2004): Hva kjennetegner norske skoler som skårer høyt I PISA 2000? [What characterises Norwegian schools that score high on PISA 2000?] Acta Didacta 1/2004. Department of Teacher Education and School Development. University of Oslo
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