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Implementation of assessment policy - Switzerland

National/Federal level

As a consequence of the absence of a federal legislation governing education, there is no strategy or shared approach to implement assessment policies. Due to the inter-cantonal agreements achieved by the Swiss Conference of the Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK), the general structure or programmes, curriculum content and transition or graduation mechanisms are shared by all cantons. 

The transition from an educational programme to another is generally accompanied by an informal or more formal assessment of the pupil’s achievement and readiness for the next stage of education. All cantons have agreed upon an age at which children leave non-compulsory pre-school programmes and kindergarten to enter compulsory primary education. At present, some cantons are extending compulsory education to the age of five to include kindergarten programmes into basic education programmes at primary level. After primary education, pupils are streamed into different educational programmes according to their achievement levels. Depending on the Canton, the transition into secondary I programmes occurs between Year 5 and Year 7. At the onset of secondary II education, students either enter an apprenticeship with a vocational programme or continue a general education programme. Another transition point shared by all cantons occurs at the completion of secondary II (Matura or vocational Matura; federal certificate of competence, regulated by federal law) and this marks the transition into higher education or entry into the work force. 

In addition to these broad guidelines related to the provision of educational programmes, international surveys related to pupil assessment and the efficacy of education systems are co-ordinated at the federal level. This has an impact on policy development. PISA (OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment) has influenced assessment policies and this has led to an acceleration in implementing monitoring efforts. 

Cantonal finance policies related to SNE are strongly influenced by the Invalidity Insurance which is based on a list of conditions, covered by legislation. Children with the following conditions/disabilities are eligible for financial support of their education:

  • mental retardation (Intelligence quotients below 75),
  • blind or visual impairments,
  • deaf or hearing impairments,
  • substantial physical disability,
  • language impairment or speech disorders,
  • emotional disability,
  • other conditions, such as complex health problems which render it impossible for a child to attend a regular school. 

Funding is only provided for children identified as having one of these conditions/disabilities if they receive services approved by the IV – which in most cases means special schools supported by the IV. Since the 1980’s, this system has been criticised for being too rigid and promotes segregated schooling. Due to the close relationship between assessment and eligibility for services under the Invalidity Insurance scheme, initial assessment is oriented towards identifying these categories in order for a child to qualify for financial support by the federal government. Despite uniform federal eligibility criteria, the practice of identifying children as being disabled under the IV legislation differs from canton to canton and even from community to community. Children falling under the IV legislation ranges between one to almost four per cent of all children in the school-aged population. 

As described earlier, the fund arrangements will alter after 2008 with financial responsibility being transferred from federal to cantonal level (RFE, Reorganisation of Financial Equalisation). As a consequence, eligibility criteria, assessment procedures and the provision of special educational support will hopefully be adjusted to cantonal practices in regular education to ensure a more integrated system. Currently the EDK is co-ordinating a project to achieve an inter-cantonal agreement regarding special needs education. Additionally, the Swiss Centre for Special Needs Education (SZH) is heading a project to develop standards for special needs education, including the development to govern assessment procedures and standards. 

Inter-cantonal level

The EDK heads efforts of the cantons to co-ordinate legislation and practice; it may recommend strategies and establish good practice of assessment but it does not have the authority to issue any decrees or regulate assessment. 

Recently, several projects have been initiated to increase co-ordination between cantons and thus ensure a more equitable, well-balanced system of pupil assessment across Switzerland: 

  • “HarmoS”: This project led by the EDK aims at “harmonising” the “contents of education” in Switzerland. From 2004 to 2006/07 areas of competences are to be defined and linked to minimal standards to be attained in important subjects (first and second language, mathematics and natural science). Standards and tests will be developed for Years 2, 6 and 9 and implemented across Switzerland. 
  • “Klassencockpit”: This instrument has been developed by the “Saint-Gall publishing house for teaching materials”. It is an assessment system with modules in German and Mathematics for regular classes (Year 3 - Year 9). Teachers may administer the tests three times each school year and compare the results of their pupils with a representative sample of 450-600 pupils. 
  • Different regions have recently initiated the development of shared curricula across different cantons. PECARO is the curricular framework developed by the French speaking cantons together with the Italian speaking Canton of Tessin. Additionally, the cantons of central Switzerland have developed a common curriculum framework and the German speaking cantons are considering the development of a “Swiss-German Curriculum”.
  • “Kompetenzraster”: The development of a “matrix of competence” aims at providing teachers with an instrument to better assess pupil progress and performance. As part of the inter-cantonal project “4to8” such “Kompetenzraster” are developed to improve teacher assessment at the onset of compulsory education (ages 4 to 8) which is presently undergoing major reform. 

With no national or inter-cantonal legislation or guidelines governing assessment procedures, professional organisations have developed their own standards or code of practice, for example in early childhood intervention. 

Cantonal level 

Because assessment (although influenced by the federal Invalidity Insurance scheme) falls under the authority of the cantons, the implementation of such policies occur at the cantonal and communal levels.

The initial assessment of special educational needs is carried out in different settings depending on the age and type of perceived problem or disability:

  • Major hospitals in Switzerland are equipped to screen toddlers for hearing impairments.
  • Nurses and paediatricians are usually the first to be consulted when delays in a child’s development are “perceived”. They often work closely with…
  • Cantonal or regional services of early childhood intervention. The early childhood interventionists assess and follow the development of the child with special educational needs – together with the family, and if necessary also with other professionals (such as speech therapists, psychomotor therapists etc.).

At any time, an assessment may be conducted to establish eligibility for Invalidity Insurance (see above).

At the onset of compulsory education, practices may differ from one canton or one community to the other; - with kindergarten being part of compulsory education in some cantons, but not in others:

  • Early childhood intervention is provided for a child up to the first year of schooling.
  • SNE-Teachers assume responsibility for a child with special needs or children at risk once they enter the formal education system. Some cantons carry out screening procedures; these are usually undertaken by speech therapists or school psychologists. 

In primary and secondary I school settings school psychologists generally are responsible for the initial assessment in schools. They decide on the allocation of special educational resources. SNE-teachers are responsible for the on-going assessment as part of their professional duties; in inclusive/integrative classroom. This responsibility is shared with the regular class teacher. 

Legislation governing the progression through the education system and the transition into vocational education or special education exists in each canton although it may differ substantially:

  • progression from pre-school to primary school level
  • progression from primary school level (mostly mainstreaming) to secondary school level I (mostly streaming)
  • progression / transition from secondary school level I to secondary school level II (vocational education or general education leading to the Matura)
  • progression from secondary school level II to higher education
  • transition from regular education to special needs education and legislation associated with assessment 

In addition to the relevant legislation, specific assessment instruments have been developed in some cantons to be applied in these phases of progression or transition:

  • “Standardised Tests”: Standardised tests or examinations based on the cantonal curriculum are administered in some cantons (for example in the canton of Zug) upon completion of primary education (Year 5 or 6).
  • “Stellwerk-Check”: Within this project, web-based tests were developed to assess pupil achievement in Mathematics, German, English, French as well as natural/technical science to be administered at the end of compulsory education. A “profile of student performance” can be derived from the assessment as a basis to prepare students for the transition into vocational education or general educational programmes at secondary level II.

Communal level

Pupil assessment in individual schools fulfil two main functions:

  • Generation of information about the learning process (progress, difficulties, acquired knowledge and skills, etc.) and about instruction (educational aspects, pace, contents, etc.);
  • Provision of point of reference and basis for decision-making with regard to progression through the grades or transition to special educational settings (responsible: teachers, head masters and school-boards). 

While such progressions and transitions are regulated at the cantonal level, implementation is carried out locally and practice may differ substantially between communities. Thus, schools enjoy substantial freedom in organising assessment procedures and practices. Individual teachers may develop their own instruments and procedures while being supervised by a local school board consisting of non-professionals/layman.

Due to this autonomy, an over-all lack of comparison or shared benchmarks for good practice, teachers generally feel confident about their practice although there are numerous indicators suggesting a lack of professionalism. Often the instruments applied by teachers are non-standardised, frequently informal and may be very limited in scope. This often leads to an adaptation of the assessment practices to accommodate the instrument.

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