Testing and Assessment in Norway

In order to learn about what’s happened with testing and assessment in Norway in recent years, we had a conversation with Sverre Tveit. Tveit is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Education at the University of Oslo. He will join the University of Agder in southern Norway as University Lecturer in August. In addition to his comparative research related to assessment policy, Tveit has also worked on education and assessment issues at the municipal level (the equivalent of the district level in the US) and was a board member of the Norwegian School Student Union (which organized protests against the initial implementation of the national tests in 2005). He talked with us about how the national tests seem to have been integrated into the Norwegian education system but also pointed to the ways in which local and national politics reflect continuing debates over issues and tensions of testing, assessment, and accountability.

In Norway over the past fifteen years, as in many other countries, there have been numerous debates over the extent to which tests should be used for accountability and/or diagnostic purposes. The “shock” of the 2001 PISA results sparked a reform of the entire primary and secondary education system that included new testing and accountability policies developed by the right-wing government and endorsed by a unanimous parliament. However, as Tveit portrays in Educational Assessment in Norway, in 2004-2005 protests erupted against the right-wing government’s plans to publish schools’ test results, open up more non-public schools and facilitate more school choice. Those protests died down as a more left-wing coalition government went ahead with the implementation of national tests, yet with more emphasis put on formative and diagnostic purposes. Since that time, students in Norway have regularly taken national tests in the fall of 5th and 8th grade in reading, numeracy, and English instead of at the conclusion of 4th and 7th grade (as was originally proposed). Part of the reason for changing the timing of the tests was to shift the focus from ensuring that students have reached proficiency by the end of middle and lower secondary school, to providing teachers and schools with information they can use to inform their instruction moving forward.

While the tests themselves no longer seem to be as controversial, there are still concerns from educators that the tests do not yield the kind of specific information that can help them improve instruction. As Tveit explained “if you talk to teachers, many complain that the testing takes time that could have been used better for working with students.” On the other hand, he pointed out, many others feel that the tests have become a crucial part of the government’s effort to improve the quality of education across schools.  These tensions between the use of the tests for governing and accountability purposes versus formative and diagnostic purposes are central in Tveit’s investigation of how policymakers’ rationalize and legitimate the national tests. He has found, for example, that policymakers’ efforts to satisfy the demands of both those who want to use tests for accountability purposes and those who want to use the tests for formative purposes lead to methodological compromises that can be problematic. To shed some light on these debates, an ongoing research project Practices of Data Use in Education (PraDa) looks specifically at how teachers and schools in different municipalities are using the data from the national tests, the lower secondary school graduation exams, and other sources.

The use of test data for ranking was also a matter of considerable controversy initially. The right-wing government that implemented the testing program envisioned the tests as a source for rankings and comparisons among schools that could spur school choice. But when the tests were introduced, the more left-wing coalition that took over the government discouraged the production of rankings and “league tables” that might be used to “name and shame” poorly performing schools. The current government’s recent move to make schools’ tests results more widely available through a “user-friendly” online format has generated relatively little public discussion. The compromise makes it possible to see how an individual school compares to municipal and national averages, although schools cannot be ranked or compared directly.

Different perspectives on testing and assessment are also reflected at the local level. In fact, even though there have been limits on the use of testing at the national level, the municipality of Oslo, led up until recently by a more right-wing local government, has developed an elaborate system of annual tests that includes tests at a number of different subjects and ages in primary school. Ironically, however, while the right-wing government that is now in place at the national level could pilot the use of grading in primary schools, Oslo, which would have been a logical place for such pilots has now elected a more left-wing government. The new Oslo government seems more likely to curtail any expansion or use of testing than it is to participate in such a pilot.

Looking ahead, a committee created to help imagine Norway’s “schools of tomorrow” has proposed that Norwegian schools, teachers, and students need the freedom to go deeper into some content areas rather than being required to cover a wide range of topics. Similar to recent changes proposed for the Core Curriculum in Finland, the report also encourages a shift to a more interdisciplinary curriculum. Of course, such shifts would have important implications for testing and assessment as well. Exactly what will come of the report and exactly how much interest there is in Norway for another set of reforms, however, remains to be seen.



Lead the Change interview with John Hattie

Dr. John Hattie

Dr. John Hattie

John Hattie is Professor and Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia and chair of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. He is the author of Visible Learning, Visible Learning for Teachers, Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn, and Visible Learning into Action. He is also co-editor of the International Guide to Student Achievement.

John Hattie’s influential 2008 book Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement is believed to be the world’s largest evidence-based study into the factors which improve student learning. Involving more than 80 million students from around the world and bringing together 50,000 smaller studies, the study found positive teacher-student interaction is the most important factor in effective teaching.

In this interview, which is part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Hattie shares his thoughts on the most important issues in educational change today:

The most important issue is scalability. There is a rich source of educational research, there are so many excellent educators in our schools and universities, and there is so much we know about what this success looks like. The missing ingredient is how to scale this success.

This Lead the Change interview appears as part of a series that features experts from around the globe, highlights promising research and practice, and offers expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change. Recently Lead the Change has also published interviews with Diane Ravitch, and the contributors to Leading Educational Change: Global Issues, Challenges, and Lessons on Whole-System Reform (Teachers College Press, 2013) edited by Helen Janc Malone, have participated in a series of blogs from Education Week.

Digital Tools for Civic Engagement: A Conversation with Joe Kahne

Here at International Ed News, we have been engaged in a series of conversations with researchers working with educational issues in innovative ways on the margins of formal schooling. We previously spoke with Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and John Seely Brown. Recently, we spoke with Dr. Joe Kahne about his work in democracy and education, urban education, and Youth and Participatory Politics. He particularly focuses on digital media and online components of civic engagement. Dr. Kahne is Professor of Education at Mills College as well as Chair of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics, which is part of the Connected Learning Alliance.
While Dr. Kahne’s work has always focused on urban education (stretching back to his days as a teacher in NYC) and innovation, his recent work with institutions such as the Connected Learning Alliance emerged from his recognition of an increasingly digital component to youth civic engagement. As he put it, in the digital world “some of the core acts of civic and political life such as finding information, mobilizing others, and sharing perspectives” occur through social media and other spaces. These spaces enable “individuals to comment on, engage in, and influence civic and political life… and youth are often given such opportunities when online to a greater degree than when engaged in with institutional politics.” Through the affordances of digital media, “those who would otherwise remain marginal gain voice” and gain agency through action such as creating groups and social networks. As an example, Dr. Kahne points to ways that the Black Lives Matter movement has been aided by youth engagement with digital media. While people do not typically buy smart phones to photograph the police, for instance, he points out that these tools have been used to help shift public consciousness and mobilize for reform.
While his work is primarily centered on the U.S., Dr. Kahne sees this line of research as being possible as part of promoting and questioning narratives on citizenship in general and as operating beyond national boundaries. For example, he uses the DREAMers to point to the ways that online spaces are being used to debate the very question of who gets to be a citizen. Additionally, he points to online spaces where non-citizens can play increasingly participatory roles in discourses on national issues such as elections. The Youth and Participatory Politics initiative in which he is involved has also undertaken a Global Dimensions link, which explores the composition and dynamics of activism on a global scale in the digital age.
Much of Dr. Kahne’s research focuses on the Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP) research network. His group “defines YPP as something that is socially networked and peer driven rather than institutionally dictated and driven by elites.” With YPP, Dr. Kahne is currently working on a MacArthur Foundation funded project called Educating for Participatory Politics. In this project, Dr. Kahne and others are working with educators and students in Oakland, Chicago and LA to merge digital tools and classrooms spaces in order to increase civic engagement. Using Web 2.0 and other digital media tools, they are “investigating the opportunities for educators to support youth participation in civic and political life.”
This line of work on civic engagement is not always easily integrated into schools. Though he recognizes that many individual teachers and students have already been deeply involved in civic engagement as individuals, specifically through digital media, Dr. Kahne sees a “tension between institutional actors and other participatory modes of action.” This type of innovation (i.e. networked civic engagement through digital media) is not something he believes that educational institutions have prioritized thus far. He asked is “there a way through [this project] to create institutional commitments that would support those teachers and bring others in to a greater degree?” This project is thus an innovative approach to link and cultivate what had already been present in spaces outside of school with school’s daily life.

Professional Learning in Top Performing Systems, part 2

PDinfographicv2The National Center on Education and the Economy’s (NCEE) Center on International Education Benchmarking has released two reports on professional learning environments in top performing systems: Beyond PD: Teacher Professional Learning in High-Performing Systems and Developing Shanghai’s TeachersTo explore and share the findings of these reports, the NCEE held a conference last week featuring presentations and panel conversations with the leading voices in education from around the world. This conference was also streamed live and can be viewed online. Moderated by Marc Tucker, president and CEO of NCEE, speakers included Ben Jensen (author of Beyond PD) and Minxuan Zhang (author of Developing Shanghai’s Teachers).

Ben Jensen began his presentation with the questions, “What is at the core of high performing professional learning systems? What is the strategy to ensure effectiveness?”

Jensen argued that we need to move past the idea that there is a single answer. Instead, we need to understand the fundamentals behind effective professional learning. We need to think about an overall strategy for change, rather than specifics, such as how many hours should be required, or the regulatory environment. According to Jensen, high performing education systems around the world all have one thing in common. They are all really clear in their belief that school improvement = professional learning.

While countries such as Australia and the United States set high expectations for outcomes and leave it up to schools and teachers to meet those expectations in any way they see fit, top performing systems such as Shanghai and Singapore don’t take the same approach. Instead they look for broad policies that will make sure organizations have great professional learning, and talk about accountability as being a cornerstone of good practice for professional learning. While Australia and the U.S. see a dichotomy between development and accountability, higher performing education systems look at the two as interconnected, with several individuals directly accountable for the quality of professional learning.

Jensen explained that assessment of student learning is at the heart of professional learning in high performing education systems. These systems recognize how difficult it is to assess student learning well, and yet how fundamental it is to good teaching. They start by identifying student learning needs, and then how to change instruction. They look at evidence, try new things, work together, and evaluate impact. This inquiry approach has different names in different countries. For example, Singapore has Professional Learning Communities, while Shanghai has Learning Groups. Yet, these approaches are all focused on teacher learning and aligned with accountability (not focused solely on outcomes). Responsibility is shared, and individuals are held accountable for how well they collaborate with each other.

To read the full report: Beyond PD

Deirdre Faughey

Professional Learning in Top Performing Systems, part I

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 10.38.08 AMThe National Center on Education and the Economy’s (NCEE) Center on International Education Benchmarking has released two reports on professional learning environments in top performing systems: Beyond PD: Teacher Professional Learning in High-Performing Systems and Developing Shanghai’s TeachersTo explore and share the findings of these reports, the NCEE held a conference last week featuring presentations and panel conversations with the leading voices in education from around the world. This conference was also streamed live and can be viewed online. Moderated by Marc Tucker, president and CEO of NCEE, speakers included presentations by Ben Jensen (author of Beyond PD) and Minxuan Zhang (author of Developing Shanghai’s Teachers).

In his opening remarks, Tucker asked the audience to imagine working in a high performance law firm:

You start as associate. If you work hard, you have a chance to be partner. If as partner you succeed, you can be a senior partner. Then, you have a shot at managing partner. What happens as you move up? You get more compensation, authority, responsibility, status in the firm and community, and also you get esteem. How do you get to move up the ladder? You get better at the work. But if you look at how the firm works it depends on your capacity to develop others. The way you get to move up is by having people higher up take you under their wing. You learn from them. There is a craft and the way you learn a craft is from a master. That’s how it works. It depends on how well you develop others. Also, depends in part on meeting others, to get the work of the org done. Unless people moving up ladder have leadership skills, those committees won’t work well. Everything depends on you getting better at these things. 

How do you get better? You read everything you can get your hands on. You ask people to critique you. You get people to mentor you, and you get the most out of them. You are learning all the time. It’s all about learning, but the learning does not take place in an off-site scheduled workshop. It’s built in to the work.

Tucker went on to contrast this law-firm model with the U.S.  model of professional development in schools. As he argued, U.S. teachers “get workshopped.” This workshop model often involves lectures directed at teachers, agendas set from those in higher up positions, and as a result teachers think of this as time away from the work they need to do. This professional development model is often disconnected from the classroom and the life of the school. Tucker noted that teachers in the United States get better and better in the first 3-4 years of their career, but then it tops out. He described this as a disaster, because research on expertise tells us that in any field it takes about 10 years to become an expert. Therefore, teacher expertise is not being developed. After 3-4 years most teachers have learned how to do their jobs well enough, and there is no incentive to get better. There is no increase in pay, authority, responsibility or status. Teachers are treated as if they do the same job equally well.

In contrast, teachers in Shanghai experience a very different model of professional development. Tucker argued that the Shanghai model–which applies to other high performing countries as well—looks a lot more like that law firm example. There is a career ladder, with a focus on developing the expertise of others. Teachers in the upper range of the career ladder are responsible for mentoring and everyone has a mentor. Teachers are also taught how to do research and they are regarded as researchers. They work together to collaboratively define projects with specific goals. They engage in a highly disciplined approach to improving the school and every aspect of it.

Tucker summarized,

In this model, where is the professional development? It’s woven into work. Teachers are in each other’s classrooms – observing, critiquing. Teachers are doing research-action research published in journals read by other teachers. Teachers are taking workshops of their choosing – to build expertise that will be rewarded in career advancement.

*Stay tuned for an upcoming post focusing on Ben Jensen’s presentation: Professional Learning in High-Performing Systems. Jensen’s presentation expanded on Tucker’s introduction and argues that high-performing countries have in common the belief that school performance = professional learning.

For more information:

High Performing School Systems Do Better Job at Collaborative Professional Development, Report Finds (www.educationworld.com) http://buff.ly/23chwli

Lessons From Abroad on Professional Learning (EdWeek) http://buff.ly/1Kp6gq8

How Turning Teachers Into Researchers Helps Shanghai Schools Thrive (EdWeek) http://buff.ly/1PdWe2x

Deirdre Faughey

Lead the Change interview with Dr. Juana M. Sanhco-Gil

Dr.Juana M. Sancho-Gil

Dr. Juana M. Sancho-Gil

Dr. Juana M. Sancho-Gil is Full Professor of Educational Technologies at the University of Barcelona. Dr. Sancho-Gil has a longstanding and steady experience in promoting research policy at institutional level, advising research programs and projects, and assessing and managing research projects. At the moment she is coordinating the European project DIYLab-Do It Yourself in Education: Expanding Digital Competence to Foster Student Agency and Collaborative Learning. Dr. Sancho-Gil won the national educational research award, first in 1987 and again in 2003.

In this interview, which is part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Leithwood shares thoughts on the field of educational change, and provides details of her current work in Spain:

In the context of Spain, where a ruling party has approved and is implementing a regressive educational law, I take part in what is called the Foro de Sevilla. In 2012, the Spanish Minister of Education promoted a new educational law (Ley orgánica de mejora de la calidad educative–LOMCE). Because it was a majority government, the proposal was developed in an authoritarian manner and was highly confronted by diverse political parties, and civic and public entities. A group of university professors, teachers, union members, and representatives of parent associations, concerned about the clear educational and democratic recoil of the proposed law, met in Seville and wrote a manifesto. Since then, we have been discussing the different challenges to be met by education, involving more and more groups in the discussion and engaging in the development of proposals.

This Lead the Change interview appears as part of a series that features experts from around the globe, highlights promising research and practice, and offers expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change. Recently Lead the Change has also published interviews with Diane Ravitch, and the contributors to Leading Educational Change: Global Issues, Challenges, and Lessons on Whole-System Reform (Teachers College Press, 2013) edited by Helen Janc Malone, have participated in a series of blogs from Education Week.

Educating a new population of refugees in Europe

Our review of education news this week focuses on European countries adapting to a surging refugee population, mostly from Syria.

As The Guardian reported, Germany expects the number of refugees entering the country to surpass the million mark. About 196,000 children will enter the German school system this year, and 8,264 “special classes” have been created to help the new students catch up with their peers. Language is a primary concern, and the government has recruited 8,500 people to teach child refugees the German language. Education authorities describe the population change as a challenge, but one that “will become the norm for a long time to come.” In all, Germany will need up to 20,000 teachers by next summer.

Similarly, The Helsinki Times reported that Finland will have to recruit hundreds of teachers as well. As Heljä Misukka, an education director at the Trade Union of Education (OAJ), explained, “The number of unaccompanied minors who have arrived in Finland this year is 2,000. A child is entitled to basic education immediately.” Teachers are needed to teach, for example, preparatory classes for immigrants, integrated classes for special-needs learners and classes for learners studying Finnish as a second language.

While finding teachers for the new students is a necessity, a recent Economist article also argued that distribution of the immigrant students will also be important to their success. As the article explained, the biggest problem is that refugee children tend to be concentrated together. “In Norway, Denmark and Sweden about 70% go to schools where at least half of the pupils are immigrants. This means they are partially segregated and less likely to learn the local language.”

However, a new United Nations Refugee Agency survey has shown that the Syrian refugee population entering Greece is largely highly-skilled and well-educated. The majority is under the age of 35; 86% say they have secondary school or university education. Since, as the Economist argued, parents’ level of education is “the most important predictor of pupils’ school results,” with proper integration, these students might adapt quickly.

Deirdre Faughey