This report for Norway forms part of the OECD Review on Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes (see Annex A for further details). The purpose of the Review is to explore how systems of evaluation and assessment can be used to improve the quality, equity and efficiency of school education. The Review looks at the various components of assessment and evaluation frameworks that countries use with the objective of improving student outcomes. These include student assessment, teacher appraisal, school evaluation and system evaluation.
Acronyms and abbreviations
Norway has a well-established tradition of decentralisation and school autonomy, with a strong sense of individual schools being "owned" by their local communities and accountable to them rather than the national authorities. This decentralisation is especially marked in the case of primary and lower secondary education, where, with the exception of a small private sector, schools are run by the 430 municipalities. Many of these, especially in rural areas, are very small and responsible for just a few schools each. In this decentralised context, evaluation and assessment are essential to monitor the quality of education nationally and provide feedback for improvement to school owners and schools.
School education in Norway
While Norway’s results in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) are at or above the OECD average depending on the subject, these outcomes are not considered satisfactory given Norway’s high levels of spending on education. There are also indications that the quality of education provided varies between municipalities with otherwise similar characteristics. The first publication of PISA results in 2000 was described by stakeholders in Norway as a "PISA shock", which has helped focus attention on the monitoring of quality in education. Over the past ten years, there has been a strong focus on building up national tools and procedures to monitor quality at different levels of the system with a view to improve practices and raise performance. This national agenda is coupled with efforts to build up capacity at all levels and support networking among schools and school owners to strengthen collective learning. This approach reflects Norway’s well-established tradition of local autonomy, with individual schools being "owned" by municipalities and counties and accountable to them rather than more distant national bodies.
The evaluation and assessment framework
The Norwegian authorities have set up a national quality assessment system (NKVS) for the education sector in 2004. NKVS provides a range of tools and data intended to help schools, school owners and education authorities evaluate their performance and inform strategies for improvement. In less than a decade, Norway has come far in developing a national framework for evaluation and assessment while at the same time leaving considerable freedom to schools and school owners in implementing local approaches. However, NKVS lacks a clear policy document or strategic plan outlining the different elements of evaluation and assessment and the linkages between them. Also, the specific criteria to evaluate quality in education are not stated explicitly, which leads to great variability in the nature and rigour of judgments made at the local level to assess students, appraise teachers and evaluate schools. As the Norwegian approach to evaluation and assessment strongly relies on the capacities of actors at all levels, the professional development needs are large and currently only partly met.
Norway is developing a balanced approach to student assessment based on a mix of teacher-based classroom assessments and central examinations. Assessment as a means to improve teaching and learning has gained increasing prominence in both policy and practice, and teachers hold the key responsibility for both formative and summative student assessment. The Directorate for Education and Training has launched a range of measures intended to clarify the rules and regulations regarding assessment, increase assessment competence, promote more relevant and fairer assessment of student work and improve the system documenting assessment. However, nationally set expectations for performance are quite broad and the assessment system lacks clear criteria and exemplars illustrating different levels of performance. There are indications that schools and teachers vary considerably in their assessment, grading and reporting practices, which raises concerns about the consistency and fairness of teacher-based assessment. There is also a need for the national authorities to be more explicit about the distinct purposes of different assessment approaches and to invest further in professional learning on effective assessment practice.
Teachers in Norway benefit from extensive professional autonomy, but they have few opportunities to receive external feedback on their teaching practice. The national regulations state that teacher appraisal must be implemented but the processes for appraisal are not regulated by law and there are no national performance criteria or reference standards to guide the process. Teacher appraisal is not considered to be part of the national quality assessment system (NKVS). As the employing authorities for teachers, school owners are free to establish their own frameworks for teacher appraisal but few of them have systematic frameworks in place to appraise the quality of teachers’ practice. This limits the possibilities for teachers to receive professional feedback from their employer and a validation of their work by an external entity. The most common source of feedback for teachers in Norway is an annual employee dialogue, which normally takes the form of a conversation with the school leader. There is no guarantee that all teachers have their teaching practice observed and receive feedback for professional development. Without a clear link to professional development, the impact of teacher appraisal on performance will be relatively limited. The absence of career opportunities and recognition for effective teachers is likely to further undermine the role of teacher appraisal in incentivising high performance.
School self-evaluation is the primary method of delivering school evaluation in Norway. There is a statutory requirement for schools to undertake self-evaluation, using the data provided to them through the School Portal. The Directorate for Education and Training has developed methodological analysis tools for schools to help them review their practice. The school owners are required to implement a quality framework and ensure that their schools have self-evaluation processes in place. While practices vary, school owners tend to operate an approach whereby they monitor results, require schools to submit annual plans and occasionally visit schools to conduct a "quality dialogue" and check compliance of school policies with regulations. There are no national systematic inspections or external reviews of individual schools. While there has been increasing focus on quality work at the school level, the extent, rigour and quality of evaluation across schools in Norway is variable. Many schools and school owners struggle to use data effectively for improvement and there was insufficient focus on observing and evaluating actual teaching and learning practice. There was a lack of advice on methodologies or quality standards that school leaders could use to develop a systematic view of the quality of teaching and learning across the school.
Education system evaluation
In recent years, Norway has developed a strengthened structure to monitor the education system. The Directorate for Education and Training is responsible for NKVS and monitors the quality of the school system via a range of statistical indicators and commissioned research studies. The key indicators to measure education system performance are the results from international assessments, the national tests, students’ final assessments and the Pupil Survey. The Directorate for Education and Training uses a stable reporting framework to evaluate the Norwegian school system but also augments the basic national information system depending on the availability of results from various measures. Since 2006, there has been a co-ordinated national inspection focused on school owners’ systems to assess school compliance with the Education Act. The implementation of national initiatives is monitored and evaluated, and there has also been focus on strengthening monitoring at the local level. However, many municipalities lack self-evaluation capacities and the external monitoring of municipalities by County Governors’ offices remains rather light. A key challenge in national system monitoring is the lack of outcome measures that would allow the monitoring of changes over time.
Conclusions and recommendations
Norway has a well-established tradition of school autonomy, with a strong sense of individual schools being "owned" by their local communities and accountable to them rather than more distant national bodies. This decentralisation is especially marked in the case of primary and lower secondary education, where, with the exception of a small private sector, schools are run by the 430 municipalities. Many of these, particularly in the more rural areas, are very small and are only responsible for a few schools each. In the case of upper secondary education, schools are run by the 19 counties with the only exception being Oslo, the largest local authority, which runs both primary and both levels of secondary schools. The 2006 Knowledge Promotion curriculum focuses strongly on basic skills and outcome-based learning, leaving it up to the school owners to adapt and implement more detailed curricula at the local level. In addition to granting school owners a high level of curricular autonomy, legislation has recently given them greater freedom to make their own decisions regarding organisational and funding aspects of schooling.
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