The major responsibility for the quality of compulsory education in Denmark lies with the school providers – the 98 municipalities for the public schools (Folkeskole) and parent-elected boards for the private schools. An evaluation and assessment framework, therefore, plays a key role for central authorities to promote and monitor sufficient quality and focus on improvement. Denmark holds high ambitions to improve student outcomes and deserves credit for gaining broad agreement from all major stakeholders in efforts to stimulate an assessment and evaluation culture in compulsory education. Over a short period of time, Denmark has introduced new national bodies to monitor and evaluate quality in compulsory education, new national measures on student outcomes in compulsory education and requirements for municipalities to produce annual quality reports on their school systems. However, the suite of compulsory measures does not yet form a coherent framework for evaluation and assessment. In developing a strategic plan to complete the evaluation and assessment framework, the evaluation of teaching and learning quality should be at the core.
Assessment and Conclusions
While the Ministry of Education sets the legal framework for compulsory education providers and the overall objectives for compulsory education, the decentralised Danish system places the major responsibility for quality assurance with the providers. For public schools (the Folkeskole), the 98 municipalities are responsible for the overall quality of their schools and for setting local objectives and conditions, including the goals and scope for school activities, as well as the supervision of the Folkeskole. For private schools, parent-elected boards are responsible for school quality, in particular for ensuring that educational content matches academic standards in the Folkeskole, plus they are supervised by the Ministry of Education.
List of Acronyms and Abbreviated Terms
This Country Note for Denmark forms part of the OECD Review on Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes. 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. Denmark was one of the countries which opted to participate in the country review strand and host a visit by an external review team. This Country Note is the report from the review team. It provides, from an international perspective, an independent analysis of major issues facing the evaluation and assessment framework in Denmark, current policy initiatives, and possible future approaches. The Country Note serves three purposes: (1) Provide insights and advice to the Danish education authorities; (2) Help other OECD countries understand the Danish approach; and (3) Provide input for the final comparative report of the project.
The Context of Evaluation and Assessment in Denmark
The decentralised Danish system places the major responsibility for quality assurance in compulsory education with the education providers, that is, the 98 municipalities for the public schools (Folkeskole) and parent-elected boards for private schools. Municipalities supervise the Folkeskole and the Ministry of Education supervises private schools. The Danish Government’s competitiveness strategy plus the ‘mediocre’ performance of Danish students on international assessments, have increased policy focus on improving student learning outcomes. To this end, there have been sustained central efforts since 2006 to stimulate evaluation and assessment activities in compulsory education, including new national bodies to monitor and evaluate quality in compulsory education, new national measures on student outcomes in compulsory education and requirements for municipalities to produce annual quality reports on their school systems. A current proposal for reform aims to strengthen academic performance by giving more freedom to schools in return for an increased focus on results.
The Evaluation and Assessment Framework
Denmark deserves credit for stimulating an assessment and evaluation culture in compulsory education. However, the suite of compulsory measures for student assessment, school evaluation and system evaluation does not yet form a coherent framework for evaluation and assessment. Importantly, the framework does not include teacher and school principal appraisal. In developing a strategic plan to complete the evaluation and assessment framework, the evaluation of teaching and learning quality should be at the core. There is a common basis for the evaluation and assessment of student learning progress (the Common Objectives in compulsory education), plus there have been considerable central and municipal efforts to promote evaluation and assessment activities. However, implementation and activities vary among schools and municipalities. A priority now is to develop evaluation and assessment capacity throughout the compulsory education system. There is also room to clarify evaluation purposes and to refine and update the Common Objectives and other central measures.
Teachers and students report using an admirable mix of different assessment methods in Danish classrooms. However, teachers and schools report difficulty in translating the Common Objectives into instructional and assessment plans. There is room to develop performance standards against these to promote more consistent implementation and a more active engagement of students in their own assessment. New national tests offer a powerful pedagogical tool to teachers, but they are not yet used effectively by all teachers. To maximise their pedagogical value, they should be further validated, while building teacher assessment competencies. Teachers carry the major responsibility for student summative assessment at the end of compulsory education which allows a broad overview of student achievement. The written and oral standard examinations in Form 9 are criticised by students and others as being ‘outdated’ and students are not able to sit examinations in all subjects that they study. Accordingly, there should be a review of the purpose, procedures and content of the final examinations.
Teachers are given considerable scope to exercise their professionalism and benefit from good levels of trust among students, parents, and the community. Schools increasingly structure their work around teaching teams and engage special support advisors. However, teacher appraisal is not systematic and there is no shared understanding of what counts as accomplished teaching in Denmark. It is a top priority to develop a framework of teaching standards to provide the common basis to organise a career structure for teachers. Teacher appraisal for certification would determine both teachers’ career advancement and professional development plans. Danish teachers are generally keen to receive feedback for their professional development, but while some school principals hold a formal dialogue with teachers on an annual basis, it is not wide-spread practice for school principals to observe teaching. Developmental teacher appraisal should be strengthened and linked with teacher professional development and school improvement.
The introduction of mandatory municipal quality reports has been accompanied by central efforts to build municipal capacity. The common set of indicators in the municipal quality reports does not sufficiently address the quality of teaching and learning. The internal and external evaluation of schools should be based on an agreed set of formal criteria of school quality. Municipal quality reports provide an agenda for dialogue between the municipality and the school principal, plus municipalities are required to produce action plans for schools that are underachieving. However, the degree of followup by municipalities varies and is not always rigorous and objective. Outcome data and evaluation results should form a core part of the municipal monitoring system and discussion and follow-up with schools for improvement. Well led schools benefit from effective use of central or municipal self-evaluation guidelines, plus the rapid availability of results from the national tests. However, this is not the predominant culture. A requirement for schools to produce an annual quality report could be an effective stimulus for school self-evaluation.
Denmark has developed national measures on outcomes, including the publication of final examination results in Forms 9 and 10. The new national tests offer the first real opportunity to reliably monitor progress in educational outcomes over time against the national Common Objectives. However, the lack of inclusion of the private sector plus a lack of clarification of how results will be used to hold schools accountable, limits their monitoring value and there should be a careful review of strategies to maximise this. Further, it is important to develop a strategy to complement existing national monitoring information with broader measures of outcomes, including stakeholder views on the quality of teaching and learning. The Quality and Supervision Agency has the mandate to monitor school providers and should identify municipalities where real progress is being made in student outcomes and share this knowledge throughout the system, plus devise an optimal system to feedback key results held at the national level to municipalities for their monitoring purposes.
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