This report for Portugal 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
Student learning outcomes in Portugal are around or slightly below the OECD average, depending on the skills assessed, and have shown some encouraging improvement in the last decade. Efforts which followed the 1974 Revolution to ensure access to education for all Portuguese resulted in a rapid expansion of enrolment. However, educational attainment remains a challenge. It is the lowest in the OECD area for the working-age population, with 30% of 25- to 64-year-olds having attained at least upper secondary education in 2009 (against an OECD average of 73%). Moreover, the high share of students leaving the education system too early with low skills remains a major problem. A range of reforms have been introduced in education in recent years, including new arrangements for school leadership, student learning standards, teacher appraisal, and initiatives to reduce early dropouts.
School education in Portugal
School governance in Portugal is fairly centralised. The main lines of action about the curriculum, the educational programmes, national examinations, teacher recruitment and deployment, and the budget distribution are defined centrally by the Ministry of Education and Science. There has been some devolution of responsibilities to municipalities in areas such as curricular enrichment activities, management of the schooling infrastructure, and non-teaching staff resources; as well as some autonomy granted to individual schools in areas such as the hiring of part of the staff (on fixed-term contracts, trainers for vocational courses) and the selection of textbooks. Public schooling is dominant and public schools receive the majority of their funds directly from the State budget. A major handicap for Portugal has been the very low starting point in terms of educational attainment and literacy of its population, prior to the 1974 Revolution. Nevertheless, efforts to ensure access to education for all Portuguese resulted in a rapid expansion of enrolment even if attainment levels remain a challenge. Student learning outcomes in Portugal are around or slightly below the OECD average following some progress in the last decade, depending on the skills assessed. Recent reforms include new arrangements for school leadership, the setting of learning goals, the reorgansation and redeployment of the school network, the generalisation of full day schools and the diversification of educational offerings (in particular through the promotion of vocational/professional programmes).
The evaluation and assessment framework
Evaluation and assessment in Portugal operates at four key levels: (i) system – namely through education indicators, national tests and examinations, and international student surveys; (ii) school – external inspection by the General Inspectorate of Education and school self-evaluation; (iii) teacher – through a national system of teacher performance appraisal; and (iv) student – with instruments ranging from national standardised tests to ongoing daily formative assessment in the classroom. The approach to evaluation and assessment combines central control over policy development and standard setting with a measure of devolved responsibility for the implementation of evaluation and assessment at the school level. The Ministry of Education and Science is responsible for oversight of the entire education system and plays a role in all components of the evaluation and assessment framework. The framework exists in an environment where there is an increasing trend of accountability for all school agents, the commitment to develop an evaluation culture in the education system, and a growing focus on measuring educational performance.
Student performance in Portugal is assessed by a wide range of instruments, ranging from national standardised tests to ongoing daily formative assessment in the classroom. At the national level, full-cohort educational progress national tests are conducted in Grade 4, the results from which are used as key performance measures towards national goals. These are low stakes for schools, teachers and students. Summative assessment is based on a mix of teacher-based classroom assessments and national examinations. The latter take place at the end of both the second and third cycles of basic education (Grades 6 and 9), in Portuguese language and mathematics, and in secondary education in the last year of each subject (Grade 11 or 12). However, teachers hold most responsibility for summative assessment as the weight of national examinations is never dominant for the final mark. In the first cycle of basic education (Grades 1-4), assessment is generally informal and formative and results are reported in a descriptive and qualitative format. In the second and third cycles (Grades 5-6 and Grades 7-9), the emphasis on formative and internal assessment continues but summative results are reported on an ordinal scale from 1 to 5 and there are external examinations at the end of each of the cycles.
A new national system of teacher performance appraisal was instituted in 2007 in the broader context of the integrated system of performance evaluation for public administration which applies to civil servants. Since then, teacher appraisal has undergone a range of adjustments as a result of the resistance it has faced. By the time the review team visited, a model launched in 2010 was in the process of being implemented. The main features of the model included a two-year appraisal cycle; a national framework defining reference standards, aspects to be appraised, instruments to be used and a five-level classification scheme with a school-level quota system for the top two classifications; a process internal to the school to conduct the appraisal including school-based peer evaluators; and consequences for career progression, contract renewal, monetary rewards and plan for professional development. Subsequently to the review visit and with the change of government in June 2011, a new teacher appraisal model was approved for implementation in 2012/13.
There are two main forms of school evaluation in Portugal: school self-evaluation and school external inspection. The latter is the responsibility of the General Inspectorate of Education and Science. A first cycle of external school evaluations was conducted from 2006 to early 2011. It involved, for each school in the system, a sequence of activities comprising a self-reflection by the school, a visit by a team with inspectors and an external member, the publication of the team’s report and, in some cases, an improvement plan for the school. A second cycle of external school evaluations was launched in the 2011/12 school year following a similar approach but with the introduction of the requirement of an improvement plan for each school inspected. A distinguishing feature of external school evaluation is that it does not involve the observation of teaching and learning in the classroom. The precise nature of school selfevaluation varies across schools as the legal requirement to undertake it does not come with a prescribed approach.
Education system evaluation
A range of tools are used to monitor performance of the education system. Information on student learning outcomes is collected from educational progress national tests in Grade 4 and from national examinations in Grades 6 and 9 and in secondary education. The monitoring system also includes a range of statistics on education based on snapshot data collected from schools on a standardised format. These are the basis for annual publications with system-level indicators on education. Also, international benchmarks of student performance provided by international student surveys such as PISA have been influential in driving policy development at the system level. In addition, there has been a growing interest in undertaking studies of the impact of policy initiatives and in preparing thematic reports which can inform policy development. Particularly positive features of system evaluation include the well-established education indicators framework; the new concern for framing system evaluation in relation to educational targets; the existence of student performance data; and the qualitative analysis undertaken in thematic reports. However, system evaluation is faced with a number of challenges. These include the little emphasis on the evaluation of the education system; the lack of measures on students’ socio-economic background; the little emphasis on investigating differences of student outcomes across specific groups; the limited information on the teaching and learning environment; and the room to better exploit system-level information.
Conclusions and recommendations
A major handicap for Portugal has been the very low starting point in terms of educational attainment and literacy of its population. A fifth of all 15- to 64-year-olds were illiterate in the mid-1970s and less than 5% had completed upper secondary education. Nevertheless, efforts to ensure access to education for all Portuguese resulted in a rapid expansion of enrolment. The proportion of the population that has attained at least upper secondary education grew from 14% for the generation aged 55-64 in 2009 to 48% for the generation aged 25-34 in the same year. Despite the expansion of the education system, educational attainment remains a challenge. It is the lowest in the OECD area for the working-age population, with 30% of 25- to 64-year-olds having attained at least upper secondary education in 2009 (against an OECD average of 73%). Moreover, the high share of students leaving the education system too early with low skills remains a major problem.
The OECD Review on Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes
The OECD Review on Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes is designed to respond to the strong interest in evaluation and assessment issues evident at national and international levels. It provides a description of design, implementation and use of assessment and evaluation procedures in countries; analyses strengths and weaknesses of different approaches; and provides recommendations for improvement. 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. The Review focuses on primary and secondary education.
Composition of the review team
Graham Donaldson published his report Teaching Scotland’s Future – A Report of a Review of Teacher Education in Scotland in January 2011. This Review was undertaken on behalf of the Scottish Government ( ). Graham was Her Majesty’s Senior Chief Inspector of Education from 2002 to 2010 in Scotland. In that role, he was Chief Executive of HM Inspectorate of Education and Chief Professional Adviser to the Scottish Government on all aspects of education outside the university sector. Graham began his teaching career in 1970 and taught in schools in Glasgow and Dunbartonshire. He worked as a Curriculum Evaluator for the Consultative Committee on the Curriculum. During this period, he was seconded to BP to review links between education and industry. His report, Industry and Scottish Schools, was published in 1981. He became an HM Inspector in 1983. Graham is the current President of the Standing International Conference of Inspectorates (SICI) which has 29 member inspectorates from across Europe. Graham was awarded a CB for his services to education in the 2009 Queen’s Birthday Honours List. www.reviewofteachereducationinscotland.org.uk
Comparative indicators on evaluation and assessment
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