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Assessment

Teachers are encouraged to assess their students regularly, and guidelines for
assessment are provided in the national core curriculum. Currently, there is also
a push for student self-assessment, so that students may understand their
progress and help to design their own learning activities.
The only external testing in comprehensive schools is for monitoring (rather
than accountability) purposes and is done on a sample basis in grades 6 and 9.
Finland also participates in international assessments like PISA. At the end of
upper secondary school, all students take the National Matriculation Exam to
determine whether they are eligible to graduate. This examination measures a
students competency in four areas. Students are required to take an examination
in the area of their mother tongue language, but can choose the three other
subjects from the following group of four: the second national language, a
foreign language, mathematics, or general studies, which includes sciences and
the humanities. For languages and mathematics, there are two levels of the test,
basic and advanced. Students can take either level in any of their tests, but are
required to take at least one advanced level among the four tests. The national
language tests include a textual skills section and an essay. The foreign language
test includes writing as well as listening and reading comprehension. The
mathematics test has ten math problems, and the general studies tests are
interdisciplinary, requiring students to answer six to eight questions. The results
of this test also impact their placement in institutes of higher education.
Students who choose vocational education in place of upper secondary school
do not take this exam, but are eligible for university at the end of initial
vocational training.

Like the PISA Framework, the Finnish science curriculum emphasises practical
inquiry activities where students can identify, recognise or observe scientific
issues, activities where they use diverse sources of information to explain or
interpret scientific phenomena, to draw conclusions based on evidence, or to
formulate simple generalisations. The curriculum also guides teachers to
organise activities where students make observations or collect data and present
that data in a graph to give it a scientific explanation; all very much in accord
with the PISA Framework.
In the National Core Curriculum for Basic Education (FNBE, 2004), the nature
of the teaching/learning process in science is emphasised: The starting points
for physics and chemistry instruction are the students prior knowledge, skills,
and experiences, and their observations and investigations of objects,
substances, and phenomena in the nature. From these, the instruction progresses
towards the laws and fundamental principles of physics and chemistry. The
purpose of the experimental orientation is to help the students both (i) to
perceive the nature of science and (ii) to learn new scientific concepts,
principles, and models; (iii) to develop skills in experimental work and (iv)
cooperation; and (v) to stimulate the students to study physics and chemistry
(interest). (FNBE, 2004). Experimental orientation means here the physical
(hands-on) and mental activity (mind-on) of the student emphasising empirical
meanings of the concepts (see, for example, Lavonen et al., 2004). Of course,
the role of a teacher is important in this process.

Instruction makes increasing use of other methods, such as


-essays
-projects
-seminar
-group work

Along with curriculum design, teachers play a key role in assessing students.
Finnish schools do not use standardized testing to determine student success.
There are three primary reasons for this. First, while assessment practice is wellgrounded in the national curriculum, education policy in Finland gives a high
priority to individualized education and creativity as an important part of how
schools operate. Therefore the progress of each student in school is judged more
against his or her individual progress and abilities rather than against statistical
indicators. Second, education developers insist that
curriculum, teaching, and learning should drive teachers practice in schools,
rather than testing. Student assessment in Finnish schools is embedded in the
teaching and learning process and used to improve both teachers and students
work throughout the academic year. Third, determining students academic
performance in Finland is seen as a responsibility of the school, not the external
assessors. Finnish schools accept that there may be some limitations on
comparability when teachers do all the grading of students. At the same time,
Finns believe that the problems often associated with external standardized
testingnarrowing of the curriculum, teaching to the test, and unhealthy
competition among schoolscan be more problematic. Since Finnish teachers
must design and conduct appropriate curriculum-based assessments to
document student progress, classroom assessment and school-based evaluation
are important parts of teacher education and professional development.
Although Finnish teachers work consists primarily of classroom teaching,
many of their duties lay outside of class. Formally, teachers working time in
Finland consists of classroom teaching, preparation for class, and two hours a
week planning school work with colleagues. From an international perspective,
Finnish teachers devote less time to teaching than do teachers in many other
nations. For example, a typical middle school teacher in Finland teaches just
less than 600 hours annually, corresponding to about four 45-minute lessons a

day. In the United States, by contrast, a teacher at the same level devotes 1,080
hours to teaching over 180 school days as shown in Figure 2 (OECD, 2008).
This means that a middle school teacher in the United States, on average,
devotes about twice as much time to classroom teaching compared with his or
her counterpart in Finland. This, however, does not imply that teachers in
Finland work less than they do elsewhere. An importantand still voluntary
part of Finnish teachers work is devoted to the improvement of classroom
practice, the school as a whole, and work with the community. Because Finnish
teachers take on significant responsibility for curriculum and assessment, as
well as experimentation with and improvement of teaching methods, some of
the most important aspects of their work are conducted outside of classrooms.