Going for excellence: evaluation and assessment in Dutch schools

by Deborah Nusche
Policy Analyst,  Early Childhood and Schools Division, Directorate for Education

Dutch education is at a turning point. Although the Dutch education system

has made progress on many fronts and has a high standing on international assessments, there is a general appreciation that the system must continue to improve and strive for the next level.

The nature of that next level, however, has not yet been specified.

According to various groups interviewed as part of an OECD Review published today, it could mean further improving the country’s standing on international assessments, with particular focus on top performers; or enhancing general academic achievement and responding better to the learning needs of different student groups; or turning attention to “21st century skills” such as creativity, collaboration and ICT literacy.

The Dutch government has launched a general policy emphasising excellence in education. This includes a focus on providing better support to gifted and talented students and stimulating schools to aim for higher levels of achievement. For example, school inspection visits are becoming more differentiated to help schools with average and good results to further improve towards excellence. Teacher professionalism, and teachers’
capacity for “results-oriented work”, are being promoted as key elements in achieving excellence in education. Recent laws on student assessment make it mandatory for primary schools to implement regular student monitoring systems and a standardised end-of-primary test.

The Dutch government invited the OECD to visit the Netherlands and review how current evaluation and assessment approaches contribute to improving teaching and learning in Dutch schools. The OECD review team found that in many ways evaluation and assessment in Dutch schools are in line with the principles identified by the OECD to develop an effective evaluation and assessment framework. Central instruments for student assessment, school evaluation and education system monitoring are highly developed, and schools are responsible for assuring their own quality. The involvement and cooperation of multiple stakeholders has resulted in a comprehensive and balanced approach to evaluation and assessment, producing ample information and feedback for actors at all levels of the system.

Going forward, the Netherlands needs to ensure that the available evaluation and assessment results are effectively used for improvement in all schools, including in those that are already achieving basic quality. An overarching strategy for evaluation and assessment in the Netherlands could help map out the existing instruments, clarify responsibilities and point to adequate uses of evaluation and assessment results. Teachers, school leaders and governing boards would benefit from enhanced training to interpret and use the information generated by evaluation and assessment for improvements at the school and classroom level. Effective appraisal and feedback systems for school professionals, linked to professional development, can play a key role in building such capacity. Innovative approaches to school evaluation will further contribute to stimulating reflective practice and excellence in schooling.

If evaluation and assessment are to be tools for improving learning rather than the drivers of education in the Netherlands, the system also needs to build consensus on education goals for future generations. What does excellence mean for Dutch schools in the mid-21st century? Are schools sufficiently focused on valued learning goals such as problem-solving, collaboration, ICT literacy and creative thinking? How can evaluation and assessment support rather than stifle innovative teaching and learning? Greater clarity on national learning goals for the mid-21st century will help inform reflection and dialogue on how evaluation and assessment should evolve in order to support a future-oriented education system.

OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education: Netherlands:
Country Review
Main Conclusions
For more on OECD Reviews on Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes: www.oecd.org/edu/evaluationpolicy 
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