Scholarly article on topic 'The assessment of children with special needs'

The assessment of children with special needs Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Amelija Mozetič Hussu, Marko Strle

Abstract The assessment of children with special needs is already, and still is, a dilemma in the everyday school's life either form the teachers’ point of view to the pupils’ one and their parents’ too. Our intent was to detect what are the practices of assessing children with special needs which are included in a mainstream and are given adequate learning aid, to find out what are the problems in assessing those pupils and to present some best practices of assessing children with special needs. In the research were included more than one hundred teachers from primary and secondary schools who already have had some experiences in teaching children with special needs. They were asked to complete a survey about assessing children, making tests, motivating pupils, defining criteria and problems that arise when they have to assess pupils, especially those with special needs. They also had the possibility to present their own best practices in assessing children with special needs. The results show that teachers are fairly independent in assessing children with special needs. Generally they have fewer problems when assessing children that are hearing-impaired, physically-impaired or visually-impaired. On the other hand they have major problems in assessing children with specific language impairment or children with ADD or ADHD. They have difficulties in evaluating tests with free response items, essays and performance tests. Teachers acknowledged that team work could help them in gaining more confidence especially if they can share their opinions with professionals that know a pupil best and were already working with him. They realize that establishing clear goals and developing a team based approach in evaluating the individual's achievements is a plus.

Academic research paper on topic "The assessment of children with special needs"

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Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 2 (2010) 5281-5284

WCES-2010

The assessment of children with special needs

Amelija Mozetic Hussua, Marko Strleb *

aCenter Za Korekcijo Sluha In Govora Portoroz, Slovenia Received November 11, 2009; revised December 1, 2009; accepted January 22, 2010

Abstract

The assessment of children with special needs is already, and still is, a dilemma in the everyday school's life either form the teachers' point of view to the pupils' one and their parents' too.

Our intent was to detect what are the practices of assessing children with special needs which are included in a mainstream and are given adequate learning aid, to find out what are the problems in assessing those pupils and to present some best practices of assessing children with special needs.

In the research were included more than one hundred teachers from primary and secondary schools who already have had some experiences in teaching children with special needs. They were asked to complete a survey about assessing children, making tests, motivating pupils, defining criteria and problems that arise when they have to assess pupils, especially those with special needs. They also had the possibility to present their own best practices in assessing children with special needs. The results show that teachers are fairly independent in assessing children with special needs. Generally they have fewer problems when assessing children that are hearing-impaired, physically-impaired or visually-impaired. On the other hand they have major problems in assessing children with specific language impairment or children with ADD or ADHD. They have difficulties in evaluating tests with free response items, essays and performance tests.

Teachers acknowledged that team work could help them in gaining more confidence especially if they can share their opinions with professionals that know a pupil best and were already working with him. They realize that establishing clear goals and developing a team based approach in evaluating the individual's achievements is a plus. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Assessment; chidren with special needs; teachers.

1. Introduction

The new legislation in the field of education of children with special needs was adopted in 2000. According to the new legislation, inclusion is the basic principle of education of children with special needs. Since 2001, different programmes have been developed together with compensation programmes for pupils to help them achieve standards of knowledge.

All children living in Slovenia have the right to compulsory elementary school education under equal and non-discriminatory conditions. Compulsory elementary school education lasts for 9 years and begins when the child

* Marko Strle. Tel.: 0038640223830 E-mail address: marko.strl@guest.arnes.si

1877-0428 © 2010 Published by Elsevier Ltd. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2010.03.861

reaches the age of 6 and ends when he/she successfully completes the education programme or after 9 years of schooling. Parents can choose between the elementary education programmes provided by public nine-year elementary schools, private elementary schools or home-schooling.

The objectives of elementary education are: to encourage the balanced emotional, spiritual and social development of pupils; to develop literacy skills, a national identity and general cultural values based on European traditions; and to prepare children for a life in an equal and democratic society. The elementary school curriculum is designed to encourage pupils and teachers to achieve internationally comparable educational standards. It provides all school-age children with basic knowledge and skills for the continuation of education and motivates them for lifelong learning. Elementary schools adapt the learning environment to the needs of children with learning difficulties, special needs children and to gifted children.

1.1. Assessment and evaluation

Teachers assess pupils' knowledge on a regular basis over the entire school year and provide pupils with information and feedback (orally) on their attainment of curricular objectives. However, the primary objective of teacher assessment is not the evaluation of knowledge but to encourage pupils in their learning and to improve their interpersonal skill and improve the overall management of the education process.

Assessment and evaluation is carried out in accordance with the provisions of the Elementary School Act and Regulations on Examination and Assessment of Knowledge and Advancement of Students in the Nine-Year Elementary School, issued by the Minister of Education. The latter specify basic rules, principles and guidelines for evaluation of pupils. Grades in the education process must not be used as a tool for disciplining pupils and/or punishment. Teachers are required to set clear, transparent and non-discriminatory public criteria for assessment and evaluation. Furthermore, they must enable pupils to take an active part in the planning of assessment and evaluation and inform them about the criteria, methods for evaluation and assessment as well as pupils' grades on regular basis. However teachers are often left to their own judgement, when they have to decide, which is the best way of assessing pupils with specific disabilities. The assessment should be equal for all children, if you acknowledged their specific needs and capabilities. The main thing that has to be taken in consideration is to consider if the pupil understands the questions either if they are oral or written. (Levec, Ribnikar-Kastelic 1990)

We do distinguish two terms, evaluation and assessment, even though are similar and used together. Evaluation can be defined as the highest taxonomic level in the thinking process. We are talking about expressing judgements about the value of certain ideas, arguments, solutions, methods, results. Different activities such assessment, judgment of specific topics, methods, and procedures can lead us toward evaluation but there have to be set ground rules or criteria that have to be well known to everyone involved in the educational process. (Ivsek 2005). Something diverse occurs when we speak about children with special needs. Due to the intent of preparing an individualised educational plan we do have to start with the assessment before the learning process in itself. Of course the purpose is different. Therefore we have to assess children's capabilities on all functional areas; we're interested in any particularity and all peculiarities. In special education the assessment is leaning toward diagnosing which is mostly understood as defining the starting point of a situation. It is directed into detecting the gap and not with the purpose of assessing the learning process (Razdevsek Pucko 1995).

1.2. How to assess children with special needs?

The assessment that is directed toward diagnosis is often understood as formative assessment that emphasizes the process. It can occur before or during the learning process and has two important goals: directing the teacher in planning the teaching process and helping the pupil in identifying the main study areas that has to be improved (Woolfolk 2002). Especially during the individual work it is more likely to enhance the child's perception on his/her achievements, mistakes, problems, cognitive, metacognitive processes and strategies and prepare him/her to self-evaluation. Getting the right feedback is very important. It is a starting point, an appropriate direction that shows us where to go and how to reach the goal. It enables the pupil to increase the effort's level or changes the strategy. The best feedback is the positive one. Knowing what we have already achieved is better than knowing what we didn't accomplish. The feedback that enhances the improvement increases the self esteem and the analytical thinking (Woolfolk 2002). Teachers have to know how to give a positive feedback but it shouldn't deceive the real

perception of a problem and hide it. The feeling of failure can have positive and negative effects on the level of achievement. It depends on the situation and the individual's personality (Ibid). Children with special needs are in a constant feeling of failure, especially when the impairments are not detected in time. Pupils have to be helped but also taught how to help themselves. Legislative impostures give us the need and possibilities to adapt the learning process in its organization, assessment, evaluation etc.

2. Aim of the study

The concerns of the research were the teachers' dilemmas on assessing children with special needs. We defined the main aims of the research and those were:

- To identify different methods of assessing children with special needs that are included in the mainstream educational setting with additional learning support.

- To find out what are the problems in assessing children with special needs that are included in the mainstream educational setting with additional learning support.

- To detect any examples of good practice and present them to other teachers.

3. Research method

In the study were involved 232 teachers: 152 (65, 5%) teachers from primary schools and 80 (34, 5%) teachers from secondary schools. They were randomly chosen among different primary and secondary schools in Slovenia.

A questionnaire was constructed based on our team work with different teachers that are involved in working with children with special needs. 23 questions were assembled in three different types of questions; 11 items to be evaluated by individuals with a response as never, sometimes, mostly, always; 6 closed-ended questions and 4 open-ended questions. All questions referred to the research areas of assessing children with special needs, preparing tests, motivating pupils, setting the criteria and what are the main problems in the process of the assessment.

4. Results

Teachers are very diligent in presenting the criteria of assessing pupils and it's possible that it is a result of the legislative support that directs them to do so. The same is evident when we speak about minimal standards of knowledge that are set clearly. Mostly they don't have difficulties in establishing a sense of equity among all pupils and in preparing children, especially those with special needs, for the assessment, and reinforce them as much as possible. They know how and where to find the appropriate support for understanding the particularities of each pupil and are autonomous in detecting the true nature of an error. Mostly they know when a mistake is made because of laziness or real problems that immerge from impairment. Sometimes they try to develop metacognitive processes in pupils (self-regulation, self-evaluation) but there's a huge lack in developing such processes even in themselves. Setting a positive environment of understanding, helping, and fully including children with special needs is already present in our schools and peers have probably less problems in accepting them as equal while teachers have a slight need to be more parental. They do help them more than the rest of pupils in a class.

What do they consider while assessing pupils? Their answers showed that they mostly consider only the established criteria of the assessment (96 of all teachers or 41, 4%), 56 (24, 1%) of them ask the pupil to be self-evaluated or they share the opinion about his/her knowledge with peers (53 or 22, 8%) as a way of critical friendship that can be developed in a classroom. Generally they were not satisfied with the given answers and they added that they take in consideration also individual's characteristics, personal and family background. Some teachers consider also the pupil's effort and cooperation during the lessons.

Teachers use several approaches to motivate pupils. In most cases they present them the importance of the taught content. More than a third is used to express enthusiasm toward the topics that they teach. Only a tenth of all teachers plan the learning process with pupils. Some teachers like to organize their work in a different way e.g. group work, projects, experiments.

We can say that teachers are self confident in the way that they assess pupils with special needs. They have little problems when they have to deal with hearing impaired children (34 or 14, 7%), physically impaired (9 or 3, 9%), or visually impaired (5 or 2, 2%), but they do have major problems while assessing children that have attention deficit

disorders (64 or 27, 6%). Those pupils have problems in processing information and memory; usually they don't finish their tasks and are likely mistaken. Children with behavioural problems (52 or 22, 4%) are next. Teachers need a lot of effort to motivate them, get their attention and make them ready to cooperate. Pupils with speech and language disorders (39 or 16, 8%) and pupils with specific learning disabilities (68 or 29, 3%) are a vast group that tend to mislead teachers because they often think that they are lazy and just don't want to work, study, learn ...

When they are faced with a problem teachers try to find help in a team based environment e.i. talk to other teachers that teach the same child (70 or 30, 2%), talk to the class teacher (80 or 34, 5%), to school counsellors (123 or 53, 0%) or to specialists (i.e. special educators) that provide additional learning help to pupils with special needs (123 or 53, 0%). The last data are very important. Those practitioners are more familiar with the individual's particularities, mostly because they spent more time in an individualised setting with a child. They have the possibility to know the child's weaknesses and strengths, and determine if the child's mistake is due to lack of knowledge or a result of his/her impairment. Crying for help to the class teacher is just becoming an appropriate way of dealing with problems. Class teachers are now in charge of the individualised educational plans and are the first to be the most familiar with the different specific adaptations that are made for the pupils' benefit.

Teachers have the most significant problems in assessing written tests (e.g. essays) (120 or 51, 7%), and oral examination (93 or 40, 1%). What to do then? The most common adaptations that are implemented in their work are extending the time while writing tests or giving oral examination. Teachers often adjust the form of tests in accordance with the impairments of the pupil (e.g. different fonts, larger spaces between lines or prints, extraction of too difficult or inappropriate tasks etc.). It is important that they know how to present them the instructions. Tests have to have those tasks that enable pupils to gain at least the minimal standard of knowledge. The schedule of the assessment can be discussed with the pupils and prearranged.

Even parents have an important role. They spend a lot of time and effort in giving their child appropriate learning aid. Misperceptions are often. Parents say that their child knows everything when they're working at home and are not satisfied with the given result. Teachers have another important role in discussing with them present them the criteria; emphasize the positive achievements and the meaning of clear learning goals. All of those things have to be presented even before when the individual educational plan is on hand.

5. Conclusion

The assessment of children with special needs is a frequent topic in teachers meetings and team meetings of professionals that work with pupils with special needs. There is little theoretical background on the mentioned topic and therefore are teachers' experiences very important. Teachers appreciate team work, cooperating with other practitioners and specialists that work with children with special needs, clearly established goals and frequent possibilities of group evaluations. Developing adequate adaptations is a crucial moment that has to be very vivid. It has to be modifiable in accordance to the children's needs. We can gain the knowledge on what is best for a pupil only by education, permanent learning, and exchanging good practices. Sharing those ideas is probably the most adequate way of helping other teachers in reducing uncertainties in the teaching process and the process of the assessment. On the other hand is a possibility even for pupils that their achievements reflect their knowledge and true effort.

References

Ivsek, M. (2005). Opisno in stevilcno ocenjevanje. Od nacrtovanja do ocenjevanja pri slovenscini. Ljubljana:ZRSS.

Levec, A., Ribnikar-Kastelic, N. (1990). Slusno prizadeti ucenec v nasem razredu. Ljubljana: Zavod za usposabljanje slusno in govorno prizadetih Ljubljana.

Razdevsek Pucko, C. (1995). Opisovanje otrokovega razvoja in dosezkov na razredni stpnji osnovne sole. Opsno ocenjevanje. Novo mesto:

Pedagoska obzorja. Woolfolk, A. (2002). Pedagoska psihologija. Ljubljana: Educy.