Opportunity (in)equalities for students in the Netherlands

The Inspectie van het Onderwijs” The Inspectorate of Education” – a special government organization in the Netherlands controlling the quality of education has issued an official report entitled ’Kansen(on)gelijkheid bij de overgangen PO-VO’ ( Opportunity (in)equalities for students transferring from primary school to secondary school).

The Inspectorate of Education notices increasing inequality of opportunity at various moments in the school career of a student, including the moment of transition from primary to secondary education and as a result of this the placement of students in the first three years of secondary education.

Literature research showed that not only the procedures are important, but especially how the decisions are taken by teachers. The research was carried out in several schools in Limburg, southern province of the Netherlands.

Opportunity-enhancing factors and background of students

Inspectorate has examined how to enhance the chances of students to prevent the inequality of assessments, especially during the transition period when the teachers of the primary schools recommend the right level of students for the secondary school. How school, teachers from the primary school can recommend students from the primary school the right level at the secondary school and offer the right education so that it would match with the real capacities and potential of students, regardless of students’ background.

Careful interpretation of information vs. subjectivity

According to the report the assessment of the soft skills is very subjective and they are differences among schools in how the soft skills of students are interpreted. A careful interpretation of the available information about students is crucial in assessing the possibilities and capacities of students. This is especially true for the interpretation of “soft” skills such as work attitude, motivation and behavior. Teachers and schools interpret these skills differently. Personal attitudes, experiences, backgrounds and (implicit) assumptions play a role in this and can stand in the way of a good interpretation and a good assessment of students’ potential and it may lead to pupils being offered education based on subjective, personal considerations that may not reflect student’s capabilities and potential.

The migration background plays a role. The report says that correctness of teachers’ recommendation is influenced by the background and the more visible characteristics of students. This could be the ethnicity. A profile of an immigrant student provides a different view than that of a native student. There is a difference in the way in which teachers (and people in general) form judgments.

The subjectivity of assessment can also be the case when specific (pedagogical / didactic) knowledge is lacking. It helps when teachers and supervisors have a substantive discussion with each other about the meaning they give to the (‘soft’) information and about the role it plays in assessing possibilities and capacities. Report also points out that due to personal attitudes, experiences, backgrounds and (implicit) assumptions, teachers can sometimes be too cautious and risk-avoiding in their recommendation.

Careful analysis and weighting of information

A good analysis and weighting of information is necessary to properly assess the capacities and possibilities of students. The conversations Inspectorate had with the schools showed that there are considerable quality differences between schools and teachers when it comes to depth in analyzes and interpretation of test results. Schools and teachers also do not always find it easy to analyze test results in connection with other (including non-cognitive) information. When schools and teachers strengthen their analytical skills, it will deepen and broaden their view of students and their capabilities according to the Inspectorate.

Involvement of students and parents

In order to increase opportunities for students, schools should cooperate with parents and take into consideration their characteristics and ambitions. The Inspectorate stresses that a good cooperation with parents benefits the school development of students. This also applies to the involvement of parents by the procedure of formulating the recommendation of primary school for the right level of the secondary school of their child.

Additionally to create an objective assessment it is important that schools collect relevant, objective information about students, their development, work-attitude, social-emotional features, home situation, etc.

Lack of objectivity of assessment of children with a migration background

As we have already pointed out in our publications the various organizations warn about the ‘’onderadvisering’’of children with migration background, including bilingual children.

It has to do with the objectivity of assessment both the learning results and the soft-skills. CITO tests which are used at Dutch schools are not normalized for bilingual children and therefore are not the objective evaluation of the learning capacities of children. 

Also the assesssment of soft-skills as the above research shows is not objective, since it can be based on subjective judgment of teachers and their perspective.

Lack of objective assessment tools and statistics 

The fact that primary schools do not have the right tools to be able to assess objectively the students with a migration background, bilingual children, they more often repeat classes and are under advised.

These are the numbers: 15,8%  of children with no migration background repeat the class in the Netherlands as contrast to: 21,6% children with the western immigration background,  21% not western 2nd generation and  27% not western 1st generation. What is also shocking is that children with a migration background more often are advised by primary schools to follow education at a lower level.  So for example: 19,4% of  children with a migration background who are in the Netherlands shorter than 4 years  receive ‘’advice’’ for VMBO-B (preparatory secondary vocational education) as contrast to 5,9% children with no migration background. When we look at the VWO advice ( pre-university level of secondary school) , we see a spectacular change: 8,2 % children with a migration background who are in the Netherlands shorter than 4 years receive the highest advice in contrast to 21,2% children with no migration background. Differences are visible for all children with migration background.

Photo: Pixabay, Geralt

Text: Beata Bruggeman-Sekowska

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