Quality, assessment and documentation in Swedish preschools : regulations, practices, and concepts

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Publication Report
Title Quality, assessment and documentation in Swedish preschools : regulations, practices, and concepts
Author(s) Vallberg Roth, Ann-Christine
Date 2015
English abstract
The objective of this expert report is to provide deeper insights into the development and implementation of systematic work on quality — specifically, documentation and assessment practices — in relation to Swedish preschools. This takes the form of a critical reflection on the experiences and challenges surrounding the implementation of the revised Preschool Curriculum (Lpfö 98: Revised 2010) and the Education Act (SFS 2010:800), including the documentation and assessment practices involved. The report points out strengths, dilemmas and possible weaknesses, and addresses the following key questions: • Which practices for ensuring, developing, and monitoring quality in preschool are enacted at the national, municipal, and preschool unit level? How are responsibilities shared between the national and local levels? • How are quality assurance and documentation practices related to the revised Preschool Curriculum? What important changes to quality assurance practices have taken place in relation to the revised Preschool Curriculum? • At which level do quality assurance and documentation practices take place — including systematic, regular, and methodologically-controlled observations, assessments, and evaluations as well as less frequent assessment of individual goals? Is there a monitoring system (i.e. a systematic, regular, and methodologically-controlled observation of preschools) in place at the national level? • What forms of assessment and documentation tools are enacted at the national, municipal, and preschool level? • From the perspective of preschool professionals, how have documentation practices affected the preschool setting? In the Swedish decentralized goal system, quality assurance and documentation practices take place at the national, municipal, and preschool levels, and there is also a monitoring system in place at the national level. At all levels, the quality assurance and documentation practices are related to the revised Preschool Curriculum. In terms of regulations, the main tasks and responsibilities are shared among the national, municipal, and preschool levels as follows. At the national level, the Swedish parliament and government set targets and determine frameworks including extensive documentation, follow-up, evaluation, and development of quality. The role of the Schools Inspectorate is to monitor and scrutinize the principal organizers and preschools/schools on the basis of legal requirements. According to the legislation, the Schools Inspectorate should also monitor whether the municipalities are fulfilling their responsibility to scrutinize the independent preschools which the state has no jurisdiction to inspect. The National Agency of Education has the specific responsibility to support and publish guidelines, and the Schools Inspectorate has the responsibility to exercise external inspections. At the municipal level, the principal organizer of the school system (the municipality or the operator of an independent preschool) is responsible for the organization, management, and operation of the activities. This organizer must allocate resources, monitor and evaluate the results, and correct possible deficiencies. The principal organizer has the ultimate responsibility for the quality work in education, deciding on the goals, scope, and monitoring and taking responsibility for equal quality between preschools in the municipality. The municipality (as principal organizer) also scrutinizes independent preschools, both to ensure that their principal organizers are eligible to start and run these schools, and to monitor their ongoing quality work. At the preschool level, the teachers and the head of the preschool are responsible for the educational and organizational planning and implementation, follow-up, evaluation, and development of teaching and activities. Children and parents should also be involved and participate in quality work. Practices for ensuring, developing and monitoring quality in preschools include the aspects of structure, process, and outcome. Although these aspects may be present at all levels, documentation and assessment tend to be more directed toward structural and outcome aspects at the national level (compared to the other levels), and more oriented toward organizational aspects at the municipal level and toward process, child, and preschool activities at the preschool level. At the preschool level, quality work is multi-documented, and there are indications of a lack of appropriate time for reflection and analysis. On the national and municipal levels, learning is in focus, with goals such as ‘an increased focus on learning in preschool’. In relation to the revised Preschool Curriculum, content areas such as mathematics, science, technology, language, and communication are emphasized. However, the preschool level still differs in that it places more focus on preschool in itself rather than preschool as an early intervention for success in school. Overall, at all levels, learning is more in focus than other aspects such as play and care; this is interesting in light of the fact that one of the questions with the highest percentage of positive responses in an attitude survey for parents at the municipal level was “My child gets the opportunity to play with other children” (94%). At the national and municipal levels, documentation tools and assessment forms are more standardized and harmonized. At the preschool level, the quality work is multi-documented, and a variety of assessment forms are interwoven in the preschool documentation. The documentation tools provide a sample of assessment forms with different theoretical basis, including developmental-psychological assessments, knowledge assessments, personal assessments, self-assessments, narrative assessments, and centre-performance-focused assessments. Summative and formative assessments are concepts developed in accordance with goals to achieve, knowledge requirements, and learning outcomes with the focus on both the individual and the classroom level. These concepts are not consistent with the goal of the Swedish preschool system, which focuses on preschool activity and does not specify objects of achievement and learning outcomes at the individual level. Furthermore, summative and formative assessments operate at a local classroom level and between human actors, not in communities of practice outside school at different levels (micro-macro). The concept of transformative assessment can articulate and conceptually capture the transforming interaction between different forms of assessment enacted in the complex documentation practices in relation to the Swedish preschool. Different ways of recording — whether written or in the form of photos, videos, or symbols — shape and reshape different versions of reality as an expression of power. All assessments intertwined in documentation are formed from certain positions, interests, and perspectives, and they influence how reality is constructed and enacted. Transformative assessment may interact between different theoretical positions and assemblies, including influences from psychological, socio-cultural, market-economy (goal-result-quality), neuroscience, and post-human approaches. Transformative assessment may also be seen as reshaping and interplaying assessment in motion between different actors, forms, contents, and functions. The assessment moves between external and internal assessments and between different levels (micro-macro) in complex networks. Furthermore, trans¬formative assessment can be regarded as an interplay between linear (goal-directed) and non-linear (rhizomatic) assessment (Vallberg-Roth, 2012). The non-linear transformative assessment may be understood as described by Osberg and Biesta (2010): We should not try to judge what emerges before it has taken place or specify what should arrive before it arrives. We should let it arrive first, and then engage in judgement so as not to foreclose the possibilities of anything worthwhile to emerge that could not have been foreseen. (p 603) This expert report critically reflects on experiences and challenges regarding the imple¬mentation of the new Preschool Curriculum and the Education Act as well as the documentation practices involved, pointing out strengths, dilemmas, and possible weaknesses of the Swedish systematic work on quality. To a certain extent, documentation at preschool is seen as having a positive, democratic, and emancipatory potential. Professionals view documentation as a tool to visualize child perspectives and learning, to inform and involve parents, and to qualify the profession. Further, the linear, goal-rational work at different levels may be interpreted as supporting the quality work for increased equivalence between preschools. However, regarding the nonlinear ideas included in the non-binding material about follow-up, evaluation, and development (National Agency for Education, 2012), the dominance of the linear quality work may also be interpreted as a weakness. When children are assessed and mapped in relation to a predetermined and age-normed development, the gaze is directed on children as contextless individuals and on their deficiencies in relation to normal development and to predefined learning goals. Increased use of standardized mapping and monitoring may lead to a narrower view of what normal development and lifelong learning actually are. Sensitive information about children is recorded in the name of doing good and focusing on the children's best interests. Another weakness is shown in the notion that accountability seems to be stressed over human responsibility. When preschool children are asked what makes a teacher kind, their judgements are related to interactive and supportive presence and duty of care. Children do not ask for documentation. One can thus ask whether the quality work responds poorly to children’s expectations when it comes to adults’ interactive and supportive presence. Another question is whether the children get any support in developing a curious and critical questioning approach to systematic documentation. One dilemma to be solved in the Swedish policy system is how the documentation of each child's learning and changing skills is used to evaluate the quality of preschool activities in general, rather than to assess each child against predetermined knowledge requirements, levels or goals, as “[t]he child should not be compared to anyone other than herself/himself and not based on established norms” (Prop. 2009/10: 165, p 353). The transformative assessment is a concept that may be used in relation to this dilemma. To summarize, while documentation tools and assessment forms can empower, support, and strengthen, they can also weaken, mislead, and restrict actors in the quality work, including children, parents, and professionals.
Link http://www.fruehe-chancen.de/fileadmin/PDF/Expertise_Schweden_DJI_final.pdf (external link to publication)
Publisher The International Center of Early Childhood Education and Care (ICEC) at the German Youth Institute
ISBN 9783863791582
Pages 99
Language eng (iso)
Subject(s) Assessment,
Education Act,
Preschool quality
Humanities/Social Sciences
Research Subject Categories::SOCIAL SCIENCES
Handle http://hdl.handle.net/2043/18938 (link to this page)

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