Assessment across the continent
This can create discrepancies. Pupils are assessed every year during compulsory education.
A certain coherence is guaranteed because all schools follow the national curriculum, tests are evaluated internally by school heads, the system is monitored externally by state inspectors, and pupils are granted official certificates at the end of their schooling by an independent commission which looks at their school work to make sure study programmes have been respected.
The Government does not lay down any rules about tests but several have been developed by the Dutch National Institute for Educational Measurement (CITO) and published on a semi-commercial basis.
A substantial part of the development costs are subsidised by the ministry of education, culture and science. Schools are free to buy the tests and use them.
CITO has also been developing a pupil-monitoring system that enables teachers to track the progress made by primary pupils. Achievement tests are usually taken once or twice a year and directions are given for specific help where needed. The tests, the first phase of which were introduced in 1992, are proving popular.
A new national curriculum is being implemented which has meant that two assessment and national testing policies are currently overlapping one another.
On the way out are national tests which have been related to a norm-referenced marking system. Meanwhile the new tests which are linked up to clear goals in the syllabuses and to a criterion-referenced system of marking are being introduced.
Under the new system, for the first time teachers will use national assessment instruments to assess eight-year-olds in reading, writing and maths, 12-year-olds in Swedish, English and maths, and 14-year-olds in Swedish, English and maths.
Besides the national tests, local municipalities can set tests and assessment instruments.
There is a development towards more performance-based assessment, with less multiple choice, short answer, or "fill in the blank" questions.
The Swedish National Agency for Education is responsible for the development and administration of national tests but they are only obligatory in the final year of compulsory schooling at age 16.
The full responsibility for assessing pupils' achievement is laid upon the teacher and the tests are primarily designed to support them.
Since 1989 a new National Core Curriculum (NCC) has been prepared and developed and the traditional approach to teaching and assessment loosened up.
The old curriculum is still valid, but the teaching profession and school administrators have been getting ready for the new one.
National pupil testing used to take place from age 10 to 14 but the papers were marked by individual teachers and as teachers did not have to use them, many chose not to.
Besides these tests, county pedagogical institutions also prepared assessment materials for schools.
But student assessment is still mostly based on the teachers' own assessment through a variety of written and oral tests.
The new NCC has just been approved and since it will take three years to implement, there is still much to be decided.
However, it will almost certainly decrease the importance of the old tests, leaving the assessment of pupils until the age of 16, the end of compulsory schooling, when students will take a national school-leaving examination.
Portugal is preparing the assessment of pupils at the end of the school year in maths and Portuguese at grade 4 (age 10 to 11), grade 6 (12 to 13) and grade 9 (15 to 16).
Before this policy was adopted it was impossible to gauge exactly what students were learning in schools.
The first, pilot tests will take place in May this year.
After that it should be possible to provide ministers and the educational community at large with reliable information about pupil performance and teaching and to help teachers determine children's learning needs.