What could foster or inhibit the development of assessment cultures? Experiences from Norway

Jan 19, 2021

Lise Vikan Sandvik

This Assessment Cultures SIG affords an arena for sharing our knowledge about assessment cultures thereby informing and enriching local assessment communities. This blog – written from the stance and perspective of Norway – is meant to prompt a discussion that could enrich our knowledge about ways of developing assessment practices, which is in the best interests of the student’s learning.

What about the Norwegian context?

For years I have been investigating assessment cultures in Norwegian schools. My special interest has been teachers’ assessment literacy and how this knowledge manifests itself in practices in Norwegian classrooms (Sandvik, 2019; Sandvik & Buland, 2014; Sandvik & Emstad, 2019). The overall aim for our research has been to find out what impact assessment cultures have on students’ mastery and motivation.

The Norwegian Government launched a national initiative called Assessment for learning (AfL) from 2010 – 2018. Schools were motivated to participate by government funding. The national initiative was based on the four research-based principles of the AfL programme (Assessment Reform Group, 1999), which are also emphasised in the Norwegian Education Act as a student’s right to receive assessment that promotes learning (Regulations of the Education Act, 2006). The design of the initiative was based on the experiences from other national initiatives and the Scottish Assessment Is For Learning Development Program (2002-2008) (Hutchinson & Hayward, 2007).

The Norwegian authorities assumed that the relationship between policy and practice was quite simple. If the teachers received information about new ideas and the opportunity to reflect on them along with some tools for school development, the implementation would be relatively problem free. The idea was that some teachers would hear a little about the desired changes, and then they would spread these ideas or practices in their own classroom, among their own colleagues and to other schools. Experience from the AfL programme in Norway shows that the transfer model (Kennedy, 2005) had good intentions but also several shortcomings in its practical implementation (Hopfenbeck et al., 2015).

Another problem was that in parallel with the formally oriented guidelines for classroom-based assessment, national tests were introduced in reading, writing and mathematics, which meant that school results dominated the political discussion. The national tests diverted attention from the introduction of the formative oriented policies. The curriculum reform was conducted in parallel with the assessment reform, without the two aspects of teacher practice being considered in context. The consequence was that the teachers perceived the assessment reform as an addition to the curriculum reform, and not as a more fundamental change in the view of teaching and learning.

Three dilemmas for discussion: teachers, schools and professional development

Our study does not show a clear tendency for teachers in schools that participated in the national initiative to have developed a common understanding of what good assessment practice is. Many different practices have been observed within the schools, and also many different practices by one and the same teacher. How come that there are no clearly established understandings among teachers for how assessment can contribute to increased motivation and mastery in students? What influences teachers, and what is it that makes such practices so diverse? We found three main challenges when it came to the development of assessment cultures in Norwegian schools:

  1. How teachers collaborate on assessment
  2. How the school leaders lead the work with assessment at the school
  3. How assessment functions as an artifact for professional development and the development of the school’s assessment culture

Our research also shows how teachers’ practices are related to their education. Teachers with weak academic and didactic competence seem to have challenges in understanding and operationalizing assessment for learning in a satisfactory manner. Having good subject and didactic competence also include being able to conduct research and development work (R&D) as a teacher. Systematic observation, reflection and sharing practices and are important activities that contribute to professional development among teachers. Teachers who have the expertise to conduct their own development work will have a greater chance of succeeding in implementing good assessment practices than others (Sandvik & Emstad, 2019).

The school leader plays a crucial role in the development of the school’s assessment culture. The way in which the school leader facilitates development work in the school is important for the tensions and contradictions that arise in the school culture when changes and development are to take place. Moreover, it may seem that the varying school organization of teachers in subjects or teams across subjects is challenging for the school leaders when it comes to developing cultures for R&D work about assessment in schools (Sandvik & Buland, 2014). The development of assessment culture is a collective matter of the school as an organization. In order to bring about the individual development, R&D work should be facilitated at school level, so that a common understanding is established about assessment that contributes to the teachers’ professional development. In this R&D work, assessment cultures could emerge that promote students’ learning.

What is your experience?

Based on experiences from the divergent assessment cultures in Norway, I welcome comments on the following questions:

  1. What characterizes teacher collaboration on assessment in your country?
  2. How do the school leaders lead the work with assessment at the schools?
  3. How does assessment function as an artifact for professional development and the development of the school’s assessment culture?


Hopfenbeck, T. N., Flórez Petour, M. T., & Tolo, A. (2015). Balancing tensions in educational policy reforms: Large-scale implementation of Assessment for Learning in Norway. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice22(1), 44–60.

Hutchinson, C., & Hayward, L. (2007). The journey so far: Assessment for learning in Scotland. The Curriculum Journal16(2), 225–248.

Kennedy, A. (2005). Models of Continuing Professional Development: A framework for analysis. Journal of In-service Education31(2), 235–250.

Sandvik, L. V. (2019). Mapping Assessment for Learning (AfL) communities in schools. Assessment Matters13, 44–70.

Sandvik, L. V., & Buland, T. (2014). Vurdering i skolen. Utvikling av kompetanse og fellesskap. Sluttrappport fra prosjektet «Forskning på individuell vurdering i skolen» (FIVIS). NTNU.

Sandvik, L. V., & Emstad, A. B. (2019). Realizing data-driven changes and teacher agency in upper secondary schools through formative interventions. I Applying Cultural Historical Activity Theory in Educational Settings (s. 91–107). Routledge.