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Evaluating the quality of SEN schools

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Recently passed laws are expected to change the student clientele in many of the schools for students with special education needs (SEN) in Denmark. A new study will develop and test a range of quality indicators that can be used to evaluate the quality of such schools. In addition, a number of good practices will be identified for others to follow.

SFI has launched a new project which will make it possible to better assess and evaluate the quality of schools for students with special education needs. The project starts by providing an overview of the different types of SEN schools in Denmark, including their teaching methods and organizational structures. By relating these differences to student outcomes, the aim is to develop a set of indicators that can be used to assess the quality of the teaching and other activities at these schools. The need for research in the field is substantial, especially after new legislation which means that fewer children will be eligible to participate in the Danish SEN school system in the future. Research in quality assessment indicators is a necessary step to ensure the quality of SEN schools.

New insights

The project starts with a brief review of relevant literature concerning indicators of quality in SEN schools. In addition, all the SEN school principals will be asked to fill out an extensive survey that will help clarify a wide range of factors; such as the student clientele, the organisation of classes, staff qualifications, as well as collaboration with local authorities and with other schools.

Chantal Nielsen, who is in charge of the study, explains: “We already know that SEN schools have a well-developed focus on students’ well-being in relation to the development of their personal and social skills. However, we are very interested in knowing to what extent the schools use systematic evaluations of the students’ cognitive knowledge and progression as well”.

Workshop to identify parameters

The research project includes a number of workshops in which representatives from the various types of SEN schools will participate. “There are substantial differences between the students in terms of their specific needs. Some students have hearing or speech disabilities, others have serious socio-emotional disorders or multiple disabilities. Each group of students requires different kinds of teaching and evaluation methods,” stresses Chantal Nielsen.

The workshops will focus on identifying relevant qualitative quality parameters for each of these different student groups. These parameters will later be used in the development of the quality assessment tools together with the indicators derived from the quantitative part of the study.

Quantitative investigation of student outcomes

The study will investigate the choices that SEN school students make at the age of 15-17 using the Danish register data system to document e.g. their participation and performance in national tests and school leaving exams. The study will also document SEN students’ transitions to youth education as well as their health and socio-economic status more broadly. Moreover the study will compare the outcomes of former SEN school students at the age of 21 with students that have attended ordinary schools, but with relatively weak academic performance.

By combining the results of the quantitative and qualitative studies, the researchers will be able to construct and test a range of quality indicators that can be used to assess the quality of schools catering for different types of students with special education needs. The study will also identify a number of good examples of teaching and evaluation practices from SEN schools that perform well according to the identified quality indicators.

The study is expected to be available in December 2013 and is being funded by the Danish Ministry of Children and Education.

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