Brussels, 16 September 2009
National testing of pupils on the increase across Europe
Pupils in Europe take on average three national tests during compulsory education, with some countries testing up to ten or eleven times, according to a report presented today by the European Commission. Regular national tests have been widely established across Europe in the recent past as a means both to inform education policy and practice and to guide the school career of pupils.
The Commission's report National Testing of Pupils in Europe: Objectives, Organisation and Use of Results, which is based on the work of the Eurydice network, gives a comprehensive picture of Europe-wide patterns and trends regarding the objectives, frequency and scope of national tests in compulsory education. It also looks at the use made of test results in the 30 European countries covered (EU Member States, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway).
The European Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth, Ján Figel’, said: "Reliable information on pupil performance is key to successful and targeted education policies. So, it is not surprising that in the past two decades national tests have emerged as an important tool to measure performance in education. However, I see nation-wide tests as only one type of pupil assessment, which needs to be balanced with other practices so as to avoid over-testing. Rather than only grade pupils, such tests should be there to help them improve."
1) National tests for validation of learning and performance monitoring have become a regular practice in most European countries
The efforts of European countries to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of their education systems have led to a growing emphasis on measuring performance. The majority of European countries have developed regular national testing relatively recently, and it has expanded rapidly in the current decade. In the school year 2008/2009 only the German-speaking community of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Greece, Wales and Liechtenstein did not administer national tests in compulsory education.
National tests serve multiple objectives: current national tests are most often used either to certify individual pupils' achievements, or to monitor schools or the entire education system. A smaller number of countries organise national tests to support pupils by identifying individual learning needs. Education authorities usually use the same test for several distinct purposes (see Annex, Figure 1).
2) Frequency and scope of national tests vary across countries
On average, European countries organise national tests three times during compulsory education. The great majority of national tests in Europe are compulsory for all pupils in a given age-group and where they are optional they are often taken by almost everybody. Certain countries test pupils much more frequently than the European average. Thus, in Denmark pupils can take up to eleven national tests during compulsory education, followed by Malta and Scotland (up to ten), England (up to seven) and France (up to six). In six other countries, on the other hand, there is only one national test during compulsory education (see Annex, Figure 2).
National tests often concern only two core subjects: the language of instruction and mathematics. Apart from tests for the award of a certificate at the end of lower secondary education, only a minority of countries consistently test a wider spectrum of their respective curricula. Several countries, however, rotate the subjects in tests for monitoring purposes, which permits wider subject coverage without significantly increasing the burden on pupils and teachers.
3) Only a few countries publish school test results or consider them in school evaluation
Although schools in Europe are often provided with their aggregated test results which can be in turn compared with the national average, national test results are rarely published or used as an accountability tool in external school evaluations. It is usually up to the schools to organise the ways in which these results are used for the improvement of their work (see Annex, Figure 3).
Furthermore, most European countries do not publish the aggregated test results of individual schools. In some countries official documents explicitly forbid the use of test results for the construction of comparative school tables, as these are not considered likely to improve education provision (see Annex, Figure 4).
The Eurydice Network ( ) provides information on and analyses of European education systems and policies. It consists of 35 national units based in all 31 countries participating in the EU's Lifelong Learning programme (EU Member States, EEA countries and Turkey) and is co-ordinated and managed by the EU Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency in Brussels, which drafts its publications and databases.
To know more:
Printed copies of the study in English and French will be available from November 2009. The German translation will be available shortly afterwards.
- Theoretical and Real Effects of Standardised Assessment , literature review by Nathalie Mons, June 2009
Fig. 1: Main aims of nationally standardised tests,
Fig. 2: Number of school years at which national tests are administered,
No national tests
Fig. 3: Use of test results in the external evaluation of schools,
Fig. 4: Publication of individual schools’ results in national tests,