The Diploma Project
Replacing learning for assessment with assessment for learning is the goal of ECSWE’s Diploma Project. Through standardised testing, teaching-to-the-test is increasing worldwide.The goal of learning sometimes can degenerate to seeking to do well on examinations. Learning for assessment leads to an industrialisation of education, through an increasingly powerful testing industry.
What the world needs is the opposite: Students taking ownership of their learning in an open learning environment. Instead of straightjacketing learning through a rigid and overly detailed pre-defined curriculum that culminates in standardised testing, education needs an assessment at the service of an open process of learning, with learning outcomes based on key competences and assessment criteria with space to breathe for teachers and students. Such an assessment leaves space for teachers and students to engage in teaching and learning as a dynamic and dialogic learning pathway, against the backdrop of clear standards and learning outcomes that can be individualised.
The Diploma Project seeks to address four main issues:
- The first is the problem that in many countries, national qualifications build on examination systems that tend to foster “teaching to the test”, often narrowing the scope and quality of teaching. One of the main unsolved problems teachers face in classrooms is that the ideal of formative assessment is found to be at odds with the sheer quantity of curricular content that many national summative examination systems require. Students may not develop key competences to the extent to which they are capable and individual strengths may go unnoticed because there is so much focus on standardised testing.
- The second issue relates particularly to schools in Europe not following national curricula, like the approximately 700 Steiner Waldorf schools in Europe. Examinations like GCSE’s, A-levels, the Abitur, the Baccalaureate, the Matura etc. strongly influence what needs to be taught and what “counts”. This can lead to a certain schizophrenia in the schools concerned: on the one hand, teaching according to their own ethos & principles, on the other hand, preparing for standardised tests or simply the generic national or regional curriculum. Forgoing the former would be forgoing their raison d’être, forgoing the latter tends to limit access to further and higher education. Steiner Waldorf may be the most prominent example of this persisting double bind – on a smaller scale, there are others. It is clear from the educational debate in a number of countries that many educators find the current range of qualifications unsatisfactory.
- The third challenge relates to the fact that while tools to individualise learning do exist and have been well developed, the uptake in schools has been extremely slow, also because new forms of assessment succumb to the pressures of more limited standardised national norms.
- The fourth issue relates to the integration of European and international value-added curricula in secondary schools. Clearly, cultural diversity will remain one of the pillars of European identity. When consciousness ends at national borders, however, national identities become problematic, for example in the teaching of history. Whereas students should be rooted in their local history and identity, a global awareness needs to be developed from those roots, including a consciousness of Europe as a cultural reality that transcends single languages and single nationalities within the context of the civilisations of the earth.
The pedagogical aims of the Diploma Project are:
- To develop innovative methods of summative and formative assessment and self-assessment employing age appropriate ways of student’s self-reflection and self-evaluation. This leads to a better and broader assessment of what is learnt rather than a tendency to learn what is assessed;
- to allow for more depth as well as breadth by only standardising basic skills and giving greater leeway for both teacher and students in their choice of where to go into depth;
- to give students more ownership of their learning through student centred assessment methods (“Dialogic Learning”) and through student directed and portfolio learning;
- to give teachers more ownership of their teaching through engaging them actively in the quality assurance process and embedding teacher training from the beginning;
- to put the learner in the centre of an education based on a broad cultural entitlement including: language and literature; mathematics; arts, crafts and movement; global awareness; natural science; foreign language; independent projects;
- to offer something to the education sector that can be a reference point for holistic and student centred practice.
The Diploma Project will draw largely on Steiner Waldorf pedagogical practice that has been developed over a period of 90 years since its inception. It will also draw from other innovative approaches such as:
The Steiner School Certificate
The implementation of the Diploma Project took a great step forward though the adoption of the Steiner School Certiﬁcate (SSC) as developed by The Federation of Rudolf Steiner Waldorf Schools in New Zealand and authorised by the New Zealand Qualiﬁcation Authority. It is now administered by the Steiner Education Development Trust (SEDT). ECSWE and SEDT signed a cooperation agreement in April 2015. The agreement describes the SSC and the cooperation, as can be seen from the following slightly adapted passages from the agreement:
- The Steiner School Certificate is approved by the New Zealand Qualification Authority and meets the New Zealand Qualification Framework levels 1, 2 and 3 (university entrance can be obtained with a Level 3 SSC if suﬃcient proﬁciency levels have been met). The SSC is a rigorous, publicly recognised, fully moderated qualification designed to support the Steiner educational curriculum and approach.
- Under the “Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region” (the Lisbon Recognition Convention), degrees and periods of study that are recognised in one signatory country must be recognised in another signatory country unless substantial difference from local qualifications can be demonstrated. New Zealand and most European countries are signatories to the Lisbon Convention and have ratified it. This means that the SSC can be recognised throughout Europe on its merits and become a qualification which students of Steiner Waldorf schools can use up to and including university entrance.
- The SSC was developed by the The Federation of Rudolf Steiner Waldorf Schools in New Zealand who retain ultimate responsibility for the SSC but who have passed the development and management of the SSC to SEDT under a ten-year arrangement which started in 2014. SEDT is a not-for-profit organisation that has as its purpose the management and development of the SSC and the support and development of Steiner education generally. It believes that the SSC can make a significant contribution to Steiner education through public acceptance and recognition of a qualification which remains true to the Steiner curriculum and so avoids the need for students to abandon this curriculum in the last years of their schooling. It seeks to develop wide public acceptance of the nationally accredited qualification that is ultimately quality assured by a national qualification agency of a country that participates in in the mutual recognition of qualifications under the umbrella of the Council of Europe.
- The agreement is between ECSWE and SEDT to support the development of the SSC in Europe. Under it, ECSWE will monitor the SSC’s development, promote its take up by national Steiner school federations and individual schools where appropriate, and provide guidance to SEDT.
- ECSWE will be SEDT’s most important source of advice and guidance for development of the SSC in Europe, but other parties will be involved both contractually and in providing advice.
ECSWE has mandated up a project group to that effect (consisting of Margareta van Raemdonck, Martyn Rawson and Detlef Hardorp as coordinator), which is in close cooperation with SEDT. It seeks to incorporate the SSC within the larger aims of the Diploma Project and to encourage SEDT to strengthen the SSC further by incorporating or resonating with the larger aims of the Diploma Project.