There are no national examinations in basic education. Only national examination in Finnish education system is matriculation examination in general upper secondary education. Consequently, all pupil assessment in basic education is done by teachers. According to the Basic Education Decree the assessment is carried out by the relevant class or subject teacher. Behaviour is assessed by the class teacher or, where a pupil has several teachers, jointly by these teachers.
In the core curriculum pupil assessment is divided into two types: assessment during the studies and final assessment. The general principles of assessment are followed in both. These principles are given in the national core curriculum.
At the end of each school year pupils are given a report. After completing the basic education syllabus the pupil is given a basic education certificate.
For assessment of pupils studying according to an individualised syllabus in one or more subjects, see Chapter 12.2.
Principles of assessment
According to the Basic Education Act pupil assessment aims at guiding and encouraging studying, as well as developing pupils’ self-assessment skills. The continuous feedback from the teacher should support and guide pupils in a positive manner. With the help of assessment and feedback, teachers guide pupils in becoming aware of their progress.
Good assessment culture includes cooperation between school and home. Pupils and their guardians are informed at sufficiently frequent intervals of the pupils' progress. The assessment criteria are informed to the pupils and their guardians.
The assessment focuses on the pupil's learning, working skills and behaviour. These are assessed in relation to the objectives and assessment criteria of the curriculum. Rather than being targets set for the pupils, the criteria define the level required to receive a grade 8 (on a scale from 4 to 10) or a verbal assessment that describes a good achievement level.
Assessment must be done in as versatile a manner as possible, taking into consideration the age and capabilities of the pupils. It is not based only on exams. The pupils are not compared to other pupils, and assessment does not focus on the pupil's personality, temperament or other personal characteristics. This is particularly important when assessing the pupil’s behaviour. Behaviour is assessed as a separate entity in a report, and it does not affect the assessment given in different subjects.
To promote more uniform assessment, criteria for the transition point between grades 6 and 7 and for the final assessment have been drawn up. These are incorporated in the local curriculum as they are.
In addition to supporting pupils in their learning, the information obtained from assessment helps teachers in planning their work. They can use this information for adapting their instruction to the pupils' needs and noticing the pupils' potential need for support.
The education provider monitors the implementation of the assessment principles in the schools and supports the development of assessment.
Assessment during the studies
Assessment during the studies refers to assessment carried out and feedback provided before the final assessment. It is mainly formative in nature: the objective is to guide and encourage studies, support learning and promote the skills of self-assessment and peer assessment.
Reports are one way of giving feedback. The Basic Education Decree obliges the school to issue the pupils with a school year report at the end of each school year. The school year report contains numerical or verbal assessment indicating how the pupil has achieved the objectives in the subjects or study units that are part of the curriculum during the school year in question. It also contains a decision on the pupil's promotion to the next grade or his or her retention. The subjects studied in different grades are listed in Chapter 5.2.
In grades 1–7 assessment in reports is given verbally or numerically or in combination of the two. In grades 8 and 9 assessment must be numerical but may be complemented verbally. By using verbal assessment in reports the teacher can describe the pupil´s progress, strengths and development targets. Numerical assessment describes only the level of performance in relation to the objectives of the curriculum.
The scale of numerical grades used in all reports and certificates is 4–10, where 5 is adequate, 6 moderate, 7 satisfactory, 8 good, 9 very good, and 10 shows excellent knowledge and skills. Grade 4 is for failed performances.
The pupils may also be given one or more intermediate reports during the school year. In intermediate reports issued in the 9th grade, the assessment criteria are the same as in the final assessment. Behaviour is not assessed in the 9th grade.
The second type of pupil assessment is the final assessment of basic education. The purpose is to define how well the pupil has achieved the objectives of the syllabi in different subjects at the end of studies. Depending on the subject and the local curriculum solution, the final assessment takes place in grade 7, 8 or 9. This assessment must be nationally comparable and treat pupils equally. The grades or verbal assessments given are marked in the basic education certificate. After comprehensive school, pupils will be selected for further studies based on final assessment.
The final assessment is not calculated directly as an average of the grades in the pupil's reports for previous courses, units or school years. It is based on the objectives of basic education and the final assessment criteria.
In the final assessment of basic education, the core subjects to be graded numerically are mother tongue and literature, the second national language, foreign languages, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, geography, health education, religion or ethics, history, social studies, music, visual arts, crafts, physical education, and home economics.
Optional subjects are assessed verbally or with a numerical grade, depending on their extent.
Progression of pupils
A pupil whose performance has been accepted (at least grade 5) in all the assessed subjects moves on to the next grade. The Basic Education Decree states that promotion and, finally, the award of the school-leaving certificate are decided by the principal in co-operation with the pupil’s teachers.
Pupils may be promoted to the next grade even when they have failing grades if they are judged to be able to perform their studies acceptably in the following year. If there is a failing performance (4) in one or more subjects, a pupil may be retained in a grade. The pupil must, however, be given an opportunity to demonstrate having achieved an acceptable level of knowledge and skills.
A pupil may also be retained in a grade without having failing performances if retention is considered appropriate from the standpoint of the pupil’s general success in school. In this case, the pupil's guardian must have an opportunity to be heard before the decision is made.
If the opportunity to take a test is provided when the school work is over for the year, a conditional decision on the pupil's retention may be taken in the school year report. The decision cites those areas of the syllabus for the grade in which the precondition for being promoted to the next grade is an acceptable performance in a separate test.
Grade retention is rare in Finland. When problems occur, they should be solved by increased support measures, including remedial instruction, intensified cooperation with homes and special needs support measures (see Chapter 12). If there is a risk of failing a subject, this should be noticed early enough to the pupil and the pupil’s guardians.
A pupil progressing according to a personal study plan may only be retained based on generally poor academic success.
Where a decision concerning a pupil’s final grades or promotion is obviously flawed, the Provincial State Office may either request that the teacher or teachers carry out a new assessment or decide on the actual grade to be given or on the promotion of the pupil.
Basic education certificate is given to a pupil who has completed the entire comprehensive school syllabus. This means that all subjects that are part of the pupil’s study plan are passed at least with the grade 5 or a verbal assessment 'pass'. In addition, there is a mention that the pupil's study plan has included guidance counselling and an introduction to working life. No assessment of the pupil's behaviour is noted.
The authority responsible for certification is the education provider, in practice the school.
Basic education certificate is, in the vast majority of cases, required for continuing studies in upper secondary education. However, upper secondary education institutes have the right to admit a study right to a student that they consider to otherwise meet the requirements to study for a degree on upper secondary level.