4.1 National tests

National tests

National tests do not measure attainment in individual subjects, but rather in fundamental skills required in all subjects. National tests in reading and numeracy do therefore not only centre around the attainment targets in Norwegian and Mathematics, but are also based on other subjects where targets for reading and numeracy are integrated. The national English tests differ from the other two tests, since they are based on the attainment targets for English.

National tests are conducted in the autumn, shortly after the pupils have started Years 5, 8 and 9. In Year 5 the pupils are grouped into three proficiency levels, and around half of them perform to the middle proficiency level. In Year 8 there are five different proficiency levels, and around 40% of pupils perform to the middle proficiency level. The average level of proficiency in national tests in Year 5 is 2.0. In Year 8 the average is 3.1 in reading and numeracy, and 3.0 in English.

National test results should be used to help improve quality in schools, by school owners and at a regional and national level. Test results should also help strengthen the schools’ and their teachers’ work to improve the tuition they provide.

Populous municipalities achieve better results on average than small municipalities

There is a clear link between the results of national tests and where the pupils live (SSB 2014 a). The largest municipalities achieve better results in national tests than small and medium-sized municipalities. The differences are most evident in Year 5, when municipalities with fewer than 2,500 residents achieve an average level of proficiency of 1.8, while the largest municipalities with a population of more than 50,000 achieve 2.1. This pattern appears across different national tests and is most conspicuous in Year 5. Only the very largest municipalities perform above the national average in the numeracy test in Year 8.

Results in the largest municipalities are often in line with or just above the national average. In the national numeracy test in Year 5, Trondheim and Stavanger achieve a proficiency level of 2.1, while Bergen, Kristiansand and Tromsø achieve the national average of 2.0. Oslo achieves 2.2. This pattern is in part due to the higher level of education among parents in and around the big cities. When adjusting for the parents’ level of education, the largest municipalities perform closer to the national average. Oslo does better than the national average even when adjusting for educational and immigration backgrounds (Bonesrønning et al. 2012).

Although the biggest municipalities on average achieve the best results in national tests, there are also a number of small and medium-sized municipalities performing better than the national average.

The counties Oslo and Akershus perform better than the national average

When comparing counties, we note that Oslo and Akershus perform slightly better than the national average in national tests in Year 5 (Figure 4.1). Pupils in Oslo and Akershus perform above the average proficiency level in all national tests in Year 5. Sogn og Fjordane also performs better than the national average in the numeracy test. This pattern has remained stable year-on-year.

Results by county of the tests in Year 8 mirror the results of the Year 5 tests. Oslo is well above the national average in all tests, but particularly so in the reading test. Akershus also performs above average in all tests. Sogn og Fjordane is above the national average in reading and numeracy

Figure 4.1 Proficiency levels in national Year 5 tests – by county. 2013. Average.

Source: Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training/The School Portal

Distinct correlation between results in Year 5 and Year 8

There is a distinct correlation between the results in national tests in Years 5 and 8. Around 80 percent of pupils achieving the highest level of proficiency in Year 5, also accomplished one of the two highest levels of proficiency in Year 8 (SSB 2014a). Just under 3 percent of pupils achieving the highest level of proficiency in Year 5 only achieved one of the two lowest levels of proficiency in Year 8.

Around 60 percent of pupils achieving the lowest level of proficiency in Year 5 achieved one of the two lowest levels of proficiency in Year 8. Conversely, between 2 percent and 4 percent of pupils achieving the lowest level of proficiency in Year 5 reached one of the two highest levels of proficiency in Year 8.

Girls perform better in reading tests – boys better in numeracy tests

On average girls achieved better results than boys in the reading test, while boys achieved a higher average score than girls in the numeracy test. There was no difference between girls and boys in the English test in Year 5 and Year 8.

In reading, the differences at the two lowest proficiency levels affect the overall results: 30 percent of boys achieve the lowest proficiency level in reading in Year 5, compared with 25 percent of girls. In the Year 8 reading test, 34 percent of boys perform at the two lowest proficiency levels, while the figure for girls is 22 percent.

In the numeracy test in Year 8, it is particularly at the two highest proficiency levels that we see different results for girls and boys. 36 percent of boys and 28 percent of girls perform at the two highest levels of proficiency. There are more boys than girls at the highest level in particular.

Figure 4.2 Proficiency levels in national Year 8 tests – by gender. 2013. Percentage.

Source: Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training/The School Portal

Parents’ level of education has a strong association with pupils’ level of proficiency

The pupils’ levels of proficiency in national tests in Year 5 vary according to their parents’ level of education. The parents’ level of education is especially relevant to the numeracy test, but the pattern is the same for all the tests. 33 percent of pupils with parents who hold higher education qualifications achieve Level 3 in numeracy, while the figure for pupils with parents without higher education is 15 percent (Figure 4.3).

Figure 4.3 Proficiency levels in national Year 5 numeracy tests – by parents' level of education. 2013. Percentage.

Source: Statistics Norway (StatBank)

Continued increase in the proportion of pupils exempted from national tests

Exemptions from national tests

The general rule for national tests is that they are compulsory for all pupils. Pupils for whom individual decisions have been made to provide special needs education or special language tuition for language minorities may be exempted from national tests if it is clear that the test results will not have a bearing on their continuing education.

We find the highest exemption rates in Year 5, especially for the reading test. 5 percent of pupils were exempted from the Year 5 national reading test in 2013. The proportion of pupils exempted from national tests increased for all tests and in all year groups between 2008 and 2013. The intention of the exemption rules is to grant exemptions to pupils who do not benefit from the national tests. However, a high number of exemptions could mean that valuable information about pupils is lost – information that could benefit school owners and individual pupils. In order to be able to compare results, it is important to ensure uniform application of the exemption rules.

Almost twice as many boys as girls are exempted from national tests. This reflects the fact that almost 70 percent of pupils receiving special needs education are boys. Head teachers and teachers find the exemption rules to be clear and unambiguous (Seland et al. 2013). Many teachers still find it inappropriate that pupils seen not to benefit from the tests still to have to sit them because they don’t have an individual decision about special needs education. There are more pupils receiving special needs education and special language tuition in Year 8 than in Year 5. However, fewer Year 8 pupils are exempted from national tests. It would therefore appear that lower secondary pupils receiving special needs education or special language tuition are increasingly seen to benefit from sitting the tests. This is in line with the objective that the tests should provide information about the pupils attainment levels for use in their further learning, an objective that also applies to pupils who receive special needs education.

Figure 4.4 Exemptions from national tests. 2008–2013. Percentage.

Source: Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training/The School Portal