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Further improving school evaluations

The Latvian school evaluation has drawn on international best practice and was inspired by the Scottish school evaluation system. It is well aligned with several good practices in school evaluation highlighted by a recent OECD Review on Evaluation and Assessment (OECD, 2013c). School evaluation is shaped by mutually reinforcing annual internal assessments and six-yearly external ones. Latvia has also defined national quality criteria that are used for both internal and external evaluations. These ensure alignment between the two which has the advantage of keeping schools systematically focused on core quality criteria, and not just in relation to cycles of external school evaluation.

External school evaluations draw on a broad set of evidence, including the school self-evaluation report, classroom observation and surveys of key stakeholders (e.g. students, teachers and parents). This practice encourages the acceptance of the evaluation results by schools and other stakeholders.

The external evaluation is carried out by trained evaluators who represent key stakeholders, including experienced and recognised educational experts and leaders from other schools. This can have multiple benefits: broadening the expertise of the expert commission doing the evaluation, enhancing its credibility through the explicit involvement of current practitioners, and building capacity among the educational experts and leaders themselves. They can then use their experience to support their colleagues to better understand external evaluations, and share knowledge on good practices they have seen (oECD, 2013c, 2015c).

despite these strengths there are also some areas for improvement. First, a lack of funding has without a doubt limited the potential of school evaluation to support school improvements. The 2009/10 budget cuts resulted in a one-off evaluation based on schools’ self-evaluation reports and student outcomes alone, with only the 20% of schools considered most at risk receiving a visit from an expert commission in the six years that followed. Latvia now plans to continue this risk-based approach, leaving 80% of schools without the opportunity to benefit from the constructive criticism of the expert commission. Importantly, it also prevents the identification of higher-performing schools and dissemination of good practices. Neither will it challenge any complacency among schools which fall outside the risk-based sample (OECD, 2015c).

In addition, the review team formed the impression that internal and external evaluation processes are not yet really seen as opportunities for improvement. The evidence from our school visits suggest that yearly self-evaluations are not that well established. Moreover, the extent to which other local stakeholders are involved in self-evaluation processes varied according to those interviewed by the review team.

The evidence also suggests the follow-up requirements for external evaluations are rather thin once accreditation is obtained. Schools are simply expected to submit a progress report every year until all recommendations are implemented. Responsibility for this lies with the founding body, usually the municipality. However, as pointed out earlier, some municipalities may not have the capacity to adequately support their schools’ improvement efforts. MoES should therefore consider further strengthening its follow-up support to schools. As mentioned earlier, it could look towards the example of the Education Inspectorate of the Netherlands which plays a key role in the identification and intense follow up support provided to weak performing schools (see Box 3.3).

In addition, the current school evaluation system pays insufficient attention to the performance of municipalities, despite concerns about their variable capacity. Therefore, Latvia may consider following the example of a country like Wales dealing with similar capacity challenges at the local level (OECD, 2014e) and provide SEQS with the mandate to more explicitly report on the effectiveness of municipalities at improving the quality of education in their schools.

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