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Assessment of student learning

Since the mid-1990s, Latvia has been moving steadily towards the central marking of final (summative) examinations at the end of the upper secondary phase. Regulations introduced in 2004 have intensified the shift away from school-based assessment (Bethell and Kaufmane, 2005). Schools can also organise entrance examinations for subjects that have not been included in a student’s certificate of basic education.

in general upper secondary education, teachers evaluate student attainment at the end of each semester using a range of methods including written, oral and integrated tests; evaluation of individual and group work; project-based assessment; and written examinations. As at the basic education level, they use a 10-point scale ranging from 1 (fail) to 10 (outstanding). Students are issued with a report card showing their results. Progression from one grade to the next is automatic, while students who have underachieved are given extra tasks to bring them up to the required standard. Students only repeat a year if they have had a significant period of absence from school.

At the end of upper secondary education, students take central examinations and are graded using a percentage-based point scale. To qualify for the Diploma in General Secondary Education and a Statement of

Records, students have to complete their studies in a minimum of 12 subjects and pass centrally marked compulsory examinations in 4: Latvian language, mathematics, a foreign language of the student’s choice, and an elective subject (chosen from Latvian and world history, chemistry, biology, and physics). If a student has not acquired grading in any of the subjects or state examinations, they are issued with a school report.

The data show that relatively few students take the central examinations in chemistry and physics: 7.9% and 5.1% respectively in 2015 (VISC, 2015). The Education Development Guidelines 2014-2020 highlighted students’ lack of interest in science and the resulting risk of imbalances in the labour market. In this context, Latvia in 2015/16 is implementing a pilot project on physics, chemistry or natural science in 50 schools (about 800 students). The introduction of the fifth mandatory subject in the centralised examination will be considered after the pilot exam results evaluation.

Assessment in upper secondary vocational education follows a similar pattern with the use of the 10-point grading scale and a pass/fail grade for practical tests. To reach the standard for certification, vocational students have to score a minimum of grade 4 (almost satisfactory) in all subjects, including practical tests and a minimum of grade 5 (satisfactory) in the final qualification examinations. As well as their vocational subjects, they are examined in the Latvian language and literature, a foreign language, mathematics, and a subject chosen by the student.

As described above, the qualification received by students who have passed the final exams depends on the programme studied. The shorter (two to three-year) programmes at the lower grades of upper secondary vocational education lead to a certificate of vocational education and professional qualification at EQF level 4 but do not provide access to tertiary education. For this, students must complete a further one-year intermediate general secondary education “bridge programme” (Cedefop, 2015; Nuffic, 2014). This programme leads to a vocational secondary education diploma and a general secondary education certificate and is designed for those students who successfully completed a three-year second level vocational education programme (“Code 32” programmes; arodizglitibas programma pec 9 klases). In 2013/14, out of the 3 323 students who had completed such a programme the year before, 206 (15.3%) continued on to this one-year bridge programme.

Such dual or hybrid qualifications are clearly valuable as they enable students to keep their options open. They reflect a trend in some European countries, discussed below, to develop double qualifications which are accepted for entry to both the labour market and tertiary education (Deissinger et al., 2013).

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