Diagnosis of Knowledge - as Part of the Education Process

Institutionalised education and training usually contains a plan or strategy for teaching and learning. Though this sometimes may be a kind of tacit knowledge among teachers and trainers it can be observed by asking questions about motives and doings while taking on a course or a group of students/apprentices/trainees. In the literature we can find numerous of models trying to catch this education process. In a very simplified feature it may contain elements like below.

In this study we are highlighting the diagnosis of preexisting knowledge and competencies. If we know where we are heading, what the goals and criteria are for what we want the student to achieve our choice of content, methods and sequencing should be dependent upon what the students already know or can do. To plan and carry out instruction and training with a content that already is in place would be a stupid approach. The same goes of course for the opposite. One could not expect good results if starting teaching how to do annual reports if you don’t know the difference between costs and payments.

We believe that this reasoning is relevant for all three partners as we are all engaged in education and training and we are aiming to improve strategies and methods in our programmes. With this general background we will in the following discuss an instrument for knowledge diagnosis that now is being launched in Sweden. This instrument is directed to the reception of newly arrived children and their introduction in Swedish schools. The content, form and implementation of this national assessment system generate questions about this instrument in particular, and about the use of diagnosis instruments in general.

Knowledge diagnosis for newly arrived children - the Swedish case.

Background, motives and work plan.

From year 2016, newly arrived pupils’ preexisting knowledge in literacy, numeracy and in a number of school subjects will be mapped and assessed in order to:

  • Be placed in an appropriate year group
  • Plan schooling
  • Assess how time should be divided between different school subjects.

This initial assessment has been proposed by the former Swedish government (prop. 2014/15:45) and is now enacted as a law from January 2016. This new law comes after reports on the apparent deficiencies in the education of newly arrived pupils in Swedish schools (The Swedish Schools Inspectorate: 2014). According to the Education Act children and adolescents regardless whether they are Swedish citizens, born in Sweden or in another country, immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers or migrants without papers – should be offered a place in the Swedish elementary school and an equal education. Thus it does not matter whether you are  ”established” or “newly arrived” in Sweden. The Education act clearly shows that elementary school is for everyone and that it is compulsory (though it is not compulsory for asylum seekers, but it shall be provided if they want to). What divides the category ”newly arrived pupils” from other pupils is that they have stayed in Sweden rather a short time and that they do not master the Swedish language as well as Swedish-born pupils or pupils who have stayed in Sweden for a longer time. The definition on “newly arrived is enacted by law and states:

A newly arrived pupil is an individual who has resided abroad and now is residing in Sweden, or is regarded as residing in Sweden, and who is present living in Sweden, and who has started education in Sweden after the start of the fall semester that year when the pupil becomes 7 years. A pupil shall not be regarded as newly arrived after 4 years in school in Sweden. (Education Act. My translation)

Receiving newly arrived pupils, regardless of their background is an important task, but it has proved such a difficult and complex one and many elementary schools seem to have failed in their mission. The Swedish Schools Inspectorate (2009) reports that schools

  • do not take enough consideration to newly arrived pupils’ background, conditions and needs
  • lack preparedness in and knowledge of receiving newly arrived pupils
  • display deficiencies in teaching these pupils.

The Inspectorate (2012) reports shortcomings in everyday schoolwork with newly arrived pupils. Furthermore the Inspectorate (2014) also points to that schools do not plan, carry out and adapt schoolwork to the conditions and needs of the newly arrived pupils and do not encourage them to motivation and influence. According to literature (e.g. Bunar 2013, Axelsson 2006), acknowledging and taking care of pupils’ existing knowledge and skills as well as assessment of what knowledge individual students need in order to attain learning outcomes, is crucial for an equal and efficient education. In year 2013, The Swedish National Agency for Education was assigned by the former government to construct a material that can be used for initial assessment of pupils’ knowledge in school subjects. This instrument that was introduced 2016 have three different steps:

Two mandatory steps

  • Step 1, an introductory conversation
  • Step 2, assessment of literacy and numeracy

A 3rd optional step

  • Assessment of knowledge in up to 15 school subjects.

The assessment material for step 1 and step 2 is now (Spring 2016) available on the Education Agency´s website. The website also holds instruction manuals and a web based course for the coming users. The 3rd step will be published later during year 2106. In step 3 mapping can be conducted in 15 of the basic school subjects. The result from step 3 provides conditions for teachers to plan their different subjects based on the student´s knowledge in different subjects. This step is intended to be performed within the student´s first year in the introductory class.

The Education Department recommends that personnel with skills in Swedish as a second language is used in step 1 and at the talks in step 2 involving the use of written language in different contexts. When mapping mathematical thinking in step 2 it is important to have mathematical subject knowledge. At step 3 it is important to have competence in the subject for the topic being mapped

According to regulations headmasters shall appoint the staff most suited to undertake surveys. It is important to have proper expertise to assess and analyze the student´s answer and reasoning based on which area is mapped. The survey is conducted in a language that the student masters, if possible in the student´s strongest language. When mapping, an interpreter translates, so that the student and the mapper understand each other. It can be a professional interpreter, a mother tongue teacher or other person affiliated with the school that performs interpretation.

Implementation of the assessment and of the material constructed for carrying out the assessment seems to involve organizational changes and changes in work procedures for responsible authorities (municipalities) and for school management as well as school staff. One can also wonder if the single school and the responsible teacher has the time for this mapping and analyzing and if they are prepared to really make use of the data and analyzes.

This sketched background raises preliminary questions in a coming empirical study:

  • What is the background for this law and the system constructed?
  • How can this system be described and analysed?
  • How is it implemented?
  • What happens in a single school when staff is obliged to handle this?
  • What attitudes, processes and experiences are important to highlight?
  • What alternatives could be discussed?


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Skolinspektionen (2012). Regelbunden tillsyn 2011. Skolinspektionens rapport Dnr 2012:1565. Stockholm: Skolinspektionen.

Skolinspektionen (2014). Utbildning för nyanlända elever. Skolinspektionens rapport 2014:03. Stockholm: Skolinspektionen.

Vetenskapsrådet (2010). Nyanlända och lärande. En forskningsöversikt om nyanlända elever i den svenska skolan. Vetenskapsrådets rapportserie 2010:6. Stockholm: Vetenskapsrådet.

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