Understanding Teacher Evaluation in Finland: A Professional Development Framework

April 2019

Source: Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 44(4)

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study focuses on the key characteristics of the teacher evaluation model in Finland, underscoring how it differs from the conventional accountability-based teacher evaluation models.
Understanding the status of teachers and teaching in Finland is of paramount importance in comprehending the nature of the teacher evaluation system in the country.

To explore the characteristics of teacher evaluation in Finland, the authors utilized a naturalistic research design relying on qualitative content analysis (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2003).
Their data sources were public records including reports and information briefs published by organizations, articles in magazines and peer-reviewed journals, and relevant documents identified in media (Lincoln & Guba, 1985).
In particular, for the analysis of the Finnish Teacher Evaluation Model, they utilized a conceptual framework proposed by OECD (2009).
The framework was shaped by the outcomes of studies on teacher evaluation conducted by OECD (Isoré, 2009).
Analysis of the Finnish Model of Teacher Evaluation
The authors note that accountability-based models and the Finnish Model of Teacher Evaluation stand as two opposite ways of assessing teacher effectiveness, possessing only few common characteristics.
Whereas the value-added model (VAM), as a fully structured model, looks at student progress over time to understand the extent to which a teacher can be held accountable, the latter decentralizes the whole process and focuses on increasing teacher empowerment by enabling more room for professional development.

With a focus on teacher evaluation in Finland, the authors provide a comparative analysis of the characteristics of these teacher evaluation systems based on the conceptual framework proposed by OECD (2009) based on six interrelated elements.

• Unit Assessed: Who?
In Finland, teacher performance is evaluated separately from other aspects (students, schools, the educational system).
Teachers are evaluated for their own progress during a period based on the individual development plan teachers prepare for themselves and in the case that the teacher is a subject teacher, s/he is also evaluated for the effectiveness of their field of teaching.

• Capabilities to Assess and to Use Feedback: By Whom?
The municipality and principals of schools carry out teacher evaluation in Finland.
The national government does not get involved in any part of the evaluation process.
The local municipality oversees the selection of principals among a group of successful teachers.
Principals are responsible for arranging the school budget funded by the municipality.
The national government expects each municipality to fund the schools with enough resources so that staff can attend compulsory professional development activities for at least three days a year.
The principals are responsible for assisting each teacher in deciding on the type of professional development activity s/he needs to attend based on the principal’s evaluation of teacher performance and recent developments in his/her area of teaching.

Measuring teacher effectiveness through VAM is a challenging task that requires various computational tools and analysts with sufficient experience and competence.

• Aspects Assessed: What?
Teacher evaluation in Finland is more group-based, reflective, and participatory, with the aim of creating professional learning communities among teachers and administrators.
Principals and teachers may hold “individual development dialogues” that focus on teachers’ work, working conditions and training.
The key idea behind accountability-based teacher evaluation models is to measure teacher performance by calculating average student performance in each classroom.
Therefore, measuring the effect of the teacher on students’ progress constitutes a very important part of VAM.
“The teacher effect is an estimate of the teacher’s unique contribution to student achievement as measured by student performance on assessments.
It is isolated from other factors that may influence achievement, such as socioeconomic status, disability status, English language learner status, and prior achievement” (Lomax & Kuenzi, 2012, p. 4).

• Evaluation Technology: How?
Teacher evaluation in Finland is ultimately a consultative and formative process that usually takes place during face-to-face conversations between a teacher and the principal or within a group of colleagues who teach the same subject or at the same grade (Williams & Engel, 2013).
As Finnish students take no standardized tests until they take the university matriculation test, teachers are not evaluated based on their students’ academic achievement.
However, it is possible that a teacher might be indirectly evaluated based on students’ performance on tests because the main objective of testing students in Finland is to understand if they need additional support and, if so, detect the areas in which additional support is required.
A teacher in Finland is required to observe his/her students’ progress closely and get together with the principal to either arrange a teaching assistant who will closely monitor the student in need during classes or arrange private tutoring sessions for which the teacher receives supplementary payment.
The main tool for data collection in accountability-based teacher evaluation models is by using “statistical indicators related to changes in their students’ test-based performance” (American Educational Research Association, 2015, p. 448).
Since these models entail rigorous use of statistical analysis tools, each step must be taken very carefully for accurate and reliable results.
Although there are discrepancies between states, around half of the VAM scores are typically derived from student achievement whereas the rest is dedicated to the assessment of teaching by the evaluators.

• Purposes: For What?
The main objective of teacher evaluation in Finland is teacher empowerment, and evaluation is regarded as a tool for professional development (Webb et al., 2004).
The results of the evaluation are not used for accountability purposes and have little influence on a teacher’s contractual status, but teachers still take up professional accountability towards students, the school, parents, and their colleagues.
However, in the rare instance that the teacher repeatedly fails to fulfil his/her commitments and responsibilities adequately, s/he might be dismissed from the school.
Nevertheless, dismissal is only possible provided that the employer (the municipality) is not able to offer a teacher another job due to economic or productive reasons.

• Agents Involved: With Whom?
There are no state-mandated guidelines for teacher evaluation in Finland, but trade unions play an active role in drawing up the appraisal framework in the contract between the teacher and the municipality.
All decisions concerning teachers (including how they are evaluated) are made within the schools, typically by school boards led by the principal.
Since VAM is a system developed based on the idea that teachers should be held accountable to greater public, it is considered customary for many states to share the results of teacher evaluation with several stakeholders including school boards, parents, community representatives, and business representative who may also take part in forming the evaluation scheme (Lomax & Kuenzi, 2012).

The authors summarize that in overall, teacher evaluation in Finland operates as a way of promoting teachers’ professional development and empowering them as practitioners rather than a way of making critical decisions regarding their careers.
They conclude that the teacher evaluation practices in Finland differ considerably from accountability-based teacher evaluation practices in that the latter prioritizes students’ academic achievement levels to make judgements on teacher effectiveness.
They note that results in accountability-based systems like VAM are oftentimes used to make critical decisions regarding teachers’ professional status at schools.
They also state that whereas Finnish teachers are generally content with the evaluation practices and actively contribute to these processes, teachers in schools where accountability-based teacher evaluation systems are in use report continuous anxiety and fear because their contracts may be terminated due to their students’ low academic performance.

American Educational Research Association. (2015). The AERA statement on use of value-added models (VAM) for the evaluation of educators and educator preparation programs. Educational Researcher, 44(8), 448–452. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X15618385
Isoré, M. (2009). Teacher evaluation: Current practices in OECD countries and a literature review. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Lomax, E. D., & Kuenzi, J. J. (2012). Value-added modeling for teacher effectiveness. Congressional Research Service
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2009). Teacher evaluation: A conceptual framework and examples of country practices. Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development. 

Updated: Nov. 17, 2019