So What Is So Great About Finland’s Education System?

Right now I’m full tilt into the first semester of my doctoral studies here at the University of Kentucky. I am studying educational leadership and technology. It’s pretty cool. Right now I’m taking a class where we are looking at the ISTE leadership standards. Here is what has been guiding our inquiry:


If we are going to move beyond standardized tests of low-level thinking skills (and, no, the PARCC/SBAC assessments will not do this), then we have to replace them with something. Places like High Tech High, the Big Picture Schools, the New Tech Network, Expeditionary Learning, etc. all use performance assessments to get at what their students know and can do. We will be exploring what performance assessments currently look like across the world, how they’re assessed, how they might be scaled up to the state/national level, whether they might be a feasible complement and/or substitute for current accountability models, how technology systems can be used to manage the data, etc.

 ISTE Leadership Standard(s)

4B. Collaborate to establish metrics, collect and analyze data, interpret results, and share findings to improve staff performance and student learning.

As I have been poking around learning more about performance assessments and how they are used I started looking at which “high performing” countries are using performance assessments and in addition I wanted to learn more about how they were being used to measure student success. This is where it gets tricky because first you have to determine what “success” looks like. If you where to use the current model in place in the US you would say that a student is successful if they score well on the state administered end of year standardized assessment.  But I seriously don’t know one single educators who believes that is an accurate measure of success. This is why I was so interested in learning how different places where using performance assessments in place of standardized assessments.

2007 Monaco Grand Prix

What I have been learning though is that not only do they approach assessment differently but they approach the entire educational experience differently…. for everyone involved. A name that has been popping up frequently in my readings is Pasi Sahlberg. He is the author of the book Finnish Lessons, which I have to admit I haven’t had the chance to read. (It’s been ordered and it’s adding the growing stack!) I first turned on to his message after watching a short interview where he speaks on topics like:

  • How Finland supports their teachers
  • What is the difference between the Finnish national framework and the Common Core State Standards
  • How does Finland use assessments

When I was listening to his responses I couldn’t help but how different our countries approach education. I really don’t think we could apply the system Finland uses without completely shifting our thinking and approach to education. This piece he authored came across my twitter stream this morning. I found it really interesting. He touches on topics that range from teacher preparation to factors influencing student achievement. I’ll share some excerpts from the piece here:

“Research on what explains students’ measured performance in school remains mixed. A commonly used conclusion is that 10% to 20% of the variance in measured student achievement belongs to the classroom, i.e., teachers and teaching, and a similar amount is attributable to schools, i.e., school climate, facilities and leadership. In other words, up to two-thirds of what explains student achievement is beyond the control of schools, i.e., family background and motivation to learn.”

Wow, let that sink in for a minute.

I’d love to hear what others think about what he says in this piece.

*Image credit Mark Hintsa via Flickr.


About Benjamin J Sheridan

Instructional designer at the University of Kentucky.
This entry was posted in Current Musings and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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