History - the story of CEA


The National Board of Education expressed in their strategy of assessment in 1995 that when assessing the effectiveness of education, it is necessary not only to examine the competence in subjects but also in the other skills learned in school. These skills help a person to succeed in various subjects and predict developing oneself also after the formal education. In addition to skills in subjects they secure the young people leaving basic education the resources for lifelong learning in the changing world.

The hall of the National Board of Education, Ritva Jakku-Sihvonen and the line manager in Helsinki city education department Paula Sermilä called Jarkko Hautamäki, Patrik Scheinin and Markku Niemivirta to a meeting in which the group decided to develop a method of learning to learn assessment.

The Centre for Educational Assessment (CEA) was founded in 1996 in the Faculty of Education for this assignment. Pekka Arinen, Airi Hautamäki, Jarkko Hautamäki, Sirkku Kupiainen, Markku Niemivirta and Patrik Scheinin were active in the start-up phase. This is how the theory of learning to learn, the framework of assessment and the means of assessment and the know-how of large data processing began to develop.

The developmental aims in the European Union (European Network of Policy Makers for the Evaluation of Educational Systems) and the assessmental model of the profitability of The National Board of Education (1995) had their impact on the background. This model tried to anticipate the development in EU and the future changes in the Finnish school legislation. Also the OECD’s PISA-programme (Programme for International Student Assessment) forms a part of the totality, specially in metacognition and problem solving (www.pisa.oecd.org).

The aims of the research group and the trial test in Helsinki

The research group had four objectives when they began to create a theoretical framework and a series of tests to assess learning to learn:

  • to create a series of tests suitable for various age groups which would be based on the best knowledge available about the cognitive and affective conditions of learning
  • to study the learning to learn skills of 6th and 9th graders’ and the students on the second grade by the test just create
  • to create an image of the typical skills of learning to learn by age from the end of the primary school to the end of the second grade
  • to offer theoretically reasonable information about the factors that have their impact on learning in schools and how the Finnish school nowadays supports the pupils’ development in the skills of learning to learn.

After the basic theoretical work the first aim got its’ form in a series of tests suitable for data collection in schools led by the teacher. The series consisted of tasks of competence and questions about attitudes and beliefs. The task series was tested in cooperation with the City of Helsinki. The first trial was performed in five primary schools in Helsinki during the spring 1996. At the same time the research group created a way to pass on knowledge about assessment in a clear and practical report to participating schools and the orderer of the assessment.

The reporting of the results

The report was not only about the results of the assessment, but combining them with the pupils’ school achievement information at the student, classroom and school level. This was a way to present the reasons for the differences between schools and the connections between various factors. In addition to an official report the results and the theoretical background were presented in a separate event to the participated teachers. This was also later an important way to bring assessment information in to the lively discussion about developing the school.

National assessment

Five national learning to learn assessments were performed after finishing the test:

  • on 6th grades during the years 1996, 2003, 2012, and 2017
  • on 9th grades in 1997, 2001, 2012 and 2017
  • on the 2nd grade of upper secondary school and in vocational education

The results have been published in the publication series of the National Board of Education (Hautamäki & al., 1999; 2000; 2002; 2003; 2005). About the results in general, read “Reports and books”.

Research for municipalities

CEA began to offer learning to learn assessment projects also to separate municipalities and schools. The cooperation was intensive especially with Helsinki. This made it possible to, among other things, develop the First steps –sieve for the assessment of 1 st graders’ learning preparedness. Also the vocational schools were assessed several times.

When the national research projects ended, CEA developed assessment services for municipalities further and offered them especially for municipalities in the metropolitan area. During these research projects the need for interventions came up clearer than ever. The assessment studies gave a clear picture of the learning to learn preparedness in a municipality or in a school, which led to a customer’s natural question: how to improve the results. CEA introduced interventions of thinking skills and formed a Socially Skillful Learner –programme to promote positive learning beliefs in classes. Interventions were tested and their functionality assessed. Despite the promising results, these interventions were left to be used only occasionally.

Developing an EU-indicator

The research on learning to learn continued in the first years of 21st century mainly as a research project funded /financed by The Finnish Academy. At the turn of the millennium emerged a discussion in EU about developing a European learning to learn method. Since 1998 CEA has been involved in EU policy co-operation in education and training to develop such an instrument cluster. Finland took part, as one of eight countries, in the pilot research for the indicator and CEA’s know-how is represented in the developmental work of the indicator in the future.

PISA 2006

In 2004 CEA was offered the possibility to take care of the Finnish part of the PISA 2006 –research. PISA-results have been reported in three publications by the Ministry of Education and Culture (Arinen and Karjalainen, 2007; Hautamäki & al., Kupiainen  al., 2009). Read more on the PISA-pages.

New tools for assessing the quality

After the PISA data collection CEA enlarged it’s work description and developed new working skills and methods of assessment: class room video recording, interview techniques, peer assessment of teachers and developmental assessment. Additionally, a new assessment method was born for school and learning: The School Quality Indicator. This indicator gives a thorough picture of the schools productiveness when used with learning to learn assessment.

CEA today

CEA has offered municipalities and schools a possibility to assess the productiveness of their work with learning to learn –test package already for 20 years now. Over 100 000 pupils in basic education and on the second grade have taken part of learning to learn assessment. This forms one of the largest Finnish databases based on a particular task series.

CEA works nowadays not only with learning to learn assessment for different age groups, but also with the assessment of 1st graders and the development of teachers’ pedagogical development.

KELPO-project and VALAISE-study

The Finnish law of basic education concerning special education was renewed in 2010, and the law came into effect in 1.1.2011. On the background of the reform process there was an increase of pupils attending special education and the related costs. This was a reason to develop the practice of supporting a student more systematic but also more flexible.

KELPO-project, i.e. the development project for effective and special support, aimed at creating structures for learning in line with the Special education strategy 2007. The project also wanted to consolidate the strategy in schools before ratifying the law. CEA assessed in 2008-2011 the progress of the KELPO -project in 200 Finnish municipalities for the Ministry of Education and Culture. During the project, good working models for supporting pupils were gathered from all over Finland.

VALAISE -project, a national follow up study on legislative change in basic education clarifies the state and supportive practices in special education. The project was running in 2012-2013.

Tools for assessing the quality of education

CEA has created the School Quality Indicator to facilitate the quality assessment in schools and municipalities in accordance with the Quality Criteria for Basic Education (2010). The aim is to help the organizers of education to assess their own activity and to create goals to improve and develop it. CEA develops also tools and methods of assessment for the use of organizers of education themselves.

Support for research

CEA has actively developed technical solutions to support research. From the early steps CEA has offered research and data collection services from form planning to analyzing the results. A central form of service is optical scanning, which makes possible to quickly process large files. Also services on the internet have been developed for over 10 years.