All children will undergo the tests regardless of whether or not Dutch is the language they speak at home. Each child will be assessed. Those that have a normal or above average level of language development will be graded “green”, those that are below average and require some attention in order to bring them up to the level that will be expected of them when they start primary school with be graded “amber” and those that have very poor language development in Dutch will be graded “red”. These children will be given a lot of additional help, including intensive language coaching.
Although the idea behind the tests is to identify issues early and address them before. children start primary school, the idea of testing 5-year-olds proved controversial. The language screening test called “De Koalatoets” (The Koala Test) has been devised by Leuven University’s (KUL) Centre for Language and Education.
The test comprises 7 activities or tasks that have been devised with classroom situations in mind. They are a game with a hula-hoop, a story about animals, a craft task, a gym class, an untidy dining room, one of children’s, the school library or classmate’s birthday.
Each tasks involves doing, seeking and choosing. Part of the task is done individually and part of it is done in a small group.
Ilse Van de Perre from the De Sprinkplank school in Asse (Flemish Brabant) told VRT News that "We tell the children that these are nice games to see how well they can listen”.
"Our PE teacher does the first part of the test, this involves the “doing” tasks that they perform in the gym. The second part is done by their class teacher, who is someone they know well. We present it as something that is nice and fine to do”.
Based on the results of the test the 5-year-olds are given a colour code. Those coded green have sufficient Dutch language skills for a child of their age. Those coded amber will be given extra help with their language development. Code Red means that a child will be given intensive language coaching either individually or in group in order to bring their Dutch up to scratch.
The screening is not a test to decide whether or not a child may progress to primary school next September. Based on the results of the screening the children will be offered extra help in order to better prepare them for primary school and prevent them from starting off at disadvantage due to poor language skills.
It is the school council, based on a host of information, that decides whether a child can progress to primary school at a meeting held at the end of the school year.
The screening has come in for criticism from some quarters as it is said to “stigmatise” children with poor Dutch-language skill. However, those in favour of the screening say that it enables schools to identify issues early enough to enable them to act and prevent children started primary school in a greatly disadvantaged position.