From the Principal’s Desk

Today’s article ‘From The Principal’s Desk’ has been guest-written by Andrew Mitchell, Head of Primary. 

I have the privilege of writing to you this week and hopefully giving you some food for thought.  I wanted to talk around the topic of assessment; it seems to have been a popular theme that has occupied many of my conversations with teachers, the school leadership and the visiting inspectors over my first 6 months at GCS.  It is also something that you will be hearing a lot about if you have a Grade 3-9 student in your family as we get closer to the school progress tests next term.

School assessment, and examinations in particular, stir strong emotions and opinions amongst anyone who has been to school.  In an international school the different cultural expectations about assessment – the importance that different nationalities place on the academic measuring of children- also must factor into any discussion on the topic.

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I would like to advocate that assessment when employed properly is a route to understanding a child in greater depth to better comprehend their strengths, their areas for development and the next steps that need to be taken on the learning path.  This information coupled with a growth mindset can be a powerful thing.  What the purpose of assessment is not, and what schools should be careful to avoid, is the labelling of students as success or failures.: “I don’t know how to solve quadratic equations yet” is very different perspective to “I can’t do maths” which many students (and adults) can all to quickly adopt.

In the country where I went to school, written examinations, often used to measure content and accumulated knowledge, were common.  This method of testing suits students who are great at retaining and reproducing content.  What it is not always good at is providing data about students who are adept at critical thinking and application, those that can lead people or create art.  To get a full picture of what a student is able to do we need to apply a range of assessment opportunities and also to place importance and value on using different modes of assessment tasks.

Measuring students’ achievement is also better when personalised to the individual as well.  Completing a two-page English essay may be incredibly easy for the student who has been educated in English all their life and, conversely, incredibly difficult for the student who has only arrived in the English-speaking school 6 months ago.  If both students received a level 6, then who has shown the greatest progress?  We need to consider where students are starting from.

Similarly, it is best to measure against cognitive potential over a set of age related expectations; we would naturally anticipate greater mathematics attainment from a student who is inclined to quantitative reasoning and provide greater support to the student whose spatial skills present more of a challenge.

As a school we have selected the GL CAT 4 (cognitive ability tests) tests and the corresponding GL progress tests to help us understand our students’ different learning preferences and academic forecasts to set learning targets at the beginning of the year, and their subsequent progress towards these goals.  These, together with the wide range of other types of assessment activities, really allow teachers to personalise the learning for all our students – to understand who is in their class.

We will shortly be telling our Grade 3 – 5 students all about the progress tests and getting them as prepared as possible to show themselves off.  We will also be running a primary parent information evening after the break to keep you up-to-date on them as well.  I hope this article has given you a brief taste of some of the ways we are using assessment at GCS and that you are encouraged to find out more.

– Andrew Mitchell –

Head of Primary

Greenfield Community School


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