As part of our inclusive, student-centred approach, we know that all learners are at different places in their journey and instruction must be differentiated to meet their individual needs. To do this, our teachers need to determine where students are in their studies, where they have achieved mastery, and how they learn best. That’s where assessment comes in, and nowhere is this more important than during the formative years of Primary School. At NIS, we believe that our students are much more than numbers. We don’t evaluate individuals: We evaluate their learning.
“At NIS, assessment is a tool for learning, not simply a teach-to-the-test methodology,” said Mr. Kasson Bratton, our Director of Learning.
How Assessment Works in a Student-driven, Inquiry-based Approach to Learning
With our innovative International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme (PYP), we believe that an inquiry-driven approach is the best way for our youngest students to learn. Mr. Bratton explained that the process of inquiry creates a much richer contextual understanding of concepts, skills, and knowledge that rote learning from a textbook does not provide. “We base this definition of learning on neuroscience around the value of context, curiosity, choice, and collaboration.”
Although the approach is student-driven, the result is largely structured around defined student learning outcomes from our curriculum. “Diagnostic testing and the formative and summative assessment that we conduct helps us measure student progress towards our defined learning outcomes,” said Mr. Bratton. “We believe that an inquiry-driven approach is the best way to help students get there.”
External Assessment: A Snapshot of Progress
In the Primary School, there are many ways to evaluate student learning. External diagnostic assessment takes the form of our MAP testing, which measures academic progress with a focus on Reading and Maths. This takes place in grades 3-5 several times a year. NIS also conducts the International Schools Assessment for writing for Grade 5 and above.
“One thing these external tools give us is the ability to compare against similar international schools around the world,” said Mr. Bratton. “The big data piece we like to focus on is how our students’ learning growth typically outperforms like school averages, especially the longer students are at our school. This means that students that have been at NIS for at least two or three years typically outperform their peers in other international schools. In terms of assessing student learning, we take this as a snapshot. What's more interesting from a holistic perspective is the full range of assessment data for each individual.”
Internal Assessment: A Photo Album of Learning
Our teachers closely collaborate to ensure that they're applying the same sets of criteria to ensure consistency and to get a baseline from the start of the school year. From there until the end of the year, NIS uses several different internal diagnostic programmes in the Primary School. Each assessment that we use is derived from best practises around the world – all of which are available to us because NIS is an international school that is not tied to any one specific, state-mandated test or national curriculum. This allows our teaching teams to select and develop assessments that best fit our students’ needs.
“For example, with our students that are acquiring English, we use WIDA and other assessments through our ELL Support team,” said Mr. Bratton. “Overall language assessment data helps fill in the picture of where a student is and the progress they're making.”
One of the most important tools NIS uses to evaluate Primary learning is teacher-crafted assessment that comes through the curriculum itself. Students consistently receive targeted feedback by conferring with their teachers, written feedback through SeeSaw, collaboration with peers, self-evaluation, and via direct instruction. Detailed report cards, conferences, and progress reports also give parents formal insights into student progress.
Day-to-day feedback builds up to a range of summative or end of unit assessments. In the Primary School, this is often realised not only in the form of tests, quizzes, and essays, but also through presentations, role plays, and simulations that culminate in the research-based Grade 5 PYP Exhibition.
“When you put all of our assessment and feedback tools together, we aim to build a rich photo album of progress, versus the snapshot approach that other schools may take,” said Mr. Bratton. “We're able to have multiple points of data that our teachers pass on from year to year. We can not only see the student in the moment, but also view the longitudinal growth that we would expect. And in cases when we don't see it, we're able to intervene. This is where our teachers, student support, and leadership team shine in ways that help all of our students achieve their own personal excellence.”