Using Assessment Data to Meet Diverse Learning Needs in International Schools
By Jeff Trudeau, Formerly of Escuela Las Morochas
At the beginning of every year, educators in international schools around the world face a similar challenge. Students come to our schools with a wide range of educational experiences, backgrounds and languages. Given this diversity, providing the targeted instruction and support students need—instruction and support appropriate to their individual learning levels—can be difficult.
At two schools where I have had the pleasure of working—one in Venezuela, the other in Liberia (the American International School of Liberia)—we have addressed this challenge by intentionally building a culture of data-driven decision-making and instruction. In both schools, a concerted focus on using assessment data to group students, set learning goals and communicate with parents enabled us to provide better, more personalized instructional experiences for our students.
In this respect, the Measures of Academic Progress (or MAP) assessment, from NWEA, is an important tool for measuring student achievement and growth. At Escuela Las Morochas in Venezuela, for example, approximately 20 students were from the United States and spoke English as a native language, but the other 80 or so students were English Language Learners from various other South American countries. We used MAP assessment data to distribute the students into multi-age, mastery-based groups—as opposed to by age or home country grade level. Grouping in this way helped us to ensure that the instruction they received would be appropriate to their learning needs and educational backgrounds.
Because MAP measures student achievement at three points during the year, we used the data to reassign students to mastery-based groupings according to their changing needs. This provided us flexibility and allowed us to offer more personalized educational experiences. For example, students whose mid-year MAP scores were higher based on their norm charts than those of their peers in the mastery group to which they were assigned could move to a higher mastery group that was better suited to their learning needs. Additionally, the assessment data enabled us to establish goals that would challenge students to improve.
This data-driven approach to instruction did entail some growing pains, however, as it was a new concept to many of our teachers. Coming from more traditional pedagogical backgrounds, they did not see the immediate value of using assessment data to drive instruction. Nonetheless, once they saw their instruction become more effective, they quickly came on board.
The parents at our Venezuela school, by contrast, immediately recognized the value of using MAP data to inform instruction. They appreciated that they could track their children’s academic growth and participate in the goal setting process. MAP data are especially useful for international parents because they can use the data to understand the arc of their children’s academic growth no matter which country they are calling home at a given time.
In Liberia, our experience has been somewhat reversed from Venezuela. Our teachers immediately embraced data-driven instruction and mastery-based grouping, but the parents were slower. To address this, we provided MAP results charts—which are not typically distributed to parents—to help them understand how the data can track academic growth over time and keep them informed of their children’s progress. This has helped our teachers to better communicate with parents.
My experiences with MAP, in two very different cultures, have confirmed the universal value of having reliable assessment data that can inform educational practices. Not only do these data help us to be better educators, they enable us to enfold parents and students from a wide range of educational and cultural backgrounds to help them better understand how the school is supporting their individual learning needs no matter how far from home they might be.