From the Director: A Culture of Learning at AISB

Educational research has shown consistently that there are two very powerful means of improving student learning, that we at AISB are both advocates for and practitioners of. The first is by increasing student choice, and the second is through assessments that provide students, teachers and parents meaningful feedback on learning.

Meaningful Student Choice
Student choice comes in many forms at AISB. Students might be offered a choice of books to study rather than a “whole class” novel, a choice of topics to write about, or choices of how to show what they know and can do. A student demonstrating her understanding of the history of the atomic model might write a paragraph; or she might create an interactive online graphic, a short video, a poster or a play. These relatively straightforward strategies for differentiating student learning experience and increasing student choice are part of the fabric of the AISB teaching and learning culture.

In high school, elective courses are a very important way that students can make meaningful choices about their education. This year, following a process of student consultation, we are pleased to offer students nine new elective courses, including:

Computer Science with Python
Anatomy and Physiology
French Cinema
Comparative Government
International Relations
Introduction to Sports Coaching
Intermediate Spanish
Environmental Studies
AP World History
Advanced Math with financial applications

These subjects were identified by our students as important: particularly interesting, relevant to their career plans, or necessary for their academic futures.

Online Learning
AISB’s BYOD program has made another powerful avenue for student choice more accessible: online learning. Individual AISB students may choose now from an almost limitless range of high-quality online course options, available through a well-respected online provider, K12, used by many sister schools internationally as well as other online providers. K12 itself provides access to more than 100 courses. AISB high schoolers are currently studying Arabic, Japanese, Economics, AP Calculus AB, AP Psychology, AP Microeconomics, AP Statistics, Honors Physics, Astronomy, Consumer Math and Marketing through online learning programs.

Making Assessment Work
I wrote around this time last year in some detail about AISB’s assessment philosophy and practices; in brief, assessment encompasses all processes by which student learning is evaluated, both formally and informally. More specifically, assessment is the process of observing student learning with the explicit purpose of helping students learn better. There’s a saying often quoted by educators, "You don’t fatten a calf by weighing it". We take that to heart. Because assessment takes valuable student time, we work to ensure that we assess meaningfully and make best use of the results.

The importance of qualitative “Formative” Assessment
Research has demonstrated time and again that students who are given abundant qualitative information about their learning during the learning process learn more than those who simply receive number or letter grades for their completed work. The key lies in qualitative, rather than quantitative, feedback -- indeed, in many cases quantitative feedback has been shown to hinder the learning process. In short: discussing a student’s work with her will help her more than a score out of ten.

Making Assessment Count
At AISB we make use of many kinds of formative and summative assessment daily, working to achieve a balance in how we assess and make the results count. We aim for assessment that:

  • Provides students with abundant, authentic and meaningful opportunities and contexts for performance, through which they may demonstrate their learning
  • Is creative, a learning experience in and of itself
  • Empowers students to become drivers and assessors of their own learning
  • Varies to meet our students' varying needs
  • Results in data that is observable and measurable.

Ideally, the assessment process is itself a learning process, designed to teach a student something about himself or herself as a learner.

External Measures of Student Progress
Most often assessment considers the work of individual students and the progress of individual student learning. In addition to internal measures of student progress, teachers use the results of external testing such as SAT and PSAT scores, Advanced Placement exam results, and Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests, to help us understand student learning and evaluate the effectiveness of AISB’s program.

Starting last week, our students from grade 2-9 began to write MAP tests in Language Arts and Mathematics. These tests assess the learning of each student against AISB’s standards. Teachers examine the data from these tests to see how to better meet the needs of individual students, and to evaluate the effectiveness of our curriculum. Finally, teachers look at the cumulative results of all our students relative to students elsewhere, as another measure of the effectiveness of our program.

With similar ends in mind our grade 10s and 11s will write the PSAT on October 19th.

We take seriously the AISB Mission Statement’s call for an “educational program… that fosters academic excellence and personal growth.” Offering our students the opportunity to shape their own learning within the context of a powerful and relevant core program and providing them with meaningful and authentic feedback on their learning, helps us meet this expectation.

See you at school,

Brad