When I learnt about the Complete Digital Solution, I realised it could provide an answer to both these requirements, and much more besides.Linda Gilmore, Improving Learning Standards Co-ordinator and Head of Science, Tandragee Junior High School
Part of Tandragee Junior High School’s mission statement is to promote positive attitudes to learning by encouraging each pupil to develop holistically. GL Assessment’s Complete Digital Solution is helping them get this whole pupil view.
Tandragee Junior High School is situated in Mid-Ulster, in rural County Armagh, and caters for around 300 pupils aged 11 to 14. It forms part of the two-tier post-primary education system in Northern Ireland, with continuous assessment used to determine which of two senior high schools children will attend afterwards.
The school is now in its second year of using GL Assessment’s Complete Digital Solution (CDS). Linda Gilmore, Improving Learning Standards Co-ordinator and Head of Science, explains: “Our children come from seven or eight different feeder primary schools, so we wanted a way of establishing a baseline when they joined using a standardised test. We were also interested in delving deeper into any negative beliefs that might be stopping them from learning.
“When I learnt about the Complete Digital Solution, I realised it could provide an answer to both these requirements, and much more besides.”
Strengths and weaknesses
The Complete Digital Solution helps schools take a whole-pupil approach to assessing ability, attitude and attainment. It includes a range of assessments including the Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT4), the Progress Test Series and the Pupil Attitudes to Self and School survey (PASS).
CAT4 assesses verbal, non-verbal, quantitative and spatial ability skills, and provides a measure of a child’s ability. “Using CAT4 as a baseline test when children join in September means we can immediately place them in the right class,” says Linda. “As the year progresses, we are also able to use CAT4 to spot anyone who is underachieving, by comparing scores with results from Progress in English and Progress in Maths tests.”
Linda particularly likes the fact CAT4 looks at spatial and non-verbal ability. “These aren’t skills that are often tested in schools. We’ve actually found we have a handful of children who are very spatially able, which is important to know as it’s a great skill for careers in science and engineering.
“For example, we had a Chinese child with English as an Additional Language and we knew his language was holding him back. Without CAT4 we wouldn’t have known so soon how much potential he had spatially and mathematically. It meant we kept challenging him, even when reading the number problems in English meant his test scores weren’t always very high.”
Informing teaching strategies
The school also wanted a way to dig deeper into any barriers that might prevent the students from learning, without being intrusive. PASS is a trusted attitudinal survey that can identify any problems with engagement, wellbeing and motivation at an early stage.
Linda says: “The first time we carried out the PASS survey, we were amazed! It picked up children we would have missed. The majority of our students have a very good overall attitude towards teachers – in fact this was our highest scoring area. However, those who didn’t were not children we could have predicted as they were usually attaining well in class.
“We didn’t take it personally, as we realised straightaway it was about teaching techniques. If a child is always doing well in a class, you might not always praise their effort and attainment. So we needed to make sure we paid attention to these students and gave positive feedback.”
Attitudes affecting attainment
On discovering that PASS highlighted ‘Self-regard’ and ‘Perceived Learning Capabilities’ as two of the lowest factors in the school, Linda handpicked a small team of teachers to join her as to improve children’s confidence. “Over the last three years, we have been working on raising children’s perception of their ability, by moving away from percentage marking to more comment-based feedback, for example.
“Raising self-regard is a school-wide initiative and we use it as part of our staff development programme. We also run a mentoring programme, choosing 40 or 50 children from the PASS results. These children could be doing well academically already, but just need their heads lifted up.
“Feedback has been incredible – not only have pupils grown and learnt more about themselves, staff have as well. The level of their understanding of using CAT4 and PASS data is outstanding, and their genuine interest in the children’s lives shine through.”
This year, PASS highlighted that the work ethic of a group of boys has dropped. “We’re investigating why this is. There aren’t any straightforward answers, but knowing we have a potential issue means we are able to proactively deal with the situation. The senior leadership team, governors and staff are working together to address it as a whole school issue. We’re in the best possible position we can be, and won’t let it continue to decline.
“We have found GL Assessment’s Complete Digital Solution is ideal for our needs, as everything – even a dyslexia and dyscalculia screener – is on one platform. Initially it was difficult to convince the Senior Leadership Team to fund it, but as soon as the first reports came through we all devoured the results!
“The cherry on the cake was when we had an Education and Training Inspectorate visit. Inspectors loved the work we were doing and we received an ‘Outstanding’ in the effective use of data to identify, understand and address any under-achievement.
“As Rita Pierson said in her TED talk, ‘Every kid needs a champion’. Thanks to CDS and our mentoring programme, in our school they now have one.”
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