Starting the year with the right map

We all recognise that The Harbour School took a strategic decision in learning continuity via VC@T which we successfully found our way through the COVID-19 upheaval of last academic year more or less unscathed. As we enter into this new academic year, it is more important than ever to be as prepared as possible for the ultimate success of our community. We are doing this by finding the answers to core questions that ground our learners as they enter into unknown territories: Where are we now? Where are we going? And how can we bridge the gap between those two spaces?




Earlier in the month, Grade three students and above took their first ever virtual round of assessments, which included MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) which is an adaptive online assessment for reading, writing and math. The questions in the assessment are unique to each student as it adjusts to individual responses. For example, if a student answers a question correctly, the test follows up with a more challenging question and likewise, if a student answers incorrectly, the test follows up with an easier question. The actual content of such assessments naturally then includes prerequisite skills that students haven’t had to assess in the past.

These snapshots do not by any means assess all of what makes each of our students exceptional and unique. The results that we get from these tests tell us how they did on that particular day, but they do not tell us everything. They certainly can’t tell us how amazingly special your child is. I’m sure you heard it at home, the collective breathing sighs of relief at the end of our assessment week. So then, with stress that it can induce, with all that it can exclude about your child, why conduct these assessments?


Well, we know that successful learners have agency -  they feel empowered and responsible to take action and increase responsibility for their own learning. In order to have passionate and driven students, they need to be assessment competent because what we ultimately want to achieve are students that know their own strengths, learning gaps, own next steps, how to get there, and see the results of this knowledge. This is what encourages lifelong learners and cultivates a growth mindset.

Early in the process, students are told by their teachers that these assessments are not used for judgment or grading and will never turn up in a school report, but rather the data obtained are used to help their teachers help them.  The results are critical and used as formative data to help teachers streamline and focus their efforts to make balanced instructional decisions to effectively plan lessons, set meaningful learning goals for students, differentiation groupings, illuminate common barriers to target, and so on. In essence these assessments tell us as educators how to personalise the learning experience. When these clear purposes are offered in tandem with a clear set of high expectations and an early promise of continued and targeted support, students are positioned for success rather than deflated by any gaps revealed in their results. 


In the new year (2021), both the ISA and the MAP tests will come around again. It is our hope that with this knowledge, you will support our efforts and not view these as cumbersome, tedious, time-consuming, boring, or data-drenched activities. Instead, see these assessments as a road map which we as teachers need in order to navigate and design each of our students’ learning experiences. 


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