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Q&A: Using the ISA to support student success during the pandemic at Tokyo’s KAIS School

Feature 7 minute read

We had the opportunity to discuss how the data and tracking provided by the International Schools' Assessment (ISA) supported educators at KAIS International Elementary and Middle School to monitor student progress, particularly during periods of remote learning. Maha Sadi, Vice Principal and Language Arts Program Coordinator, talked us through some of the impacts of COVID-19 on the school, how KAIS navigated these challenges and how they are using their ISA reports to reflect on and continuously improve instructional strategies. 

Could you share a bit about the context of KAIS?

KAIS is a young pre-Kindergarten to Grade 8 school located in the heart of Tokyo. We first opened our doors in 2014 and have since been welcoming families from all over the world. Our school is small by design, with a student population of around 100. We focus on providing a personalised learning experience to each of our students and have an individualised approach to education.

Our academic curriculum is aligned with international standards and we have adapted different programs to suit the needs of our students and the context of our school. We aim to provide a school experience that fosters children’s natural inclination towards joy and curiosity, and to assist them on their journey of self-discovery and self-fulfillment.

How has COVID-19 impacted your school and teaching practices?

As with all other schools around the world, ours was affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We had to close our campus and make a quick transition to online learning from March to June of 2020, which presented many challenges for our families and teachers. Eager for a return to in-person learning, we implemented a hybrid system at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year and were fortunate enough to make a full return to campus soon after, with strict health precautions in place to maintain the health and safety of our community.

Academically, we were able to follow our curriculum and maintain our standards throughout the whole process, with some adjustments to the pacing and assessment methods of our classes. Social opportunities on the other hand became fewer and until recently we had to cancel all non-essential activities. This affected our students’ social lives at school, so we put student mental health and wellbeing at the forefront during that time, to ensure they have our support in managing the stress brought upon by the pandemic.

Your school tested some students at home during the ISA February administration. How did you approach at-home testing?

While we had returned to on-campus learning in time for the ISA February testing session, some of our families preferred that their children remain at home until the situation settled down, so we were very glad to have the option of at-home testing. The school administration and the families appreciated the level of flexibility afforded us during that time.

What were the key challenges?

The main challenges we faced included unplanned absences, technical difficulties, and some communication issues with families. In an exam setting, we had to let go of our regular testing procedures and ask for parent support from home in ensuring that students had a working computer, a stable internet connection and a quiet space in which they could concentrate during the test.

Having a blend of at-school and at-home students presented a unique set of challenges for teachers and required a careful balancing act. We all had to be extra careful during that time to cater to the needs of all our students and collaborate very closely with families to ensure they all had access to the same opportunities.

How have your ISA results helped you to understand how your students have progressed over the last two years, which have included such disruptions to education?

The ISA reports allow us to periodically reflect on the quality of our teaching and learning practices, as well as the accuracy of our internal assessment methods. Understanding the challenges that online learning presented to many students, we were on the lookout for inconsistencies in our students’ ISA results. The scores indicated that the students’ learning had not been interrupted too much and that they continued to make progress in all areas despite the mandated school closure. This provided our community with reassuring data that helped dispel some of the anxiety many had regarding the effectiveness of online learning.

The ISA scores also allowed us to flag students whose progress stalled during that time and provide them with the support they needed. Having the ability to track student achievement using the ISA reports was essential in assessing the success of our online programs and our efforts to minimise the interruptions brought on by the pandemic. The data we will gather from the upcoming testing session in February 2022 will enable us to further track our students’ performance and have a better understanding of how the instabilities of the past two years affected student learning.

Who is involved in reviewing ISA results? What does this process look like at your school?

Every year, we carefully analyse the data and discuss it as a team, identifying strategies that can promote student success. Reviewing ISA results at KAIS begins with the heads of school processing the data and cross-checking it with students’ results from the previous year. We also compare the data to our internal reports, to ensure that our assessment and tracking systems are effective and truly assess students based on grade-level standards.

Over the years, we have also established a tracking system for student data, and the next step is to add students’ most recent ISA results to our trackers for a visual representation of their progress and performance over time. Doing so allows us to easily flag students who are working ahead or working behind, or whose results were inconsistent with our expectations.

We then present the results to the teachers in a special staff meeting and elicit their feedback on the students’ performance, focusing on generating strategies to support their learning and development at school.

Overall, using the ISA reports has provided us with an opportunity to reflect and carefully plan, modify and continuously improve our instructional strategies.

How do you put insights from ISA reports into action?

During our discussion with teachers, we look for trends in student performance in each class and for each subject. Together, we determine improvement strategies in cases where a class, or individual students, did not perform to our expectations.

Our small class sizes have also allowed us to set up a Personalized Learning Plan system where we establish specific learning goals for each of our students. After analysing the ISA reports, we review the established student learning goals and determine if an update is needed, incorporating the ISA results into the process. This allows us to create meaningful and achievable goals as part of our students’ learning plans and ensure that ISA results are taken into account to help our students continue to make progress.

How are ISA results communicated to students and families?

ISA results have allowed us to have transparent communication with families about their children’s progress and collaborate with them on supporting students when needed.

ISA reports are emailed to families with an explanation of how to interpret the results. Families are encouraged to ask questions or schedule a meeting with the heads of school or with subject teachers to discuss results as needed. In certain cases, we proactively reach out to families to schedule follow-up meetings to explain results as well as strategies that will help the students improve.

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