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Having used these assessments for more than 15 years in various different schools around the world, I have a high degree of confidence in their validity and reliability.
Brian Cooklin, Principal, Nord Anglia International School Hong Kong

Supporting Students from Day One: Nord Anglia International School Hong Kong

At Nord Anglia International School Hong Kong, the Cognitive Abilities Test: Fourth Edition® (CAT4) is the key to identifying potential at the point of admission, setting meaningful targets and personalising learning to ensure every child excels.

Nord Anglia International School Hong Kong first opened its doors in September 2014 to children in Years 1 to 7, and is nearly at full capacity with children from 38 nationalities. Its secondary school is set to expand into Year 10 from August 2017, and eventually through to Years 11–13.

The school may be newly established, but the founding Principal, Brian Cooklin, has a very strong vision of the learning environment he is creating: “Although we deliver world class results, our school goes beyond grades – we want to develop ambitious children who have confident and inquiring minds. To do this, it’s extremely important that we take a highly personalised approach to learning.”

In depth Admissions Information

The school uses the Cognitive Abilities Test: Fourth Edition (CAT4) as part of its admission process. This is an assessment of reasoning ability that can identify where a student’s strengths lie, free from the constraint of a particular curriculum.

A particular benefit of CAT4 for international schools is that it does not rely on children speaking English as their first language, providing an unbiased benchmark for identifying potential.

“In Hong Kong, parents are competitive about finding the best school for their children so we receive a large number of applications. However, more than half our pupils do not speak English as their first language, so verbal and literacy standards can vary widely from child to child. Using CAT4 for admissions from Year 3 onwards is the first step to making sure we are able to meet the needs of everyone who joins.”

CAT4 gives an insight into four distinct areas – verbal, non-verbal, quantitative and spatial – as compared to the national average.

“We get invaluable information on each child, including the true capacity of an EAL learner. For example, if they are weak in the verbal assessment, but medium to strong in the other batteries, we know that with some language support we’ll be able to help them make good progress.”

Underlying issues

As Nord Anglia International School is non-selective, staff are trained to be mindful of openly identifying children with learning difficulties.

“It is often very difficult for parents to recognise or accept that their child has a learning need to be addressed. They worry about how their child will be perceived or treated by others. For example, one pupil was asked to leave her previous school when she was diagnosed with dyslexia.”

“We would prefer to know if there is an underlying difficulty in advance so that we can make provision. However, if a parent doesn’t mention a problem, using CAT4 at the point of admission is a good indicator that there may be an issue. We can then make sure our school is the right place for that child, and that we have the necessary expertise and resources to address their needs.”

Additional Support Needs

Throughout the school, staff use the term ‘Additional Support Needs’ rather than ‘Special Educational Needs’.

“It highlights our belief that all children require additional help at some point in their education. It might be because of an on-going learning difficulty or it could be temporary, owing to illness or bereavement. And let’s not forget the additional needs of those who are gifted and talented. These children run the risk of being ignored to some extent as they are bound to succeed but, by using CAT4 to aid identification, we’re able to make sure everyone reaches their fullest potential.”

One thing Brian particularly likes about CAT4 is that it can reveal hidden aptitude. “At a previous school, for example, two girls in the bottom set of maths surprised us all when they achieved phenomenally well in the CAT4 quantitative test. It turns out they were bored rigid and deliberately failing exams. Once we discovered this we were able to enter them into maths competitions to win prizes, boost their confidence and get them recognition for their achievements. Without CAT4, we would never have picked this up.”

Personalised learning

In addition to re-testing with CAT4 in Years 4, 6 and 9, teachers are using the Progress Test in English® and the Progress Test in Maths ® – which assess skills and comprehension – to check where the gaps in learning are and what needs to be addressed.

“I handpicked the staff for this school, and they are fantastic – collaborative, enthusiastic and forward-thinking. They don’t want to waste time going over areas that children have already understood well. They want to plan great lessons based on their professional judgement of what is needed and reinforced by results from the Progress Test Series®.

“The assessments help track progress and set challenging but realistic targets, tailored to the individual and based on hard evidence. Instead of low expectations for those with learning difficulties, we can concentrate on boosting their confidence with measurable targets to ensure everyone achieves as much as they can.

“Our school is too new for statistics but previously I’ve seen around a 16% increase in 5 A*–C GCSE passes thanks to CAT4, so I would expect to see a similar situation here eventually. The data certainly provides a very strong narrative for our journey so far. For example, if the board ask me about our targets for reading and writing, I’m able to show them information from last year’s Progress Test in English, against where we are now. If I compare that against CAT4 results, I’m also able to prove the value our teaching adds.”

Overall view

As a busy principal who is also in the throes of opening a second campus, Brian relies on this robust data to give him a solid overview. “Having used these assessments for more than 15 years in various different schools around the world, I have a high degree of confidence in their validity and reliability. They provide reassurance without allowing us to be complacent that we always have it right.

“Next year, we’re hoping to carry out the pupil attitudinal survey PASS ®, to see how positively our students feel about their capacity to learn here. Mapping the results against the Progress Test Series and CAT4 will be the last piece of the jigsaw.”

Benefits of CAT4 and the Progress Test Series at Nord Anglia International School Hong Kong

  • Helps the school to discover strengths, weakness and potential of children at point of admission
  • Shows the true capacity of learning for children who do not speak English as their native language
  • Aids the identification of learning difficulties in a culturally sensitive way
  • Drives individualised teaching and learning from the outset, and ensures appropriate support is always in place
  • Helps track progress and enables challenging but realistic targets to be set for children of all abilities
  • Provides the principal and board members with hard evidence of progress and value added

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