Situated in the heart of Brunei, on the island of Borneo, Jerudong International School strives to achieve academic excellence using the British independent schools’ ethos of thinking for yourself.
The Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT) has been used for more than 15 years at the day and boarding school as part of the admissions process and then again every two years.
Barny Sandow, deputy principal and academic director at JIS, explains: “We’re a large school, with 1650 children from Nursery to Year 13 with both expatriate and local Bruneian children. CAT gives us a way of assessing pupils on a level playing field, no matter what curriculum they have previously studied, and sets a baseline to map the value we add to their learning.”
A pen portrait
CAT is a standardised assessment that demonstrates underlying ability, and helps identify pupils’ strengths and weaknesses in order to inform teaching and learning. It is suitable for pupils between 7 and 17 years old.
“Results from CAT – specifically standard age scores and stanines – enable our teachers to paint a portrait of their new class before they meet them. This is combined with photos of each pupil, grades from the previous year and details of special educational or medical needs,” says Barny.
“We have a high rate of transience here, so the data also helps teachers judge what they can deliver from the day the student joins the class.”
Speaking the same language
JIS offers a holistic education for its pupils, concentrating on three main academic skills – thinking skills, active engagement and language. According to Barny, CAT plays a key role in assessing the headway made in these skills:
“For example, language is always going to be a key focus for the school. While 60% of preprep pupils speak English as their first language, by the sixth form, the balance has swung to Malay. In order to develop fluency in English, we need to understand specific student requirements to ensure our teachers are appropriately trained. We also need to track improvement. CAT helps with both these areas and we get accurate signposts of how skills are developing.”
The school has recognised that children must actively engage in lessons to successfully learn, so Barny regularly cross-references CAT results and achievement data to ensure everyone is reaching their potential.
“On one occasion, we found that the data backed up what had been discussed anecdotally in the staffroom – that boys from a specific ethnic background were not engaging in their learning as much as other students. We provided targeted mentoring programmes, self-esteem building and leadership interventions to those affected in Year 10 and 11. The result was a measureable improvement in attitude and effort grades, and then a discernable improvement in GCSE attainment.”
An improvement circle
JIS uses CAT data to plan a cycle of continuous improvement. “We want to be totally certain we’re all moving in the right direction. Our heads of departments use CAT to look beyond the knowledge students have acquired to identify any gaps in thinking skills. Once a gap is pinpointed, we focus our professional development on this. Best practice is updated and then, from evaluating our learning, we identify the next key skill gap.
“For example, our students have super comprehension skills but, by looking at how enhanced feedback from exam boards correlated with CAT scores, we soon noticed that they were having difficulty with analysis. This gave us our first whole-school aim.”
Across each subject, the heads of department look at the last three years of exam results, and compare them with the CAT indicators. “It means we can easily spot it if anything is amiss and investigate further. For example, an A-level physics exam board confused the names of two Chinese students, and marked down coursework for an entire cohort as a result. By comparing our results to the CAT indicators to spot the error, we were able to get this rapidly corrected – vital when university places are hanging on the results.
“We also use the CAT indicators to show the value our teachers add to a student’s success.
Teachers can be very critical of themselves as professionals, so having hard evidence is a good morale booster for them. I can say to a teacher, the fact these children achieved As rather than Bs is down to you and all your hard work.”
Barny has total confidence in the standardised evidence CAT yields. “It’s imperative to trust teachers’ judgements – nothing beats human interaction – but for very quiet children, it can confirm what is going on. Teachers can access the information as we store all CAT data in our management information system; talking about stanine scores is part of our everyday life now.
He continues: “CAT helps us personalise learning by tailoring the appropriate course to the appropriate child. If language skills are weak, we can make certain they aren’t thrust into an overwhelming situation which could mean they lose confidence. Conversely, if maths skills are high, we can make sure they are being challenged from day one.”
Time will tell
With 15 years of historical data, CAT has stood the test of time at JIS. “Having used CAT for so long, I can demonstrate a good correlation between results and CAT scores. The online version gives instant feedback, which significantly speeds up our admissions process. I also like the fact the assessment is marked for us. The alternative would be for teachers to spend time they don’t have writing yearly assessments, instead of planning exciting, engaging lessons.”
In the future, Barny is excited to find out about the new International Baccalaureate Pointers in CAT4, as the school has just started to offer the IB qualification. “We’re also interested in exploring Progress in Maths (PiM) and Progress in English (PiE) and how these can be used in conjunction with CAT.
“We are working hard to get everything aligned, so every faculty continuously moves in the same direction. CAT has helped us generate our whole-school objectives, as well as concentrating on individual pupil progress. Our motto has been ‘Achieving Excellence’ for quite some time, but now we are re-focusing on what that actually means."