The Danube International School Vienna has seen rapid expansion over the last two decades and now welcomes students of over 60 nationalities. The school needed a way of identifying a child’s abilities which was independent from their understanding of English – and the Cognitive Abilities Test provided them with the solution.
The Danube International School Vienna is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary, having enjoyed two decades of remarkable growth and achievement.
As Ian Piper, Director of the School, explains, “When we opened our doors in 1992, we started with a small group of nine students. Now, we have 520 on our roll. In the last two and a half years alone, our student numbers have grown by 33%. This is a huge expansion, particularly in the current climate.”
As with many international schools, the Danube International School Vienna (DISV) has a very diverse mix of students and staff spanning countries across the globe. At the latest count, students represent 61 different nationalities, a number that increases to 67, if you include the staff. 27 different languages are spoken in the school. English is the language of instruction.
Against this backdrop, it will come as no surprise that the school has a very global outlook. Its mission is to provide a high quality international education for children of all nationalities from Early Years to Grade 12, as well as to prepare students to become global citizens ‘through the development of the whole child’.
The school has a vision of being a world leader in international education and to meet this aim, it provides a challenging and stimulating curriculum - the Primary Years, Middle Years and Diploma Programmes of the International Baccalaureate Organisation to students aged from three to 18 years.
Focusing on the principles of Engagement, Excellence and Excitement, Ian believes that assessment plays a key role in school life. “Assessment is designed with learning in mind. We see it as a formative process that enables a student to understand their strengths and weaknesses in relation to a skill, concept, process, topic and plot further improvement.”
“Student-focused, authentic and age-appropriate assessment at DISV represents a celebration of achievement, which ensures ongoing student involvement and lasting understanding.”
Cognitive Abilities Test
As part of its assessment programme, the school uses the Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT), principally as a means of understanding the ability levels of students without a reliance on their understanding of English.
CAT measures three main areas of reasoning – verbal, non-verbal and quantitative. Children are found to have different preferences among these three styles of reasoning - some prefer verbal reasoning, some reasoning with numbers and some abstract reasoning with shapes and patters. By looking at a child's performances in each battery compared to the others, information can be gathered about which of these he or she maybe better at, and for which he or she may need additional support.
For international schools such as DISV, the great virtue of CAT tests are that they are a lot less dependent on a student's classroom and learning experiences than are tests of knowledge. As a result, CAT scores can provide a measure of a child's ability largely independent of which school he or she went to, what experiences he or she had there, and what language/s they speak. For DISV, this is particularly useful for their running of the IB Diploma.
Ian Piper explains, “The IB is a challenging programme and it’s essential that we know that there’s a good fit between the IB and the student – we are not set up for failure. CAT gives us a much better idea of their level of conceptual understanding, as well as valuable information about where their strengths and weaknesses lie. This way, we can ensure we can cater for their needs and offer any required support.”
Reasoning test scores tend to be more stable over time than attainment test scores. However, reasoning scores can and do change over time. For a minority of pupils, these changes may be quite substantial. With this in mind, DISV decided to test all of his students initially, from Grade 4 up to Grade 11, to get a picture of each individual student. After the initial testing, the school now tests in Grades 4, 6, 8 and 10.
CAT results provide a range of different information, such as individual verbal, non verbal and quantitative scores, standardised age scores, national percentile ranks, and cognitive strengths and weaknesses.
The DISV has a policy of communicating assessment results with students throughout their school careers, and CAT results are no exception. Ian explains, “Each student receives a diagram of their learning styles, so they can clearly see which styles suit their learning needs best.”
“While most of our students are visual learners, our teachers need to make sure that every style of learning is addressed in each lesson. The value of CAT is growing amongst our staff. CAT data was initially used mainly by the IB Diploma Co-ordinator and the MYP Co-ordinator, however we now share CAT data with all staff so everyone can benefit.”
CAT has already provided some valuable insights into pupil ability and how their learning could be improved. As Ian explains, “One student was initially placed in the lowest Mathematics set because he seemed disinterested in the subject, however his quantitative scores showed that he was very capable. We moved him into a higher set and with the extra challenge and motivation, he started to perform to a much higher standard. Before then, he was just hiding himself away.”
- Allows DISV to immediate assess a child’s ability, regardless of their first language or the curriculum they have been following previously.
- Provides teachers and students with valuable information about learning styles.
- Guides teachers on setting appropriate targets to ensure continuous progress within the IB programme.