Types of assessment
There are a number of assessment and examination procedures used in international schools, some of which provide information to be used within the school, and others which result in externally awarded certification such as GCSEs and Advanced (A) levels. Many of the examples below may be used in their entirety or adapted to suit the school.
Many international schools will ‘mix and match’ different assessment types to suit the students and the possible routes they may take on leaving the school. For example, in an American international school students may work towards receiving a High School Diploma, based on an accumulation of credits, but may also switch to the IB diploma because of its particular suitability for entry to universities outside the US. In this article we outline some of the more prevalent assessment types, but there is wide variety of practice and for every school you should check exactly how they approach assessment.
Assessment in the Primary / Elementary school:
Early years (1–5 years old)
When your child enters school in the early years the school may carry out a baseline assessment, which is often very practical and child-friendly and helps identify what he/she can do, knows and understands. This helps the teacher to plan activities which will enhance the child’s learning and ensure he/she makes progress. The school will usually have clear early learning goals, which help children work towards the knowledge, skills and understanding they need to have by the time they start in Key Stage 1 (the term used in the English National Curriculum – but other names for the phase of education after Early Years will also be found).
Teachers are likely to use continuous assessment (also known as formative assessment) as part of the learning and development for each child in the class. This involves the observation of children in order to identify their level of achievement, their interests and learning styles, all of which allows the subsequent learning experiences of each child to be carefully planned. The observations are often recorded as statements, or captured in photographs – an excellent way of recording the achievements of young children. The school may also undertake a phonics check to see how each child’s reading skills are developing.
Standard Assessment Tests (UK – SATS)
In schools following the principles of the English National Curriculum, these tests - in Mathematics and English - are usually taken at the end of Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2. They provide a measure of an individual child’s achievement, but as these tests are not compulsory in international schools, an individual school may choose to implement them or not, or adapt them to support their own model of assessment of children’s progress.
Tests are sometimes also used in the secondary section, particularly at the end of KS3. Ask a prospective school about its use of SATS tests in different years.
"Teachers are likely to use continuous assessment (also known as formative assessment) as part of the learning and development for each child in the class."
The International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (PYP)
Although the International Baccalaureate (IB) does not set examinations or moderate grades in the PYP, teachers at IB World Schools carry out continuous assessment in order to identify the progress of their pupils at different stages in the teaching and learning process.
In their final year at an IB primary school, students will undertake an in-depth, extended project known as the PYP exhibition. This involves looking at real-life issues, working collaboratively with other pupils. The exhibition provides teachers with a powerful tool with which to assess their students' understanding.
Examinations and Assessment in the Secondary Years:
International General Certificate of Education (IGSCE)
Pupils begin working towards this examination in Key Stage 4 (Year 10 – two years before the final examination). It is likely that your son or daughter will have chosen subjects to continue with and identified others to drop from their studies. The examinations may contain a mixture of practical and written work, and subjects such as Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) will have an oral component as well. The examinations are usually taken in the summer term, with results published in August. These results are likely to influence the choice of Advanced (A) level subjects, which are then used by universities to determine which students are accepted for university courses, or by potential employers who are considering students for jobs and internships.
A levels and AS levels
The A (Advanced) level course runs for two years after IGCSE, and at present many schools will offer an AS level programme at the end of the first year of the Sixth form (Year 12). This represents a mid-point in the A level programme, and helps students to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Students generally receive AS certification in up to four subjects, and then proceed to A level in Year 13, usually reducing the number of subjects studied to three. For university application purposes only three subjects at A level are required, and concentrated study improves the chance of achieving the best grades.
When choosing subjects for A level courses, it’s a good idea for students to think about the careers and the university courses they find interesting, as well as the subjects they enjoy and where they’ve achieved the best results at 16. Good careers guidance will be very important at this stage of a student’s life to ensure that the best choice is made about A level subjects.
"AS level represents a mid-point in the A level programme, and helps students to identify their strengths and weaknesses..."
The International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (MYP) and Diploma Programme (DP)
At IB World Schools the MYP is provided for students aged 11-16. Teaching and learning is organised into eight subject groups, culminating in final examinations, coursework and an extended personal project. The IB has recently introduced eAssessment in the MYP, whereby students will sit the examinations on-line and these are marked externally. They will also submit an ePortfolio of coursework which, along with the personal project, is marked by the teacher. Upon completion of the MYP students receive an internationally recognised certificate.
The DP is aimed at 16-19 year-olds and takes two years to complete. At the end of the programme, the students will sit externally assessed examinations. They will also submit an extended essay (EE) and a theory of knowledge (TOK) essay, both of which are marked externally. In addition, teachers will carry out internal assessments on in-school tasks, including oral tests in languages, fieldwork in geography, laboratory work in the sciences and artistic performances.
For each DP subject, students are given a mark ranging from one (the lowest) to seven (the highest).The combined marks will form the total number of points towards the Diploma. Students can also receive up to three additional points for the EE and the TOK combined. They must gain a minimum of 24 points in order to be awarded the Diploma, 'subject to certain minimum levels of performance'. The maximum number of points achievable is 45.
The DP is recognised and respected by leading universities throughout the world.
The US Scholastic Assessment test (SAT)
The SAT forms part of the admissions procedure to the majority of four-year bachelor degrees in the United States. The American liberal arts system is based on a completely different philosophy to that obtaining in many other universities around the world, as it offers a much broader-based curriculum for students.
The SAT examination covers subjects including Critical Reading and Reasoning, Mathematics, and Writing, and contains 160 multiple-choice questions, along with a short essay and ten longer maths questions. The test takes over three hours to complete. In its use of multi-choice questions to assess a broad curriculum range it is quite different to most of the English A levels.
For more information on the different types of curriculum taught in international schools, see the articles Why choose the English National Curriculum?, The International Baccalaureate: what is it?, and Why choose the IB?