Spotlight on Lower School Assessment : an interview with Dr. Michael Leatch, Crescent School (ON)

Spotlight on Lower School Assessment : an interview with Dr. Michael Leatch, Crescent School (ON)

From Memberanda, Fall 2011

At Crescent School, how do you assess your Lower School applicants?

At Crescent, we use a variety of instruments that have generally been developed in-house over the years for use with our lower school admissions. The process looks at academics and social-behavioral attributes within the context of overall school fit and student best interest. The academic measure assesses basic skills such as reading, math computation, and comprehension.

In addition, students are invited to attend an Observation Day, at which groups of approximately 15 applicants take part in a number of activities. Activity stations include some time in the gym, a quiet story discussion activity, an art activity, cooperative team-building, and a snack stop. Specialty teachers are in charge of each station, and two team leaders note their observations during the rotation throughout the morning. The student and family also meet with admission staff to discuss school fit, motivation, and interests.

From your perspective as a psychologist, what do you suggest schools keep foremost in mind when assessing students at this age?

The younger the student, the more difficult it is to assess for the future. You have to remember that while the applicant is being assessed for immediate school fit for the next year, the real question is: will the school be able to serve that student 3, 5, or even 10 years from now?

What can these assessments actually tell us? What is missing?

At most schools, the typical admission assessment usually consists of a snapshot of academic skills that most often involve some type of literacy and numeracy measure. This is a good place to start, but we know that these skills are often related to developmental stage and are very much in flux for younger students. For example, students vary as much as 1- 3 years in how quickly they become fluent readers. A snapshot of reading skills at a time when a youngster is struggling to become fluent only speaks to that skill and is not a prediction of future academic success.

A measure of cognitive ability is much more stable and might, in fact, be a better predictor of future school-fit success. Combining a brief cognitive measure with an academic appraisal could allow us not only to make better decisions, but also may provide enough information for the design of a specific learning plan for each student. This is something that would be of great benefit to the student and teachers and would represent a value-added service for families.

These are some of the questions we will be asking at Crescent as we reflect on our practice in an effort to improve the service we provide to students and their families.

Crescent School is currently working on a school-wide action research project — how will admission be included?

As we move through the 21st century, we are looking at all aspects of the school through self-reflection, facilitated through action research. This process began a number of years ago with our educators and will move into all school departments, including admission. While we know our admission process is successful, we are asking questions through self-reflection in the quest to keep improving that process.

Can we add something that might provide value-added information and even be used to guide educational planning once a potential applicant is admitted to Crescent? If so, what might that look like? We have a psychologist on staff – is this a voice that could contribute to this discussion? In short, we are committed to the examination of current practice, discovering what works well and what could use some tweaking. We have a solid commitment to inspect our practice through the objective lens of research.


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