Tracking Student Progress: Using Data in International Schools

OxfordAQA's Head of Teaching and Learning Support discusses how international schools can use data to improve student progress

Data often gets something of a bad press in education. It is seen by some as a dehumanising force: reducing real, living students to faceless numbers. However, this is to miss the point of data in education. It is precisely by putting the people to one side – for a moment – that we discover which students we have been missing all this time and how we can improve student progress.

Looking back at the results from your recent International GCSE and A-level examinations is essential to the goal of continual improvement but, by definition, it is no use to the cohort that have just left. It is therefore just as important to see data as part and parcel of your daily teaching practice.

Recording the right information for student progress

Teachers in international schools have been recording information on student performance since, well, forever: test scores, marks, grades, all dutifully recorded in the teacher mark book – be it paper or digital – and presented to students and parents at regular intervals. But are we recording the right information? Are we storing it in the right way? And are we sharing it in a way that enables students to get a better score, mark or grade the next time? Which is surely the point, right?

Viewing student data as the start point for a discussion on strengths and weakness, rather than a final assessment of their ability, is key to understanding the role data can play in enabling student progress. To achieve this, it is firstly essential to break down the information you receive from their work into component parts. This might be Assessment Objectives, skill areas within a particular task or elements of curriculum content. When marking a student’s work, the teacher needs to assign different scores to different aspects of the assessment. As a result, they can demonstrate to the student where they are strong and what areas they need to work on to improve.

This is so much more empowering than simply receiving an arbitrary measurement of their overall ability. If I was teaching you how to play tennis, I wouldn’t just make you play match after match, exhorting you to score more points. I would break down specific elements of the game and help you understand how to improve them: how to throw the ball up when you serve, what to do with your feet when you hit a backhand, the technique for imparting top-spin, back-spin and so on.

It is for this reason that I contend that data isn’t cold or impersonal but exactly the reverse. No two students in an international school or a classroom are the same, so a single measurement of student progress is too clumsy to be of any use. Once students can see why they are working at their current level – and, crucially, where they can make gains – they can work towards success in a way that works for them, not the kid sitting next to them. This way, students don’t waste time re-learning stuff they already do well but focus their efforts where they are needed most.

Sharing data to motivate your students

A big part of this is shared data tracking, where teachers and students have access to the same information, frequently in the same format, and can have meaningful discussions about effective next steps to improve student progress.

My mark book as a teacher was a list of students down the left-hand side and a list of tasks along the top. Each task was then split into the various components I wanted to measure in that task. As an English teacher, this normally related to the Assessment Objectives, so that there was consistency from task to task.

I would then input the marks students got for each of those components, as well as their overall mark, and then evaluate these against each student’s personal target: red for below target, amber for on track, green for exceeding their target (this technique is called a RAG rating). Each student had a duplicate version of this in the front of their textbook, but with the Assessment Objectives at the top and the tasks down the left-hand side. They would colour in their RAG performance for each Assessment Objective on each task, meaning they could accurately track how they were getting on, and where their personal strengths and weaknesses lay.

Crucially, I didn’t give students the actual numbers or grades they received in each individual task, just the RAG rating. As such, students weren’t demotivated by comparing themselves to other students in the groups in terms of the marks they were receiving. A weaker student might be working hard and exceeding their (lower) target grade, and this hard work would be recognised and rewarded. On the other hand, a complacent higher ability student might be achieving higher marks but underperforming against their own targets. This way the right students get the pat on the back and the kick up the backside.

Data as a collaborative tool for student progress

This kind of tracking student progress can then be extrapolated out to a departmental or even whole-school level, with regular check-ins of how particular groups of students are performing in specific aspects of their courses of study. Mock exams are an obvious example. Rather than simply record what marks students got, we can break that information down into specific elements, to understand where our interventions need to be made for the most significant impact.

Viewed in this way, data ceases to be a malign force some make it out to be, a stick to beat both teachers and students with. Instead, data becomes a constructive, collaborative tool that enables us to see the individuality of our students and help them progress in a way that is all about them.

At OxfordAQA, we’re driven by the desire to bring out the very best in every student and we’re here to support we support international teachers every step of the way. View all of the resources we provide for international school teachers to support student progress:

by: Jamie Kirkaldy

Jamie Kirkaldy is Head of Teaching and Learning Support at OxfordAQA, the international exam board that puts fairness first.

OxfordAQA is a partnership between Oxford University Press (a department of the University of Oxford) and AQA, by far the UK’s largest provider of GCSEs and A-levels. Benchmarked to UK standards, our International GCSEs, AS and A-levels use clear language and globally relevant contexts, so that international students are only ever tested on subject ability, not English comprehension skills or UK-centric cultural knowledge. This gives every student the best possible chance to show what they can do and get the results they deserve.