Diversity and collective global experiences are the foundation of an international school education. Students, parents, and teachers often flourish in the diversity that an international school affords. The varied backgrounds of its community members foster learning that is multicultural and global, with exceptional curriculums and learning objectives that support children as they prepare for today’s global world. But, with all its immeasurable and invaluable benefits, an international education comes with its own set of challenges that must be addressed to ensure student success is maximized.
I have been a teacher for over 20 years in three different countries, teaching 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades as well as extensively with students K-12 who have additional learning needs that fall outside of the general education curriculum. Throughout my tenure, I have noted a pervasive struggle, for families and school staff, to clearly and concisely communicate students’ needs. Specifically, when students transfer from one school to another or progress from grade to grade, without a contemporary, comprehensive, and collaborative tool for tracking and monitoring student progress, essential information about students is often lost.
Progress Monitoring Promotes Student Success
Over the last 45 years, a significant body of research indicates that when teachers monitor student progress over time, students learn more, curriculum decisions are better informed, and students become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses (Deno, 2003; Fuchs, Deno, & Mirkin, 1984; Good & Jefferson, 1998). In other words, parents and educators must understand that if progress is not measured students may suffer. Without this data, educators cannot make informed curriculum decisions, accurately pass information to future educators, or clearly communicate about students’ needs. Ultimately, parents and educators cannot rely on the notion that students will improve over time without consistent monitoring and measured adjustments; we must recognize that while progress is possible, it’s not inevitable.
Progress monitoring is equally rewarding and demanding, and unfortunately, is an area where international schools particularly struggle. The diversity of learning environments, students and staff, coupled with the sometimes-transient nature of international school attendance, compound the issue. If your family has ever moved to a new school, you will likely remember the transition as a time of uncertainty. Even if your child attends the same school for their entire educational career you may recall that from one year to the next there is a period of adjustment, as the new teacher gets to know your child and their needs. In these times of transition, unified and informed progress monitoring is essential to meeting student’s needs, and because of the unique experiences of the international school student, consistent and precise progress monitoring should be considered a top priority.
The Challenges of Tracking and Identifying the Needs of International Students
Last year, I surveyed 13 learning support teachers worldwide and asked how their international school was keeping track of student goals and progress within their Learning Support programs. Only one teacher reported that they had a comprehensive system to keep track of this information and felt comfortable with their school’s system. Eighty-five percent reported that they wished their school had a platform beyond Google Docs and Spreadsheets.
Further investigation indicated that there are three obstacles to progress monitoring in international schools:
- Data tracking is an additional demand on teachers’ time
- Teachers do not have an easy to use tool to track data and set goals
- Teachers do not have an efficient and appropriate method of reporting their findings
An Efficient, Reliable and Valid Tool for International School Educators and Families
From a personal perspective, as a teacher, I recognized the value of progress monitoring and lived with its challenges. Prior to the beginning of each school year, in an effort towards due diligence for my students, I would try and create a new and improved data collection system. I was constantly trying to create a method that was efficient, reliable, valid, and met my three priorities:
- that my students had specific and measurable goals
- that I could collect data on these goals in a timely and accurate manner
- that I could communicate this data clearly to all relevant parties.
After years of experimenting, I had finally satisfied my priority, I developed a bank of comprehensive goals and learning objectives. Once this bank was created, I could draw on it, reducing the time I spent on establishing goals and objectives and improving the quality of my goal and objective setting.
With my goal and objective bank established I turned my attention to data collection and communication. Like so many teachers, I dabbled with customized spreadsheets but found them time consuming and cumbersome when it came to communicating my findings. I wanted something that could be user-friendly for parents and educators, tech-forward, visual, and secure. Fortunately, I was introduced to the Unitus TI platform, a multidisciplinary cloud publishing partner.
I have now teamed up Unitus TI to create STEP: Strategic Tracking of Educational Progress, a subscription-based service delivered through the UnitusTI cloud. Using my enhanced goals and objectives bank, their expertise in data collection, and the newest technology, we were able to create a solution for progress monitoring. We created STEP with the goal of improving student transitions, achievement and growth, by empowering educators, parents, and therapists to establish appropriate goals and objectives, monitor progress over time, collaborate with team members, and enhance curriculums based on real-time, visual data.
STEP simply plugs into a school’s existing learning management system, providing a seamless process to access student goals and progress. Teachers with access to STEP can utilize its bank of over 4,000 goals and objectives, create their own customized goals, easily track data, and instantly see and securely share visual representations of students’ progress over time. STEP also allows educational teams, outside service providers, and parents to communicate about student progress all within a secure network. One of the greatest highlights of STEP is that it provides both parents and educators a clear picture of student progress in real time. This picture can also support families in transition, as they move from one grade to the next, from one school to the next, and from one country to the next, student data can come with them.
Going forward, we are working with the international school community to introduce STEP to support students and families in a mutual effort to maximize student success. We provide interested schools with a hands-on demonstration and the ability to ask questions not only of me, the author of the goal bank but the extensive IT masterminds behind the UnitusTI platform as well. If you think STEP would benefit your child or school, please feel free to let your school know about our program. We can be contacted at: www.remfreyeducationalconsulting.com/step
About the Author
April Remfrey, MS is the author of STEP – Strategic Tracking of Educational Progress. STEP provides international educators with a contemporary, comprehensive, and collaborative tool for tracking and monitoring student progress. STEP allows international school teachers to easily assign goals for Individual Learning Plans or Response to Intervention plans from a bank of nearly 4,000 goals and objectives. The program gives instructors the ability to systematically document progress over time and instantly see visual data representations that facilitate informed curriculum decisions.
April also serves globally mobile families in their search for the appropriate international school for their child with special needs. She creates a Customized Learner Profile that allows all schools to understand your child’s needs immediately. April can be reached at:
Deno, S. L. (2003). Developments in curriculum-based measurement. Journal of Special Education, 37, 184–192.
Fuchs, L. S., Deno, S., & Mirkin, P. (1984). Effects of frequent curriculum-based measurement and evaluation on pedagogy, student achievement, and student awareness of learning. American Educational Research Journal, 21, 449–460.
Good, R., & Jefferson, G. (1998). Contemporary perspectives on curriculum-based measurement validity. In M. R. Shinn (Ed.), Advanced applications of curriculum-based measurement (pp. 61–88). New York: Guilford Press.
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