The Thistle - An E-Newsletter of Scotch College, Perth, Western Australia

International Baccalaureate Assessments that teach real skills

When our children share with us that they have an upcoming assessment at school, as parents we think back to the tests we did when we were at school, ones that focused on remembering content and reciting definitions.

A well-designed assessment can not only test a student's understanding, but engage them in meaningful learning by asking them to draw on a wide variety of skills and build their aptitude for learning by making the task about different levels of thinking, rather than simple memory techniques. The International Baccalaureate, through the Primary Years Programme (PYP), Middle Years Programme (MYP) and Diploma Programme (DP), captures this potential through the way it assesses students' learning.

Primary Years Programme

In the Junior School, our Year 4 students have just finished a unit of inquiry that asks them to research a "living legend" and present their research in a persuasive speech on why their legend could be the greatest of all time. Not only does this mean our nine-year-olds are learning about the characteristics of historical legends, they are also drawing upon complex thinking skills that are required to complete this task. To choose an appropriate person to research, find meaningful evidence of a legend possessing these important characteristics, communicate these ideas in a sequential and meaningful way, and to present this speech to an audience – makes this assessment so much more than a test of knowledge.

This process challenges the student to engage in an extensive project where they integrate so many important skills, while at the same time learning critical content and knowledge pertaining to Humanities.

Middle Years Programme

In the MYP, the assessments evolve. In Year 7 Science the students have learnt about why the cane toad was introduced into Australia to solve an ecosystem imbalance and why this generated further problems that still need resolving today. Rather than repeat this information in a test assessment four weeks later, the students are instead asked to use their research to consider the impact of introducing a known predator to the cane toad population to eradicate them. The assessment involves writing a persuasive essay to the Australian Government to either support or oppose the introduction of this predator.

By learning about the impact of human activity on ecosystems, the assessment has cleverly integrated concepts from Humanities and Science, and drawn upon skills learned in English to challenge students to, not only consider the broader impacts of decision making, but to effectively communicate their ideas, founded in research.

Diploma Programme

Our Year 12 students in the Diploma are tackling their Internal Assessments (IA). Unlike the assignments we completed at school, IA are open-ended investigations into better understanding the world through the eyes of a particular discipline . In fact, there is no question provided to students nor a topic to investigate; this  has to  be determined entirely by the student. Through generating the question, researching information, applying a rigorous process of exploration, reflection and refinement, only then are you are to successfully meet the criteria.

Watching our Year 12 Diploma students engage in this process helps one to understand why the Diploma challenges the students and teaches them important skills that will define their success at university, while providing them with a supportive framework to encourage successful outcomes.