Assessment Practices – Let’s Look at Some (Scary) Numbers!

Here is a number that scares me a little: 44472.  Why does that number scare me?  Because it is theoretically the number of assessments we do in High School every year!  

When I came into the school, I learned that we have a guideline that each teacher is “expected” to give three assessments per subject per quarter (two formative and one summative).  I am not sure where this number came from, who set the expectation, or where it is written (because it’s not in our handbooks!), but I’ve heard it in a number of meetings with teachers and curriculum leaders.  I understand the thinking – usually you want several pieces of evidence to make valid inferences about what students have learned.  However, as we know, formative assessments are not meant to “count” towards a student’s grade. As time has gone on, it seems our teachers have begun to think of formative assessments as quizzes or smaller summative assessments they have to be marked.  As I understand it, there are two reasons this happened. The first is that teachers found our students did not take formative assessments seriously since they did not “count”.  The second is that prior to the arrival of our K-12 Curriculum Coordinator, Ms. Gibson, the school did not appear to continually work with our teachers on what types of formative assessments are the most effective for learning.  So, over time, as teachers left the school and new teachers came in, the nature of our formative assessments appear to have changed.  I have heard students ask “is this a formative or a summative assessment?”.  If you can’t tell, that’s a problem!  In speaking with teachers and curriculum leaders, I believe we have now arrived at a place where many teachers believe they have to do two small  and one large summative assessment per subject per quarter.

But how do we get from 3 per quarter to 44472?   That sounds like a lot!

Allow me to break that down for you.  You see, each student in Grades 9 and 10 take nine classes and in Grades 11 and 12 they take eight.  Three assessments per quarter would mean Grade 9 and 10 students take 12 per year per class (12 x 9 = 108).  If they are in 11 and 12 they would be doing 12 x 8 = 96.  We have 228 students in Grades 9 and 10 and 209 in Grades 11 and 12.  That means, if each teacher does the two small and one large assessment per quarter, Grades 9 and 10 do 24408 (228 x 108) assessments, Grades 11 and 12 do 20064 (96 x 209).

What does 108 assessments per child mean?  Well, considering there are only 178 contact days, it would mean a fair bit.  Factor in week without walls, the week before each set of exams (when there should be no assessments), parent teacher interviews, the first week of school and the last week of school we lose an additional 31 days. This means we would theoretically be doing 108 assessments in 147 days.  We also have MAP testing three times per year and our Grade 10’s have CAT 4 and PSAT as well.  The KHDA mandates we take these external assessments, so, our Grade 10 students – if we are following the “expected” practice – would end up doing 120 assessments in 147 days!

For a teacher, it’s not much better.  We have 57 teachers that take students, accounting for partial loads we have 52 full time teachers on staff in High School.  Given our number of 44472, our 52 teachers would average just over 855 assessments per year.  That’s a lot of marking!   To me this raises a number of questions:

Where did this number come from?  There is nothing in the IB, the KHDA or the Common Core that says we have to have 12 assessments per subject per year.  It isn’t even in our own handbooks.  It appears to be a guideline from a time when we were a smaller school with smaller assessments.  The issue is that some teachers believe it’s still something they “have” to do.  They do not!

Is this too much assessment? Maybe, maybe not.  These numbers are mind-boggling, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that this is a flawed practice in every subject. That said, assessment should not be about a set number of tasks. Assessment should be driven by clearly defined learning standards or objectives. Therefore it may be appropriate to have fewer assessments or (gasp) more, depending on what learning is being targeted.  What I do know is that a “one-size-fits-all” approach for each subject area makes little educational sense because different subjects are targeting different areas of learning.  I also know that if students are expected to do this work at home, each task was richly developed and had to be marked with feedback… that would be a huge burden!

Does this impact the quality of feedback?  This is something I will be monitoring very closely.  The only thing that really matters in an assessment is the quality of feedback a student gets.  Feedback should be specific and targeted toward learning objectives.  Students should know exactly where they are in their learning and be able to articulate their strengths and weaknesses in each learning domain.  Feedback is the most effective way to do this, and I wonder if 855 tasks in a year limits our ability to provide outstanding feedback?  If a student does not understand why they got the grades they did, or what they need to do to improve, there is a clear indicator that the feedback isn’t meeting standard.

How does this impact the classroom?  Every day we are looking to improve the quality of teaching and instruction.  I wonder if fewer assessments would mean better lessons?  If a teacher is spending their time marking so many papers, would that time be better spent on lesson preparation?

What does this mean for Homework?  Homework is meant to be something that augments the learning of our students, it doesn’t count against grades.  As principal, I wonder how students can manage this load and do homework.  I had a discussion with a parent recently who told me her daughter does 3 or 4 hours of homework every night.  Do students get to choose if they can do homework?  Can they set priorities?  In what ways does our homework improve learning?

And the most important question:  What is the impact on student learning?  All year our students have been working really, really hard.  But how much have they learned, and do they know why they learned it?  If they don’t… what was the point of all that work?

So, is it time to panic?  No!  We know that not every subject is giving the “expected” 12 assessments per year.  We also know that this number was never intended to be an absolute, it has been a guideline. I have read all our assessment policies and have not seen these numbers written anywhere.  However, even a guideline, we can get into some difficult territory with students and teachers. Guidelines have a way of becoming practices, and when we look at the numbers, practices can place significant burden on our students.  The point I am making is that it’s time for the school to take a long look at it’s practices and ensure they are designed to meet the needs of our learners.

I’m pleased to say that this work has already begun.  Ms. Gibson, our curriculum coordinator is doing an amazing job of reviewing our curriculum and assessment practices at UAS.  We are in a monitoring phase, where we are being very reflective about our practices before we make any changes.  We give no more or no fewer assessments this year than any other year.  Every day, Mr. Coppes, Ms. Cummins and I recognize the amazing work of our teachers and how far we have come in 10 short years.  However, we are on a journey of constant improvement towards being an exceptional school.  On that journey we will value quality over quantity, feedback over marks, and learning over testing.  We will work to improve our subject offerings so that students aren’t burdened with taking required courses later in their schooling.  As we grow, students will know exactly where they are in their learning, and as a result, our assessment numbers may go down, but our results will go up.  It is an exciting time to be at UAS and I am looking forward to seeing these projects develop to improve our both our IB scores and internal UAS scores in the coming years.  I just left a meeting led by Ms. Gibson where teachers were given the resource 15 Fixes for Broken Grades by Ken O’Connor.

I left happy, knowing that the practices we are building at UAS are up to date and supported by research.  I left thinking we are doing some very important work modernizing our practices.  And, I left thinking 15 is a waaaaay better number than 44472!


Key dates:

Wednesday, January 18th – 8:00 AM – High School Principal’s Coffee in the Counselling Area.   This week’s topic – 5 key skills for success in the 21st century.

Jan 16 to 26 – Exams.  Reminder – parents must submit the signed release form if students are to leave the school to study.  Parents will also be responsible for child pick up.  If we do not receive the release form, students will be placed in and in-school study hall.

On Sunday, February 5th we will be hosting an information session for Grade 8 and 10 parents.  Grade 8 parents will be in the Library and Grade 10 will be in 2200.

On Thursday, February 9th reports go home.


SAT prep – Wednesdays 3:30 – 6:00 for the May 6th exam 750AED  Started Jan 11th but it’s not too late to join.  If you are interested, please contact Ms. Raleigh-Carrera



What Are The Outcomes of a UAS Education?

Dear parents,

Before we begin – below are the links to the final exam schedules.  Students can access these through their homeroom Google classrooms.  There should not be any further changes, so you can print these if you wish.  However, it may be best to simply refer to these links.

Grades 9/10 standard exams,

Grade 9/10 Learning support

Grade 11 exams.


Last week, Ms. Barajas invited a number of alumni to come back and share their stories about how well we have prepared them for the next stage of their careers.  These young people are impressive and they do a great job of communicating who they are and how their experiences at UAS prepared them for their new lives.  We are very proud of our our almuni, and, we are proud to hear that we have served them well. Please take the time to listen to their important advice on life after UAS.


What a great group of young people!  One of the things they all address is their sense of independence.  We try to suppor that my encouraging our students to make sound decisions.  During the exam week, students who have signed this release are permitted to go home.

If you would prefer your child to remain at school, simply ignore the attachment and we will provide supervised study hall for them.

Upcoming dates.

Jan 16 – 25 Exams!

Wednesday, January 18th, 8:00 AM – Principal’s Coffee – held in the counselor’s office.

February 9th – Reports go home.



Exam Schedules – Keep this post but please do not print yet!

Dear parents,

I’m writing to communicate about the exam schedules.

This year, we are using Google Docs to create our exam schedules.  The reason we are doing this is to minimize confusion.  For those who do not know, Google Docs automatically update, meaning if we make a any change on any of the links below, you will see it.  This is beneficial because last year when we made a correction, a new schedule was circulated and many students did not know which was the correct version. Using the links below will mean you always have the most up to date schedule as long as you do not print.

Here are the links:

Grades 9/10 standard exams,

Grade 9/10 Learning support

Grade 11 exams.

We have gone through these links a few times and the Grade 11 exam is FINAL.  Please continue to look at the 9 and 10 exams, when the word DRAFT is replaced with the word FINAL, you can print.

For Grades 9 and 10, you will notice that the MAP testing is included on our schedule.  There are two reasons for this.  This year the KHDA has mandated that we do MAP testing three times per year to monitor progress. As you know, we have had too many disruptions this year, so, we decided not to further disrupt classroom instruction by placing our MAP assessments outside of our scheduled exam periods. Most schools use one week for mid-terms (not two) therefore we are being more efficient by including MAP in our existing schedule.   The second reason is that MAP tests are as important as internal exams.  We will be looking at MAP data to triangulate our internal scores, and for Grade 10 students, we will use MAP as a second port of call for inclusion in the IB Diploma Programme for Grade 11.

This is the first time UAS has done MAP and internal exam in the same time.  If you have any questions or feedback for us, you can send it to me at:

Have a great weekend!

OB Sealey
High School Principal

Mission: Not Impossible!

First of all, I’d like to wish all families a safe and happy 2017!  My first four months as Principal at UAS have been a dream come true.  The foundation of this school is so strong and I am very much looking forward to helping the school grow in the coming years.  The first four months have been amazing, and I am very grateful for having served one year under Ms. Sebban… there is so much going on at this school, and it’s really hard to keep up with it all, had I not been here last year, I’d be lost!

As the Senior Education Team, Mr. Coppes, Ms. Cummins, Ms. Ray, Ms. Mouganie, Mr. Jackson, Mrs. Dorn, and Mr. Trottier meet every morning and touch base for five minutes to ensure our day is meaningful and keep each other informed of upcoming events.  The team is very excited about many of improvements we have begun to implement.  Here are some of the things we have tried to augment or support:

  • Implementation of the Senior Lounge
  • Development of Homeroom Programme
  • Student Tea
  • Scorpion Challenge
  • Whole School Soccer/Volleyball Games
  • Student Voice Initiative
  • Teacher Hard HAT Award
  • Student Led Movie Nights
  • Solar Schools
  • Roots and Shutes
  • School-wide Assemblies
  • Principal’s Coffee mornings

You will notice that many of these things are either developments of existing structures, or, an implementation of something that the students really want.  Our kids are doing amazing things and we are very proud of them!  On the Wednesday before break, we had a student recognition assembly.  The purpose of the assembly was to make an effort to acknowledge not just the things our students are doing inside of school, but outside as well.  We have so many amazing kids at UAS, who are doing some very impressive things!  Acknowledging the work of our students is essential to building the right kind of culture of a school; I look forward to learning more about each and every one of them and supporting their growth in the coming years.  If you want to see the slide show from the presentation, please click this link, otherwise, perhaps just check out the video as it shows a lot about a day in the life at UAS.

As part of my presentation, I talked a lot about a growth mindset.  Education is about development, and I believe the most important word in the English language is: YET!  Yet means you’re still on the way.  Yet means there’s more that can be done.  Yet means the better times are ahead.  Yet means you are learning. UAS is a great school, but it’s not the school it’s going to be… yet!  That school will ensure that the structures are in place for every student to identify, and achieve, their personal best.  That school will show students the value of intrinsic motivation.  That school will not have students worry (as much) about tests and grades, only about learning…which is what the grade is supposed to reflect!.  When we are that school, we will see more kids in top 100 universities.  We will see empowered students, who care about their world and each other, who want to think critically about the challenges of their world and who will always act responsibly within and toward it.  I thank the parent community for their support of these goals.  Like you, we hope for the very best for your children and we are honoured to serve them.  If you have any suggestions for how we can continue to improve things, please drop me a line at, or, come by the secondary office.  I’d love to sit down with you.


Housekeeping items:

Here are some important dates and information:

January 16th to 25th are exams for Grade 9 to 11 students, Grade 12s have classes as normal.  (At the time of writing, we are converting the exam schedules to a Google Doc so that any changes will be recorded in one place.  This will avoid the confusion of many exam schedules – I will update this post with them on Wednesday morning).

Please note that students who do not have exams are permitted to leave the school if parents have signed their release forms.  Students who do not have a release form signed will be supervised in a study hall.

February 5th – Information evening for course selection for students entering Grades 9 and 11.

February 9th – Semester 1 Reports on Portal

ASA Winter Term Registration Now Open!

Dear Parents,

After School Activities (ASA) Registration for elementary, middle school and high school are now open on the UAS Parent Portal.ASA

We are happy to offer more than 24 ASA choices in the high school during this winter session!

Please note these important dates:

  • Winter ASA Term: January 15 – March 15, 2017
  • Winter ASA Registration Deadline: January 5, 2017
  • Winter ASA Payment Due Date: January 8, 2017
  • Parent Registration Confirmations Sent Home: January 9, 2017
  • Winter ASA Term Begins: January 15, 2017

You can find detailed descriptions of the HS ASA activities here:

Please follow the steps below to register your child for an ASA activity:


Log on to your parent portal page here.
Follow the link to view the descriptions and choose the ASA Activity.
After submitting the form, you will receive an immediate confirmation email that you have requested to register you child for an activity.

If you register your child for a paid activity, kindly pay accounts promptly and bring your receipt to the school office. Please note that the registrations for paid ASA activities is not complete until full payment is made and without payment by the above deadline, ASA assignments will be given to other children.

Please note that spaces are limited in some activities and enrollment will be on a first-come-first-served basis.

If you have any questions about the activities, please send an email to:
Elementary School:
Middle School:
High School:

For portal support please email

Thank you for your continued support of the ASA Program!

An Amazing Week of Celebrations!

Last week was absolutely phenomenal!  Here is a list of what we accomplished:

  1. A whole school photo graph celebrating the UAE flag.
  2. A student celebration of athletics where we all got behind our Lady Scorpions’ Soccer Team.
  3. An Arabic Language Assembly where we celebrated the great learning in our classrooms.
  4. A student-run athletics assembly where we gave out the awards to our Season 1 athletes.
  5. A student-led National Day Ceremony headed up by Hind A.F. and her “Majlis” Team.
  6. Grade 9 celebration of learning for students who achieved Honours and High Honours.

As our students reflect on their memories of  their time in our school, it is my sincere hope that it will be weeks like this one that our students remember. Hopefully, They will remember that we care about their aspirations as much as their learning.  I hope they will remember that we recognized their achievements. I hope they will remember that we laughed together.  I hope they will remember that we are proud to live in such a forward thinking nation.  I hope they will remember that there is much more learning in organizing a 400 person event than can ever be accomplished on an essay.  I hope they will remember that achievement is always the consequence of hard work.  I hope they will remember that success is always more powerful when it is shared; that no “one” person can do everything and that weeks like last week can only exist because of a process that involves ideation, planning and execution.

It was an exhausting week, but well worth the effort!

Maragret Mead once wrote:

“Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.  I think many of our students learned a lot about themselves last week.  As the school grows, our students will get better at organizing these events.  They will learn what it takes to be empowered to be a caring, critical thinking, responsible global citizens.

Here are some great photos that attempt to showcase some of what we did last week!unknown-8 unknown-7 unknown-12 unknown-16 unknown-5 unknown-2 unknown-1unknown-3unknown-9unknown-15unknown-14unknown-6unknown-10   unknown-4 unknown

Parent Teacher Conference Reflections!


Before I begin, please make a point of coming to celebrate our huge National Day Celebration on Tuesday November 29th from 4:00 to 9:00.  This will be a fantastic event, managed by our students.  There will be games, food, fun, and much, much, more.  The school looks AMAZING and you really don’t want to miss out.  More on this next week!


I would like to thank everyone who took the time to come in for Parent Teacher Conferences on Wednesday and Thursday last week.  I especially appreciated those of you who took the time to feed back to me personally.  Most of what I heard was extremely favorable, that our teachers were giving high quality feedback, and classes are centred where they should be: on student learning. Referring to her daughter, one of our new parents commented that our teachers “really see who she is”.  This is great to hear! Education is a human endeavour; UAS teachers genuinely care about our students.  On Thursday afternoon I walked away with an extremely positive perspective of the strengths of the school.


Equally valuable were the handful of parents who came in to discuss things that aren’t going so well.  The most common of which is that some parents feel the school may be pushing their children too hard.  Let me be clear – our student’s physical and emotional health is our number one priority.  There are ebbs and flows in a school year and there will be times in the school year where our students will be working late.  That said, if your child is working themselves beyond a reasonable point, please stop them.  You can always come see me, Ms. Cummins, Mr. Cunningham or Ms. Mouganie.  The IB is by all accounts the most academically challenging high school programme there is.  No matter how it is structured, it is challenging. We are committed to more efficiently run our academic programme at UAS going forward.  We have already freed up time for high-achieving Math Studies and English SL students and we have given a number of extensions for students who needed them.  Communication is the key and we are absolutely here to help.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions for improvement, please come in for a chat, attend one of my coffee mornings, or drop me an email.  I look forward to hearing your voice and including it in our school improvement plans.

Before I go, I need to recognize two exceptional members of my team.  Ms. Rasha and Mr. Shabeer are the driving forces behind so much of what we do here.  For Parent-Teacher Conferences they organized the rooms, set up the sign-up sheets, and really did an incredible job!  If the event was a success, it was because of their great work.  If you happen to be in the office, please give them a big thank you!



Principal’s Coffee and Parent-Teacher Conferences this week.

November 20th, 2016.

Before I begin, I’d like to celebrate the great learning that happened in the Arabic Department on Thursday.  Learners from different levels of Arabic met in the MPH to share their experiences with the larger UAS community.  What really impressed me was the real-life application that I saw. Students from Grades 3 to 10 were creatively applying their learning in Arabic in a trade-show style forum.  Think of it as an event where social issues meet the Arabic classroom.  The learning was linked to the National Agenda and our students used their language skills to discuss possible solutions to real-life problems.  One group of students thought about using drones to send emergency response materials to people suffering from heart attacks.  Another group of students looked at solutions to poverty.  Other topics included social injustice, racism, and solar technology.  It was a truly great event. Unfortunately, the auditorium was too loud to get quality sound, but the video below does a great job of showing the type of learning our students are engaged with in their Arabic classes.

Parent-Teacher Conferences

This week is Parent-Teacher Conferences in high school from 1:00 to 6:00 on Wednesday and from 8:00 to 12:00 on Thursday.  If you haven’t already done so, please sign up to speak to your children’s teachers. Sign up will close at noon on Monday.  Click the link below for instructions on how to log on.  Please note, two of our teachers, Ms. Raleigh and Ms. Crlenjak are at a conference on Wednesday.  Please book with them on Thursday.  If their schedule is full, contact them by email and they will accommodate a meeting next week after school.


Principal’s Coffee Wednesday, November 23rd.

On Wednesday morning, I will be hosting my second parent coffee at 8:00 in the Secondary Library.  The topic of conversation will be understanding our 1 to 7 assessment scale.  I hope to see you there.


Fall MAP Results Available on the Portal

Dear Universal American School Parents,

The Universal American School of Dubai uses the MAP standardized test for elementary, middle and high school students. UAS will administer the test three times during the academic year; once in the fall, once in the winter and once in the spring. The fall 2016 results are now available on the UAS portal for parents.

The tests help the UAS educational professionals determine your child’s instructional level and measure academic growth throughout the school year, and from year to year in the areas of reading, mathematics, science and language usage. A Normative Data chart is a part of your child’s scores, which shows the average (mean) RIT scores for your child, in comparison to the average for UAS students and all students who took the test worldwide.

A RIT score is a different type of measure than a typical test that provides a percentage correct. It is also different from many tests that provide results based on your child’s score compared to others in his or her grade (a percentile ranking). Instead, the RIT score is an equal-interval scale, like feet and inches, which is independent of grade level. MAP is not a class ranking system as the tests focus on individual student learning growth.

You can find out more about the MAP tests and how to read the results from the following presentation:

MAP Parent Presentation Link:

MAP Report

Sample MAP Report and Key

In some cases a student’s RIT score may have gone down or their growth may be in the negative range from spring to fall testing. If this happened with your child, please do not panic as this is a single snapshot of the child’s progress and cannot be considered as an indication of a lack of learning. Our guide here is the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), which states, “Each assessment is only a snapshot at a single point in time. Negative growth does not necessarily mean a student is not learning, or that classroom instruction has not been effective, or that NWEA data is not reliable. Rather, negative growth allows for additional opportunities to change the way we discuss our students’ learning. Instead of ignoring these instances as anomalies or assigning blame for their results, we should recognize negative growth as an important element in the culture of data driven instruction. Simply put, for unexplained reasons student scores sometimes fall.”

As UAS continues to develop our data driven instructional practices, we believe we can address these anomalies while at the same time meet the needs of the students whose learning challenges may not have been detected before with our old tests. It is our intention at UAS to continue to administer the MAP test and look for trends that can be examined and determined.

Universal American School has put together a website on each of the divisional blogs that will give you information on the MAP test, on reading your child’s test results, and answers most questions you may have concerning MAP testing and test results. Links to other resources for parents are also available on this site. Additional information is also available from Northwest Evaluation Association at

The UAS Administrative Team