Sports, Spirit and Communication re: Track and Field Day

This week has had some amazing moments on the sports fields.  Our Soccer teams went to the NEASC tournament in Cyprus where they acquitted themselves beautifully!  UAS won many of it’s games, but more importantly the school spirit was on full display.  Our students won the sportsmanship awards as well as many spirit awards at the tournament.  Sports are a great way to showcase a school and I was so proud to receive a Whatsapp video from Ms. Gibson showing our Varsity boys cheering loudly and proudly for our JV Girls.  UAS has a strong sense of community and it was ever present in Cyprus last weekend.  If you want to learn more, please go to the UAS Athletics Blog.

On Sunday I had the honour of watching the Varsity Boys basketball team compete against ASD.  Despite being down 12 points just before half-time, the Scorpions battled back on strong team defense, chipped away at the lead and hit a key basket to take the first lead of the game with less than a minute remaining.  ASD responded with a buzzer-beating 2 pointer, sending the game to the first of two overtimes.  Our Scorpions out-hustled and out worked their opponents all game, but eventually lost in double overtime.  It was a proud moment for this former basketball coach.  .
This Thursday is Track and Field Day for Grades 6 to 10.  There will be no classes on that day.  Grade 11 students are to come in for an introduction to the Extended Essay and Grade 12 students are to come in to complete CAS and catch up on missed or upcoming deadlines under supervision.  This has been communicated with the students in Homeroom.

Track and Field Day is an incredibly important part of our curriculum and it makes the most sense to hold in on a Thursday.  This year there have been many Thursday disruptions and tomorrow (Wednesday) we will be running Thursday’s schedule to try to minimize the amount of missed classes.  We have never done this before, so we are curious to see how it is going to transpire. We are curious to see how our attendance system will respond.  We appreciate any feedback you may have.

After Track and Field Day, UAS will be holding it’s first “Seniors” Night for Varsity Athletes.  We hope all parents of the Varsity teams can come support the UAS basketball teams as the seniors are celebrated in the last home game of their careers.  Great things are learned on the sports courts – communication, team-work, dealing with frustration, determination, grit, hustle, hard work… the list can go on and on.  Our athletes deserve a proper send 0ff and I hope many of our students, parents and teachers will join me in celebrating with the seniors on their last home game.

Please come join us!

Grade 8 and 10 Parents – THIS RSVP SHOULD WORK!

Hi folks!

Ah the challenges of the digital age!  sigh.

Here’s a lesson for anyone using Google Forms.  If you send a link in an email, you can use the setting “anyone with the link can access”.  If you use a blog, it must be “anyone on the web can access”.  Learned something new today!

Please forgive the confusion.  It’s not just an RSVP, we are more interested in finding out what YOU want to know about.  Please try again below!  If THIS doesn’t work, please send me an email.  To date we have 5 parents coming for Grade 8 and 6 for Grade 10.

RSVP for Grade 8 Parents

RSVP for Grade 10 Parents

RSVP for Grade 8 and Grade 10 Information Evenings

Dear Parent(s) of the Classes of 2019 and 2021,

On Thursday we sent the message below to parents in Grade 8 and Grade 10.  We are trying to get a sense of numbers to ensure that the rooms allocated meet the needs of the groups.  Currently we have Grade 8 scheduled for the Secondary Library and Grade 10’s scheduled for room 2200.

We ask that you RSVP to the event, and, please list out any specific questions or concerns you have so that our team might ensure the evening effectively meets your expectations.

RSVP for Grade 8 Parents

RSVP for Grade 10 Parents

Note: If you are struggling to access the RSVP, please erase your “cache” memory and restart your computer.

Reminder of the event:

We would like to invite parents of current Grade 10 students to our “Welcome to the IB Diploma Programme” evening on February 5th at 18:00 in room 2200. In addition, we would like to invite the parents of current Grade 8 students to our “Welcome to High School” evening at the same time in the Secondary Library.

The Grade 10 event will cover the following topics:

Our Grade 11’s will continue to pursue the IB Diploma Programme or a partial Diploma.

An introduction to the IB Diploma Programme
Core Requirements of the IB DP Programme: Extended Essay, Theory of Knowledge, CAS
Requirements for Full Diploma Candidates
IB courses offered at UAS for the Class of 2019

The Grade 8 event will cover the following topics:

New Regulations for American Schools in Dubai

An introduction to the new structure for American Schools.
How UAS will ensure all students qualify for an American Diploma.
How UAS will ensure all students get the pre-requisites to enter the IB Diploma Programme.
An opportunity to discuss hopes and concerns… we want your feedback!
We look forward to seeing you on February 5th.

Yours sincerely,

OB Sealey

High School Principal

Tracey Cummins

IB Coordinator

Invitation for Parents to Grade 8 and 10 Information Evening February 5th, 2017

Dear Parent(s) of the Classes of 2019 and 2021,

We would like to invite parents of current Grade 10 students to our “Welcome to the IB Diploma Programme” evening on February 5th at 18:00 in room 2200. In addition, we would like to invite the parents of current Grade 8 students to our “Welcome to High School” evening at the same time in the Secondary Library.

The Grade 10 event will cover the following topics:

IB Diploma Programme

  • An introduction to the IB Diploma Programme
    1. Core Requirements of the IB DP Programme: Extended Essay, Theory of Knowledge, CAS
  • Requirements for Full Diploma Candidates
  • IB courses offered at UAS for the Class of 2019

the Grade 8 event will cover the following topics:

New Regulations for American Schools in Dubai

  • An introduction to the new structure for American Schools.
  • How UAS will ensure all students qualify for an American Diploma.
  • How UAS will ensure all students get the pre-requisites to enter the IB Diploma Programme.
  • An opportunity to discuss hopes and concerns… we want your feedback!

We look forward to seeing you on February 5th.

Yours sincerely,

OB Sealey

High School Principal


Tracey Cummins                                            

IB Coordinator



How do we balance the old and the new?

So… it’s mid-year exam week (2 weeks actually).  You know, when we shut down classes and put the kids in a room, don’t let them talk to each other and ask them to write down everything they know about the Malthusian Spectre.

Digression ahead!

Now, don’t met me wrong…I’m a big Mathusian guy – I love the idea that the world is full of finite resources and that some day there will be a tipping point at which the human population will not be able sustain itself.  I’m fascinated by the idea I heard at a Ken Robinson talk that if we all lived off the same amount of resources that the average Rwandan does, the earth has enough resources to sustain a population of 14 billion people, but if we all live off the same resources as the average American we can sustain 1.5 billion. Those are neat ideas.  But, I want to explore them.  I want to debate them.  I want to challenge them.  I really don’t want to memorize them and write them out by hand in a pressure-packed two-hour testing environment in a room with 125 hyper-caffeinated, sleep-deprived teenagers that I’m not allowed to talk to. In other words… as a learner, I don’t think an exam is the most appropriate way to communicate my understanding of the works of Thomas Robert Malthus.

Digression over… back to balancing the old and the new.

Our school uses an internal social networking site called Yammer to share ideas.  We are having a very interesting internal discussion on the value of mid-year exams.  Our teachers are engaged in a digital discussion about the place of exams in a modern educational paradigm. On one hand we have some valid points supporting exams.  The first argument is about “preparing students for university”, a valid one as many universities rely heavily on exams for both entrance and assessment.  This is true.  The second argument is that we are an IB school, and the IB’s reputation was built largely on the rigour of it’s exams. As a former IB History teacher, I love the construction of the IB exams, especially History Paper 1.  There is a place for it and there is a lot of thinking that goes into writing a good exam. The third argument is that exams are stressful, and we have a responsibility to prepare students for that stress. These are all valid arguments, and many are backed by research.  I absolutely agree that we have a responsibility to prepare kids for their IB exams and the school should always keep some form of exam week, especially at the end of the year.

But… the discussion has also recognized that universities are changing, and schools should follow suit.  My mother was a professor of Medicine at McMaster University.  McMaster invented problem-based learning because it was noted that a large number of medical students could not apply on patients what they had memorized through years of study.  She “shudders to think” of the number of people who were (literally) killed by inexperienced young doctors who didn’t recognize in real life the things they could write flawlessly about on their five-hour exam. Schools all over the world are looking for more authentic assessment methods that prepare students more effectively for the future.  I think we should continue follow suit. The learning I’m seeing from our Humanities department who had their students create animated videos were much more authentic assessments.  Plus, my experience is that students tend to retain information on these types of assessments, meaning they are better for learning.

The university argument doesn’t hold as much water as it used to.  Many elite universities are ditching the SAT test because it is an antiquated practice that gives little reliable information about student performance and (according to Abby’ Jackson’s article) “may harm low-income students” due to the cultural bias inherent in the questions.  In a math exam today, I witnessed this first hand.   We have a student who is one of the most inspirational young artists I have ever known. She is creative and curious. She is a hard worker.  She speaks fluent English but it is not her first language. She is also a teenager and is dealing with all the uncertainty and confusion that adolescence carries.  On the exam, she raised her hand because she was unsure about what the question was asking her to do.  She sought clarification, clearly communicating that she knew there were two ways to approach this question but she wasn’t confident which one the question asked for.  According to our school policy, the IB policy, and, the global culture of exam invigilation we could not answer this question as it risked “helping” the student. The heartbreaking part is, this young lady wanted to share what she knew; she just wanted some clarification on which method she should show.  This is exactly how cultural bias can harm students.  Exam culture and rules prohibit teachers from helping kids, yet questions are written with an assumption that students “should” know what the question is asking.   We may not know if she could do the math because of how the question was phrased.  The cultural bias is real.

We do exams well at UAS.  They begin and end on time, students know not to talk and the tests are appropriately challenging.  On the other hand, the last two weeks have been disruptive.  Many parents have struggled with arranging transit to and from exams, some students have made poor choices under the stress of exams, classes have not run and teachers are loaded with marking.  I worry that next week our students and teachers will be exhausted and that the learning will suffer.  In my last two schools mid-term exams were removed and student grades went up as teachers chose more varied assessment methods. Mr. Torris did the same at his previous school and his IB scores remained the same.  During my principal’s coffee last week I asked parents if they would support the removal of mid-year exams for Grades 9 and 10. We would still keep finals and any KHDA mandated assessments such as the MAP tests.  Every parent I have spoken to has supported the idea.  Do you?


left: Cambridge Students taking exams in the 1900’s – image taken from

right: UAS students taking exams last week – image taken from my phone 🙂

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.

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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