Foxhills Technology School
Coincidentally, it was at this time that I was asked to organise and run a Summer Literacy Scheme for Foxhills. The Government criteria for this scheme was that the students selected should be at least one grade lower in their SATs results at KS2 for English, than they were for their SATs results in Mathematics. It also stated that they should be level 3-4 in Mathematics and level 2-3 in English. These criteria meant that I was likely to get many dyslexic students attending the scheme.
This group of students provided a perfect target group to screen using LASS 11-15. There were some 30 students in all and when tested, I found that I was presented with 20 printouts that suggested those particular students were dyslexic. We were particularly interested in the Reasoning results LASS presented us with, especially when compared to the behaviour profiles of some of the students. Many of the students with dyslexic profiles had somewhat ‘challenging’ behaviour.
The Summer Literacy Scheme was designed specifically for dyslexic students, but also aimed at catering for non-dyslexic students. The teachers delivering the scheme were fantastically dedicated and talented, They viewed my use of LASS as interesting and innovative. I appreciated their skills, abilities and professionalism in using the data to influence their teaching and delivery of the scheme of work. The result of this very successful two-week course was that the students really had a fantastic time; learned a great deal; never stopped working, including in the evenings according to parents; and were keen and eager to start at Foxhills Technology School in the September. The Scheme had also resulted in the teaching staff being made aware of the benefits of LASS.
Both schools very quickly became aware of the potential of using LASS 11-15 and wished to extend its usage accordingly. For St. Hugh’s this was relatively easy, as it is a small school. For Foxhills Technology School, which had assessment arrangements already in place, the story was a rather different one. A greater number of students gave bigger practical problems.
Foxhills Technology School assessed its students on entry by giving them the Cognitive Abilities Tests (CAT), as well as by using National Curriculum data, SATs results and information from the ‘feeder schools’. The CAT is a means of assessing students’ verbal, nonverbal and quantitative reasoning and is done via a paper-based system. The administration is carried out under examination conditions and the papers have to be sent away for marking. The results are usually returned some 4–6 weeks later. Although this was not a particularly easy method of assessing the students, the school had found it worthwhile and had operated this system for quite a few years.
A particular disadvantage of the CATs tests at Foxhills Technology School was that the school hall had to be booked for a few days whilst all of a particular year group were tested. This caused some inconvenience, which was compounded by the teaching staff having to be released from their normal timetables to cover the adjudication of the CATs. Cover-lists for supervision were the outcome, with resultant disruption, although good organisation kept this to a minimum. The tests were delayed in being sent away for marking as it usually takes about one term for the Year 7 population to ‘settle’ and any late arrivals to the school were tested throughout the term. When the school felt that the student population was stabilised, then the tests were sent away for marking and the results eagerly awaited.
LASS was soon appreciated as an assessment tool that was both useful and speedy. Indeed, the teachers quickly recognised how good it was for its job and its usage was extended, with the result that any student, who was causing concern in any way, was duly assessed using LASS. The advantages were obvious for, within an hour, I could assess a student accurately, and provide a printout that would be clear and easy to interpret. One could recognise at a glance the potential of the individual student. Not only did LASS give a good estimate of IQ, but it also gave us the reading centile, spelling centile and other diagnostic results. From this battery of data, one can quickly identify if the student is likely to be dyslexic or have other learning difficulties.
LASS 11-15 was used for students who:
1. Arrived in the school with no documentation and the Year Heads were unsure as to which set to put them in.
2. Arrived in school on any stage of the SEN Code of Practice.
3. Were a concern to a teacher, e.g. by not appearing to work at a level equivalent to the peer group or setting group, or whose behaviour was a little challenging.
4. Had parents who requested a test or screening for dyslexia.
5. Requested that they be tested for dyslexia.
6. Were not achieving similar grades for literacy as they were for numeracy.
7. Appeared to be assigned to wrong sets.
Our response to the student’s needs could be implemented within minutes of the completion of the LASS assessments; including responding to parents and consulting them. These advantages were discussed and the school, which is often at the leading edge in using ICT, decided to network LASS, so that whole classes and year groups could be assessed.
Implemeting LASS 11-15 at Foxhills
Although LASS is a relatively new and quite different form of assessment, for specialist teachers who are used to assessing students, its usage is easy to assimilate. However, for classroom and subject teachers, LASS presents a new approach and concept. Many classroom teachers are not involved with diagnostic assessments or administering them. Indeed, many might not be aware of the advantages of, or need for, this type of screening.
It is therefore very important to have initial awareness training sessions for all staff. The second stage is for those members of staff who are likely to administer LASS to be trained on how to carry out the assessment. The third stage is training in interpreting and using the data. This training enables the teachers to have ownership of the system, as well as empowerment, so that they can have greater involvement in using the information. These data can help them in being aware of the students’ needs, learning styles and through this knowledge, help determine their lesson content and delivery. By taking this approach, the school is using LASS to the benefit of everyone, the staff, the students and, through the latter, the parents.
The staff at Foxhills were already aware that for students who had barely left a Year 6 primary classroom environment, being placed under examination conditions, which are known to cause stress even to accustomed Year 11 students, was not necessarily the best approach to take. Some students were so overawed that they just froze in their chairs. Some looked totally lost, with their feet swinging away, as their legs were too short to reach the floor. Some, who possibly felt they had already failed at a paper-based system, were disengaged from the first sentence. Some students also had a phonological processing deficit and did not clearly understand the instructions, even when repeated slowly. This was possibly compounded by the use of the large hall, with resultant acoustic problems. Therefore, for a significant number of students, the tests were not reliable. This is not to criticise the tests in themselves, but the environment in which they had to be administered. Indeed, within the limitations of conventional assessments the CAT tests are very good and were deemed by the school to be the best option at that point in time.
Many schools are looking to increase examination results and thus to identify a source of students who are possibly not achieving their true potential. Dyslexic students are unable to access the curriculum within the classroom as well as their peers, with consequent lower examination results. By using LASS the school can quickly identify the dyslexic students. Following this, the school can target the provision of appropriate support for those students to enable better access to the curriculum. This will result in those students achieving subsequent higher grades in their examinations, and benefits all concerned.
The advantages of LASS 11-15
The following list gives some of the main advantages of LASS 11-15 that were noted by the staff at Foxhills:
- It is easy to administer.
- It takes about one hour to administer (indeed, all we had to do was ask the teacher who was responsible for the ICT lesson with a particular class, to spend one double lesson, about one hour, in doing the LASS 11-15 testing; this caused no disruption).
- At the end of the hour, the school can have the results instantly.
- The results are not only for reasoning ability (IQ), but also for reading ability and spelling.
- The results also contained extra diagnostic information, which the school finds particularly useful.
- The battery of information provided is very useful to all staff.
- The students enjoy the testing immensely.
- The students find it a non-stressful environment — indeed, often laughing and enjoying the session.
- In trial testing, no student was disengaged by the LASS assessment tool, so the school had a reliable set of data for every student.
- If a student is absent, it is easy for the school to arrange for the assessment to be done on return.
- Late arrivals at the school can be tested at the earliest convenient opportunity.
- The teachers preferred LASS, stating how much easier it is to administer. They also found it interesting.
- The SENCo soon realised the potential of LASS, as did other senior staff within the school.
When implementing any new system of screening or assessment, especially when this is being applied to large groups of students, there are inevitable practical problems that must be addressed.
1. There is a training implication for the staff and possible costs attached to this.
2. Time constraints on staff when trying to fit in the necessary training. Without this the staff will not be aware of the potential of the program and its advantages might not be fully realised.
3. For the training to occur, senior managers within the school have to be aware of the advantages of LASS as its implementation needs to come from the top. Without that support LASS usage will be limited, possibly to the SEN department. However, even then it will prove very useful.
4. The printing out of the LASS profiles for every student can be a time-consuming task. This can be solved by:
a) printing only the summary data per student, or
b) by providing a network machine with a local printer, which can be left running. In any year group there can be many printouts to do, and this can take as long as one minute per printout. A dedicated printer must be located where the students cannot access the hard copies as they are being printed, as this is private and confidential information which students will not wish their peers to see and know about. The solution at Foxhills is that in my office one of the computers is due to be networked and the printer will be designated to do the printing. I oversee this process and ensure that privacy is maintained, along with also ensuring that the printer does not run out of paper or ink cartridges.
5. Headphones are required for the LASS program and so it is essential that these are available. It is necessary to have enough headphones for one set per machine, and if there are three or more networks in the school, locating the headphones, or obtaining enough of them, can be problematic.
6. It is also essential that there is technical support available, so that the technician can ensure that the sound is working on each computer and that everything is operating as it should.
7. The previous point implies that technical staff also need to be aware of the importance of LASS. It would be preferable for the technical staff to attend the training given to the teachers, so that they can share the knowledge and thus understand what the school is doing.
8. A printed guide should be provided for the staff, setting out the way to access the LASS program, and how to go through the various screens, including the passwords. I also included which tests to do and in what order.
9. The staff, in their training, need to be aware that LASS is an important assessment tool and that the lesson must follow examination standard rules.
10. The latter point means that the use of supply staff who have not been trained, is not really advisable for administering LASS.