Using CAT4 to identify gifted students and support those with additional learning needs

Founded in 1885, St Andrew’s Cathedral School is an independent Anglican co-educational day school, located in the heart of Sydney’s central business district. With multiple campuses, the school welcomes around 1,450 students from Kindergarten through to Year 12, forming a strong learning community that nurtures the individual strengths of each student. St Andrew’s Cathedral School offers both the Higher School Certificate (HSC) and the International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme.

Estee Stephenson was appointed as Head of Gifted Education in 2019. One of her priorities on joining was to review how the school were identifying students to be included in their gifted programme. Estee explains more: “When I joined I inherited spreadsheets of data and quickly realised that there was a disconnect between the identification measure that we were using and what we were actually seeing in the classroom. The measure was based on achievement, not on ability, and was therefore not identifying gifted students in line with best practice.

"This led me to carry out research on alternative measures, and I was recommended GL Education’s Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT4). This assesses students’ developed abilities in four areas known to make a difference to learning and achievement – verbal, non-verbal, quantitative and spatial reasoning – helping to identify students who are high achievers, have the potential to achieve more and those who may need support in certain areas.

Key outcomes:

  1. 1

    CAT4 enables schools to not only identify their gifted students, but to differentiate within this group to inform support and development needs

  2. 2

    The data provides insights across the ability spectrum including SEND and EAL

  3. 3

    The data also supports parental discussions and can help inform future curriculum and subject choices

I trust CAT4 and the data it generates. I know that it's valid. I know that it's reliable. That is hugely important.

Estee Stephenson, Head of Gifted Education, St Andrew's Cathedral School, Sydney, Australia

"I spent time putting together a discussion paper on best practice in gifted identification and submitted it to the senior executive team who gave me the go ahead to trial CAT4 on a sample of Year 9 students. This meant that we could look at the reports and better understand what they would look like within our own context, with students who we already know. We found a strong correlation between the data that CAT4 was giving us and our internal data, including MYP term scores, NAPLAN and other psychometric data that we had on these students – which gave us the confidence that CAT4 was a good fit for our needs.

"Once we had established that CAT4 was what we needed, I put forward a proposal for it to be rolled out more widely, replacing our previous measure. This was signed off in December 2019, with a plan to begin to test in 2020. Due to the pandemic this had to be postponed, but we did our first testing in January 2021.”

Using the data

The school is still at a relatively early point in their journey of using CAT4, but have already seen major benefits. Estee explains more: “I use the data as an ability baseline and for gifted identification. Our learning support department also have the data and use it for further screening and teachers have access to the data for differentiation in the classroom.

"We import all of the CAT4 data into our student management system, so that it sits on each student’s profile page. When a teacher logs in and looks at an individual student, they can now see both their NAPLAN scores and their CAT4 scores.

"The CAT4 information is imported into our data dashboards via Power BI so that we can analyse it in a number of ways. For the gifted programme, I can explore questions such as ‘how are my verbally gifted students doing in English?’ and can see via a system of colour coding whether the students in that group are on track or whether there are potential problems. The dashboard is updated every 24 hours – and is therefore a live reflection of what’s happening in the classroom. This means that we can clearly see when either myself or my team need to intervene.”

school girls holding hands in corridor

We found a strong correlation between the data that CAT4 was giving us and our internal data.

Estee Stephenson, Head of Gifted Education, St Andrew's Cathedral School, Sydney, Australia

Benefiting the whole school

It soon became clear that the new assessment would be beneficial across the whole senior school, and could support all teaching and learning – not just the gifted programme.

Estee explains: “What’s interesting is that this was a gifted problem – we didn’t know who our most gifted students were – but then going through the options and finding a solution, ended up being a solution for everybody. It’s not just for the gifted kids, it's not just for the English as an Additional Language (EAL) kids, it’s for the whole school.

"We are now able to identify students who come to us with a learning support profile but who we can identify as gifted. Our previous measure was not able to do this as it was just based on performance. This is life changing for some students. For example, one student came to us last year with a hearing impairment – and no-one knew that the student was gifted. Through the CAT4 data we were able to identify this student’s potential and place them in the gifted classes last year and they aced them.”

The CAT4 data also helps discussions with parents. Estee explains: “In the past we have had parental complaints about class placements. Last year we didn’t have any complaints at all, meaning that our identification has improved and parents are reassured that we’re seeing what they see at home and we are making the appropriate placements."

Supporting the team in being responsive

The school use CAT4 with every student as they enter Year 7 – but also with everyone who joins the senior school at a later point. The previous test was only administered in Year 6, and if a student joined after that then data wasn’t generated for them. Estee outlines the benefits: “Now every student who is new to the school does the test, which means that we have data available on every senior school student."

St Andrew’s Cathedral School makes use of the IB and MYP indicators to determine if intervention services might be needed for underachieving students. Estee explains: “I had a student who scored high on CAT4 but the student has a learning disability and there was a disconnect with the student’s achievements. We realised that this student wasn’t receiving any accommodations, so learning support were able to intervene and arrange adjustments for the students’ assessments. The student’s achievement levels have improved, now that the accommodations are in place.”

The team are now developing how the classroom teachers make use of the data. Estee explains: “My next focus is improving the data literacy of our classroom teachers. Our heads of department, heads of wellbeing, learning support and gifted team are all now well versed in CAT4, so I plan to look further at supporting our teachers in exploring and making the most of the data for differentiation and planning.”

children in classroom with girl staring attentively

We are now able to identify students who come to us with a learning support profile but who we can identify as gifted.

Estee Stephenson, Head of Gifted Education, St Andrew's Cathedral School, Sydney, Australia

In conclusion

The school has seen a huge improvement in their ability to identify and support their gifted students. Estee explains: “The difference in the gifted data now that we’re using CAT4 is enormous. Previously I’d just be able to identify a large group of students who were supposedly gifted, but I couldn’t dig deeper into that and untangle where they sit within the range of gifted abilities. Now with CAT4 I can put them into groups and provide service and acceleration to meet their needs. I trust CAT4 and the data it generates. I know that it's valid. I know that it's reliable. That is hugely important.”

The process of implementation has also been positive. Estee explains: “The customer support that we’ve received has been extraordinary. People think that I’m some kind of CAT4 data guru, but the information I’ve got has been from all the excellent information provided through the GL Education website, through training videos, the detailed Strategies for Learning handbook and through customer support. If I have a question, then the GL team are always there to help. Schools are busy places, so there’s no time to take many weeks to answer a query. GL always get back to me with help and support rapidly, and that’s what I find so valuable.”

The impact has been seen so clearly in the senior school, CAT4 has now been taken on in St Andrew’s Primary School, where colleagues are using it at key points in Years 4 and 6.

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