American International School Dubai is a private, independent institution that serves students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 (ages 3 to 18). The school caters to a mainly native-Arabic speaking population taught by predominantly Jordanian teachers, though the language of instruction is stated as English.
American International School has been rated Acceptable for the eleventh year in a row (since inspections began) in the 2018-19 KHDA inspection process. An abbreviated inspection report can be found under the Inspection report tab. An update to this review will be completed once the full report has been published.
The story so far...
American International School (AIS) is a private, independent institution that serves students from Kindergarten to Grade 12. It has an international programme of studies which is designed to "meet the needs of the multinational community in the UAE". The school was inaugurated in August 2003 and (as evidenced by its student numbers) has evidently enjoyed the strong support from the community since its commencement in September 2003. According to the Principal’s introduction “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world, said Nelson Mandela”.
The school's current roll is 2605 students from KG to Grade 12. Students are supported by 174 teachers and a further 20 teaching assistants. Staff turnover – at 30% - is above the average for Dubai of 20-22%. Unless staff are being “let go” in order to improve teaching standards, such a level of turnover should be a concern as an indicator of a stable school environment.
The school’s website states that AIS “is a state-of-the-art school that will provide the tools and guidance to allow students to sift through the massive information and make informed decisions. AIS is the place for students who are willing to accept the challenge of excellence, dedicated to becoming global citizens with pride in their culture and an appreciation for the cultures of the world. In our students, we inspire a passion for learning, encouraging emotional and intellectual vitality, and empower them with the confidence and courage to contribute to the global community and to achieve their dreams.”
At American International School Dubai, boys and girls study in mixed classes from Kindergarten to Grade 3, after which classes are separated by gender. High school girls have been relocated into a newly constructed section which also houses the computer-based examination hall.
Approximately three quarters of students speak Arabic as their first language and instruction is provided in both English and in Arabic. Approximately 19% of the student body comes from local families, an increase from previous academic years.
There is an interesting focus on school discipline which is mentioned in both the School History and also the Principal’s message – “In order to have a safe and orderly school, where students can learn effectively, we believe that guidelines and proper regulations regarding students’ behavior must exist. These regulations should be respected and adhered to by all students and parents alike”. This is evidently a focus of the leadership.
What about the curriculum?
American International School follows a US curriculum based upon Common Core State Standards aligned to California State for English and Mathematics, and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The school is currently accredited by Advanc-ed, but will undertake NEASC accreditation to improve the quality of education – this is a requirement for all US curriculum schools in Dubai that has been mandated by the KHDA. The school is a registered centre for SAT exams and Advanced Placement courses (for US College entrance). It carries out MAP testing to establish progress against standardized tests, together with CAT4 testing for students in grades 4, 6, 8 and 10 at the start of the academic year.
Indeed, there appears to be a strong emphasis on testing – there are three types of internal assessments used, firstly, to determine the students’ current level and assess previous knowledge, then formative assessment that plays a key role in a continual ongoing assessment and lastly, summative assessment that measures the overall performance of the student at the end of each term and at the end of the year.
The school advises parents that “Formative and summative assessments are the backbone of any classroom. They provide teachers with the information they need in order to measure student progress in the class. Teachers are expected to use formative and summative assessments to guide and analyze their teaching in order to provide the best Learning asks the question: How can assessment are used to help students learn more? Formative assessments should be informal and frequent. Class discussions, homework questions and quizzes are all examples of formative assessments. Summative assessments are more formal, such as tests, essays and projects. They usually happen at the end of a unit of study.” Parents are invited to attend formal meetings with teachers during Parents/Teacher conferences organized once a semester and receive quarterly report cards.
What about academic achievement?
AIS does not publish any details of students' achievement at either SAT, AP or other college entry exams. They advise only that students leave the school with the award of a High School Diploma. To graduate, a student must pass (with a minimum of 60%) courses in English, Mathematics, One Science, Two other electives of their choice, Arabic and Islamic Studies for Muslim students.
What the inspectors say
The school's KHDA report is mixed: American International School Dubai has maintained an Acceptable ranking for the last nine years and has not shown urgency driving through the improvements Dubai's education regulator has recommended. With all of these assessments and, therefore, data that teachers have about student progress, we have to ask why the school is rated only as Acceptable – the minimum standard of the KHDA for schools in Dubai.
Answers can be found in the most recent KHDA inspection report which shows the need to accelerate progress and raise attainment in all subjects, particularly in the Elementary and KG phases and to ensure that teachers analyze assessment data rigorously and effectively. It seems that though teachers may have the data available to them, they are not making effective use of it. Additional recommendations include the need to enhance the curriculum by providing more opportunities for students to think critically.
Previous inspections have also noted good attainment and progress in Arabic as a first language – hardly surprising since the majority of students are native Arabic speakers - and good teaching in the high school phase. Further strengths included strong personal and social development and the provision of a safe, secure, and supportive school environment.
The 2016/17 inspection shows that teaching in both the KG and Elementary levels does not support the development of students’ learning skills effectively. Experimentation, critical thinking, and advanced problem solving are not well developed. Assessment processes are not rigorous and this produces an inaccurate and inflated picture of students’ mastery. There is an evident need for AIS to provide targeted professional development for KG and for Elementary teachers to help them identify how younger children learn best, as well as to help children to develop independence and choice within lessons. Given that the Early Years are fundamental to student progress throughout their school lives, this must be a concern for parents.
The critical areas of both student and school self-assessment (Inspectors note that the school’s self-evaluation processes are inhibited by ineffective use of assessment data) are still fundamental issues that are impacting AIS’s ability to deliver effective teaching to many of its students, although those in the High school do achieve Good or better progress. Interestingly, when surveyed by the KHDA prior to the last inspection, almost all teachers believed that there is a good standard of education offered and that students learn well because of good teaching. However, a significant minority of parents do not believe that their child is adequately developing skills necessary for them to learn independently.
The parents’ feedback is supported by the Inspectors. The latest report notes that whilst the school is focused on improving the process of developing innovative lessons and increasing the opportunities for students to investigate and research independently, too many students remain passive learners and simply follow the direction of their teachers. Students who are provided with opportunities to learn independently, with little guidance from their teachers, are accepting more responsibility for their own learning.
Despite concerns that parents may have indicated to the KHDA, relationships with parents are strong. The school states that parents play an essential and positive role in the life of an independent school. Not only are parents advocates for their children, but they also support the faculty and administration through extensive volunteer activities and events.
Unusually (and positively) in our experience, AIS maintains an open door policy in welcoming parents to visit their children’s classrooms to see them in action. Pre-arranged observations are preferred, so that there are no conflicts in the schedule or disrupting a testing session. Informal conferences or conversations are encouraged and may also be scheduled with teachers or School leaders at any time throughout the year.
AIS also welcomes its parents' active participation in ongoing activities and voluntary programmes. Parents can contribute their expertise and time for Annual concerts, Fundraisers, the Cultural Program of the school and are encouraged to give their suggestions on the improvement of the school. They may also participate in Field Trips and Workshops.
The Governing Board supports the school in its development, but has not held leaders to account for its actions and outcomes regarding school improvement. They do not challenge leaders when variations from expected student learning outcomes occur. Their oversight of and influence in, the formation of the school's self-evaluation data has been minimal. Consequently, they have an inaccurate view of the school's performance.
Importantly, though, the Governing Board members are committed to improve the infrastructure and academic outcomes for the school's students. Significant capital is being invested into infrastructure and staffing allocations. The impact of these actions to improve outcomes for students is at an early stage, but the willingness of the owners to make this investment is a positive sign.
What about facilities?
There is very little information about school facilities available, but the KHDA inspectors also note that the school facilities are purposefully designed and there is adequate provision for the access of disabled persons. Play areas are appropriately equipped for physical exercise and care is taken to ensure safety in these areas. A new KG Centre provides additional opportunities for children to learn and play with a sense of independence and choice.
Whilst AIS appears to be a school that genuinely cares about its students, it seems that there is quite some way to go before the quality of the education provided will meet the aspirations of the Principal and other leaders. “American International School is a school that strives to develop a love for learning in each student. Our aim is to foster independent learners, skilled communicators and inquiring students who are willing to challenge the accepted and move into the unknown”.
School fees are relatively affordable, and range from AED 11,842 for KG rising to AED 19,100 plus for Grade 12. American International School Dubai school fees will have been constrained by its current rating.
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