Over the past year, members of the American College of Sofia community have been working to prepare a comprehensive self-study as part of our normal re-accreditation with the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. On October 21-24, a team of experts from MSA will conduct an inspection visit to verify the quality of both the College’s programs and its goals for improvement over the next seven years.
Even before this visiting team arrives, the self-study process has prompted us to make some changes in order to improve the quality of teaching and operations at ACS. We hope that you will see signs of these changes in the coming weeks and months, and that you will feel free to offer us feedback in order to help these initiatives succeed.
Goal 1: Raise students’ English language proficiency, and reduce performance gaps, between grades 8 and 12
Our self-study demonstrated that many of our students need more than a single year of English language immersion during the 8th grade in order to develop complete fluency in the language. Mastery of English is a necessity, not only for gaining admission and succeeding at university, but for succeeding academically at the College. Beginning this fall, we are therefore adding instructional time to the 9th grade English Language and Literature course which is explicitly focused on further developing students’ language fluency. We will also test all students in grades 8, 9 and 10 each spring using the Aptis, an English fluency test developed by the British Council, and we will use the results of that test and teacher recommendations to provide extra support to students who need it.
Goal 2: Improve student performance – and reduce attrition and stress – through more effective assessment, feedback and support
Many students and parents find ACS to be a challenging school academically, and last year many of them told us in surveys that they sometimes found the grading system to be unclear or frustrating. Students reported that they often did not know exactly what they needed to do in order to improve their grades. We took these reports very seriously, since a wide body of academic research shows that effective teacher feedback – especially feedback given in a “formative” manner, before the final grade is delivered – can have a powerful effect on student learning and satisfaction. In late September, the College invited noted American assessment experts Thomas Guskey and Lee Ann Jung to provide a two-day workshop for all teachers in order to help us improve in this area. Many teachers also attended a workshop in Vienna last spring with another assessment expert, Dylan Wiliam of the University of London. Starting this year, all teachers will begin using these “formative assessment” techniques in order to provide students more effective feedback for their learning. We will also take a closer look at other support systems for students, with the goal of making sure that grade level deans, advisors and teachers take early action and offer effective support when potential concerns are raised.
Goal 3: Improve stakeholder morale and performance through enhanced organizational communications
Members of the ACS community told us that we could do a better job of communicating about both daily operations and student performance. Parents were particularly concerned about what they described as a lack of real-time information about how their students were doing in classes. In response, last spring we launched Engrade as our official online gradebook. While initial reports have been very positive, we will continue to refine our use of this technology in order to provide both students and parents with useful and timely feedback. We also plan this year to conduct a systematic review of external and internal communications, with the goal of reducing points of frustration and finding ways to better support our mission of educating students.
We welcome your suggestions and input as we carry out these goals. We plan to survey all parents, students and staff annually to measure our progress, and will also provide opportunities for members of the community to offer more detailed feedback. Your candid support has already made an important difference as we strive to improve the American College of Sofia, and we hope that you will join us in developing a “culture of improvement” in the years to come.
Faculty Development Coordinator
Internal Coordinator for Accreditation