Arabic language teachers’ conceptions of assessment and the hidden tension between accountability and improvement in Egyptian schools

Authored by: Atta Gebril

The Routledge Handbook of Arabic Linguistics

Print publication date:  January  2018
Online publication date:  December  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138783331
eBook ISBN: 9781315147062
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315147062-33

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Abstract

Assessment of Arabic as a first language in different settings in the Arab countries, especially in the Egyptian context, has been dominated by practices endorsing the accountability functions of assessment (Gebril and Taha-Thomure 2014). In such a context, assessment results are usually used to either hold students accountable for their academic performance or as an indicator of school quality. Summative assessment tools, mostly in the form of final exams, are often the main evidence for making instructional decisions. These summative-oriented practices have created a language learning context where exams are given priority over real learning in classes, where activities are geared toward test preparation activities rather than developing real learning. A term associated with such activities that focus on test-taking strategies rather than real learning is “teaching-to-the-test” (Crocker 2006). The central problem here lies in the fact that developing language proficiency is sacrificed; enhancing test performance comes at the expense of real improvement in language ability. While preparing students for exams is not a bad practice and has many advantages, too much emphasis on these activities can hinder students from achieving their actual learning goals (Gebril and Eid, in press). In addition, many of the Arabic tests use assessment tasks that are not authentic and do not reflect everyday activities, or what is called “target language use tasks” (Bachman and Palmer 2010). These tests typically include objective test items such as multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and gap-filling activities. As a result, students spend their time on activities that are not helpful in the language situations they might encounter. Another problem associated with endorsing a summative approach to language assessment is the missed opportunity for improvement and development. As summative tests are administered by the end of the course, teachers and students alike cannot adequately benefit from the resulting data in improving instructional practices. When assessment tools are used frequently in classes, not only in the form of a final exam, to gather information about the progress of students and the learning difficulties they encounter, this practice can lead to data-driven instructional decisions. Such an approach can help refine both teaching and learning activities and is typically referred to in the literature as “formative assessment”, and more recently as “assessment for learning”, or “learning-oriented assessment”. In this chapter, I will use the term “assessment for learning” (hereafter AfL) to refer to tasks that endorse a formative and improvement-oriented approach to assessment.

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