By Sanaa Amrani Jai
Morocco World News
Fez, March 30, 2013
Assessment is one of the main important issues in education in general and in language teaching in particular. Teachers of second languages manage to put theories of second language teaching into practice; however, they can never assimilate the validity of the practiced theory unless they measure the learners’ success.
Measuring the learners’ success requires collecting information about the learner’s knowledge, skills, abilities and performance. This process of collecting data is what is referred to in applied linguistics as ‘assessment’. The aim of this essay is to highlight the notion of performance-based assessment and provide some insights into the alternative tools used in performance based assessment in E.F.L in Morocco.
According to Chapelle and Brinlley (2002), Assessment in language teaching and learning refers to the “act of collecting information and making judgments about the learner’s knowledge of a language and ability to use it” (Chapelle & Brinlley, 2002: 267). Still, Assessment can be considered more than a process of data collection and making judgments regarding the learner’s knowledge and abilities. It is viewed according to Linn and Gornland (2000) as “any of a variety of procedures used to obtain information about student performance” (Linn & Gornland, 2000: 32).
Broadly, assessment includes all kinds of ways to sample and observe student’s skills, knowledge and abilities. And, it can be formal or informal. To some extent, however, it is difficult to come up with an exact and comprehensive definition of what is really meant by assessment; because, “A comprehensive definition is yet to come” (Ouakrime, 2000).
There are two types of assessment, summative assessment and formative assessment. The former is testing- though testing and assessing are not used interchangeably- that follows instruction and assesses achievements. It provides a summary of accomplishment. In other words, as Ouakrime (2000: 60) claims, it is “the measurement of the extent to which a learner has been able to achieve the perceived aims or objectives of a given language teaching program” (ibid: 61).
It is also referred to as final assessment because it is believed to be the final decision regarding learners’ success or failure. This type of assessment does not demonstrate the desired potentials of the educational system in general. Due to this type of assessment, failed students still put the blame on the system of education as a whole because they do not assimilate the reason of their failure, as it is clearly stated by Ouakrime (2000): “Those who fail don’t know why they failed and tend to put the blame on the ‘system’ and those who are directly responsible for implementing it”. (ibid: 61).
Whereas formative assessment is a gradual way of testing, it is used before or during instruction for the purpose of planning and diagnosing. This type of assessment “has three main characteristics which distinguish it from a summative oriented evaluation: it is informative, participative and formative” (Ouakrime, 2000: 62). On the contrary, there is summative assessment, which is based on secret and final decisions that lead to ambiguity among failed students about the reason of their failure; the informative function of evaluation is a clarifying and an explanatory process for students. It is based on informing, as the term implies, the learners and making them knowledgeable about every single component in the course, including course description, content, units, purposes, methodology and assessment procedures, examination-model answer paper, examination scripts…,etc ( Ouakrime, 2002: 62).
As far as participative evaluation is concerned, it is a way of making students conscious about the fact that they are actively involved participants in their assessment. Students should be very conscious that they are active participants in their assessment. In terms of formative function, it is of crucial significance for students to understand the source of their weaknesses. And, it is important for the teachers to show this category of students what they need to do in order to overcome their weaknesses. It is through the teacher’s feedback that the learners become aware of their weaknesses. The critical response is important; hence, according to Brown (2004), “If assessment is to be integral to learning, feedback must be at the heart of the process”. (Brown, 2004: 83). Formative feedback is very significant and it is the solid corner in the learning process; learners are supposed to receive feedback through assignment return sheets, and assignment reports for example.
Assessment in English Language Teaching in Morocco requires performance-based –assessment because the Moroccan E.F.L classroom makes use of a standard-based –approach which focuses on preparing the students for the challenges of modern society.
The performance based assessment is a type of assessment which is based on authentic tasks during which learners are expected to demonstrate what they can do with English. In other words, it is the process of measuring how learners actively use their knowledge and skills to solve problems. In this regard, teachers are more inclined to select texts with different genres, to make sure that students are knowledgeable enough to construe the main ideas of any given texts.
For an effective assessment, teachers resort to multiple choices exams to assess students’ ability to understand and answer properly. In my opinion, however, multiple choices exams are not really effective for measuring students’ reading ability and text understanding. Since they are not based on justifications, students can gamble on any choice that can coincidently be correct and so the assessments results will by no means reflect students’ level.
I stand for summative examination because it obliges student to justify their answers and formulate arguments about the text ideas. In terms of writing, it would be beneficial to assign students appropriate tasks that fit students’ interests and meet their tendencies. Still, project work is a good opportunity in order to assess the students’ abilities and competencies. Teachers are supposed to make their students active participants in the classroom and outside of it. An example of an action plan is to ask the learners to think about an action plan, discuss it, and put it into practice. In projects, teachers are supposed to provide students with the main points they need to cover, as well as the procedures to be followed and timing. Last but not least, teachers are required to encourage and inspire students to give presentations and express their ideas.
To conclude, it is believed that healthy learning takes place when learners are able to think critically and rationally, take decisions and actions independently, share their views publicly, and communicate fluently.
Language learning, however, remains incomplete without assessment. Motivated learners show a high degree of awareness about the fact that they feel the responsibility of being involved in the process of assessment. That is why they are interested in learning how to learn and how to become active and lifelong learners. It is obvious that when the learners feel that they are dynamic integrated parts in both processes: learning and assessing; they directly participate in the construction of their knowledge and feel responsible to take charge of their own learning and to know what is needed for their success. Generally, assessment is supposed to fit for a purpose, there should be a clear rationale behind it. It should, above all, support the student’s learning process.
Brown. S, (2004) Assessment for Learning: Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, P. 81, Issue 1
Chapelle, C.A. & Bindley, G. (2000). Assessment, An Introduction to Applied Linguistics, Oxford University Press
The Ministry of National Education (2007). English Language Guidelines for Secondary Schools: Common core, first year, and second year baccalaureate. All streams and all sections. Morocco.
Ouakrime. M. (2000), The New Education Reform in Morocco: The Role of English: An Argument for a more Formative Approach to Assessment in ELT in Morocco, (ed) A. Zaki, Issue 8, P. 59- 66
Sanae Amrani Jai is a teacher of English in secondary high-school and a second year master student in Applied Language Studies and Research in Higher Education Master’s program at Sidi Mohmmed Ben Abdellah University, Fez. She obtained her B.A in 2009 after the completion of a research paper on the status of Moroccan women in Spain. Her research paper was based on translating the book “Our Immigrant Women in Spain” to its writer Kenza El Ghali. In addition to her Bachelor’s degree, she obtained a Diploma from E.N.S. (Superior National School) in 2011. She contributes in many community services to help orphans and left-behind children. Her interests are multidisciplinary: linguistics, sociolinguistics, culture, media, and theater. She is conducting a research about the different manifestations of theatricality in the Moroccan context.
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