A Critical Take on the Current Assessment Policy
A number of areas for improvement in the current assessment policy were identified by me, which are summarized in the following points.
Mismatch between Learning Outcomes and Test Content
Usually tests are aligned to learning targets in order to assess the degree to which these targets have been achieved. For this reason, test specifications are usually designed to reflect this alignment, and test tasks are selected based on this premise. However, it is difficult in Egyptian schools to meet these requirements for a wide range of reasons. The large number of students in classes makes it difficult for teachers to assess all learning outcomes. As a result, teachers usually use traditional item formats that are easy to write and score. For example, most of the test tasks tend to target grammar, vocabulary, and reading - and objective items are usually the most common. As indicated earlier, listening and speaking are rarely tested either because of a lack of equipment (for listening) or because of practicality concerns with regard to the assessment of speaking. Writing also does not receive due attention given the demanding nature of performance assessment, particularly in areas related to test administration and scoring.
Assessment Literacy of Teachers
Assessment literacy of teachers is one of the cornerstones needed for successful implementation of an educational policy. Research has shown a positive relationship between the level of assessment knowledge and teachers’ self-efficacy (Gebril & Eid, 2017; Jager et al., 2012). When teachers are assessment-literate, they tend to have confidence in the way they execute instructional tasks. There are two teacher training tracks in Egypt: pre-service teacher education and in-service teacher training programs. Research has identified a number of areas that could be improved. For example, Gebril and Taha-Tamure (2014) lament the poor quality of teacher education programs for language teachers in the Middle East in general, and Egypt is no exception. When it comes to assessment literacy, pre-service teachers do not usually receive the required knowledge and skills. Many teacher education programs do not offer a course in language assessment. The alternative for those prospective teachers is to take a course in educational assessment that is typically offered to students from different disciplines in a one-size-fits-all manner. A second option is to cover assessment issues in a session or two as part of the methods course. Designing practical and efficient in-service training programs for public school teachers is critical for addressing this issue. In this context, a mechanism for monitoring and evaluating the sustainability and effectiveness of such programs should also be established with clear indicators and targets. I would argue that previous attempts to introduce formative assessment tools in schools were not successful partly because teachers did not have the basic assessment knowledge to implement these changes. As we all know, formative assessment is demanding and tends to heavily draw on teachers’ experiences and knowledge about assessment.
Teachers’ Beliefs about Assessment
Research (Fives & Buehl, 2012) has shown that teachers’ beliefs shape how they conceive of policy innovations, guide their behavior, and filter out inappropriate aspects. Teachers’ beliefs about assessment do not generally receive due attention when introducing a new policy in Egyptian schools. I believe that the way teachers perceive assessment substantially affects the way a policy is implemented in schools. Research has shown that Egyptian teachers give more weight to the accountability function of assessment (Gebril & Brown, 2014). The results also showed a strong relationship between using assessment for improvement and school accountability purposes. The authors argue that it is expected in examination-driven contexts, such as Egyptian schools, to link test scores to both improvement and school accountability. For this reason, high scores on exams are usually associated with school quality. While test performance could be used as an indicator of school quality, it does not give us the complete picture. Teachers, policymakers, and other stakeholders need to consider other indicators to get a better sense of instructional quality at large.
Use of Assessment Results
One of the main purposes of collecting assessment data is to inform instructional practices and address weaknesses in student performance. A related problem I see in Egyptian schools has to do with the way assessment results are used. Given the focus on summative assessment, many opportunities are missed to improve teaching and learning activities. While summative assessment is mainly used to make exit and admission decisions, it could also be exploited to provide feedback to teachers, schools, and students. A substantial amount of data is gathered from the TAE as hundreds of thousands of students take the test annually. However, the Ministry of Education does not allow access to data for researchers who might be interested in investigating relevant issues in this context. The Ministry also does not have a research agenda around the TAE, and consequently no validation work is regularly carried out and shared with the public. On a related note, students do not usually receive feedback about their test performance that could help them identify areas for improvement.
Work Conditions in Schools
Egyptian public schools tend to have large class sizes, with the number of students in a single class usually exceeding 40. This large number makes it extremely difficult for teachers to execute their daily tasks, including assessment. For this reason, summative assessment practices tend to be more practical since formative activities are difficult to implement with such a large number of students within one class. In addition, many of these schools are understaffed, and as a result teachers’ working hours are extended to make up for this shortage. What adds to these perplexing realities is the lack of resources that are needed to implement current policies. Moreover, teachers do not get compensated for the additional work they execute, given the absence of incentives. On a related note, Egyptian teachers have permanent positions, and consequently schools cannot fire a teacher on the grounds of poor performance.