Implementing Learning-Oriented Assessment in Egyptian Schools: A Case Study

Wael Amer

Introduction

Learning-oriented assessment (LOA) represents a recent orientation to considering assessment an integral part of the learning process rather than a distinctive evaluative intervention which aims at “recording students’ achievement” (Turner 8c Purpura, 2016, p. 255). Therefore, assessment from this perspective is valuable as long as it is directly related to learning outcomes and leverages the ongoing growth and development of students’ competencies both inside the classroom and beyond (Boud &c Soler, 2016). LOA, thus, can be considered a further development and consolidation of previous research about formative assessment, assessment for learning, and assessment as learning (Assessment Reform Group, 2002; Black & Wiliam, 1998b; Dann, 2014; see also Chapter 2 in this volume) for more information about these different concepts. It represents an approach to assessment which prioritizes the continuous development of students’ learning and growth over the other measurement-based usage of assessment processes, interventions, and results (Carless, 2007, 2015; Carless et al., 2006). Such an approach is based on three over-arching principles that emphasize the necessity of designing assessment tasks, stimulating students’ learning and achievement, engaging the students in designing assessment tasks, and assessing their own performance as well as their peers’. It also stresses the importance of timely and forward-looking feedback which supports students’ current and future learning (Carless, 2007).

While numerous attempts can be traced in the literature to investigating the implementation of LOA in Western contexts, there is little attention dedicated to this issue in the Egyptian context in spite of the numerous reform efforts and professional development interventions dedicated to enhancing Egyptian language teachers’ capacity to design and utilize LOA in their classes.

This study, therefore, addresses this gap in the language assessment domain and investigates the implementation of LOA in Arabic and English classes in a major education reform initiative in Egypt, in a group of schools offering K-12 education following the British curriculum in collaboration with Cambridge Assessment. The originality of the present study lurks in the connections it makes between the fields of first and second language instruction (Arabic and English languages, respectively) and the realities of implementing LOA. Hence, this study attempts to bridge the gap between the theory and practice of LOA in the Egyptian context.

Feedback as an Element of LOA

The concept of feedback historically serves as leverage or a scaffold that bridges the gap between the students’ current or actual learning/perfor- mance and their target levels. As defined by Ramaprasad (1983), feedback refers to “information about the gap between the actual level and the reference level of a system parameter which is used to alter the gap in some way” (p. 4). This definition indicates a powerful connection between learning outcomes/targets, classroom-based assessment (which generates information about the performance/learning gap), and feedback, which enables "the learner to close the gap between current and desired performance" (Boyd et al., 2019, p. 19). Such feedback may prove to be invaluable for both students and teachers (Ramaprasad, 1983; Sadler, 1989). Students, on the one hand, may understand the gaps between their desired goals and their current knowledge, understanding, and/or skills, as well as the procedures required to bridge this gap. Teachers, on the other hand, may be able to evaluate the effectiveness of their instructional activities and interventions, and make any necessary modifications. In other words, feedback “may direct teacher attention to what needs to be taught and pupil attention to what needs to be learnt” (Hall & Burke, 2003, p. 53). Therefore, feedback is an integral part of teaching and learning where the results of assessment contribute to improving students’ learning.

The fact that LOA generates information (feedback) about gaps in students’ learning and/or performance does not make feedback effective in itself. Sadler (1998) maintains that “feedback, however detailed, will not lead to improvement until a pupil understands both the feedback and how to use it in the context of their own work” (cited in Hall &c Burke, 2003, p. 58). Along the same lines, Rea-Dickins (2001) maintains that “it is what is done with the feedback that contributes to whether it is effective in promoting processes of teaching and learning” (p. 457). This means that it is the students’ “uptake” of feedback, i.e., their responses to the teachers’ feedback, which makes it “learning oriented” or supportive to teaching and learning. According to Black and Wiliam (1998b), “good feedback” may often require “training pupils in self-assessment” and allowing them various “opportunities to express their understanding and thus initiate the interaction.” It is this interaction during LOA which involves “good feedback” and promotes the processes of teaching and learning (pp. 9-13).

As far as rhe outcomes of LOA are concerned, i.e., the types of feedback, the Assessment Reform Group (1999) elaborates on two types: feedback and feed-forward. Feedback, as broadly accepted, guides or informs students of “what they should be aiming for: the standard against which [they] can compare their work,” while feed-forward is “feedback [which seeks to] provide pupils with the skills and strategies for taking the next steps in learning” ( pp. 3-8). Based on a significant empirical study, moreover, Tunstall and Gipps (1996) have devised a taxonomy of feedback that differentiates between “evaluative” (or judgmental) and “descriptive” (or task-related) feedback. According to the authors, “evaluative feedback” can be “either positive or negative” where “judgements are made according to explicit or implicit norms,” whereas “descriptive feedback” is “achievement or improvement focused” and “relates to actual competence” (Tunstall & Gipps, 1996, p. 393).

Recent developments in LOA, however, emphasize feedback as "a process through which learners make sense of information from various sources and use it to enhance their work or learning strategies" (Carless & Boud, 2018, p. 1315). On the one hand, this emphasis highlights feedback as a negotiation (or two-way communication) process between teachers and students in comparison with the traditional mono-directional, teacher-focused understanding of feedback. On the other hand, it places a greater emphasis on the student’s role in “meaning making” as a central agent in the learning process. More recent practices, such as “reflective feedback conversations” (Ducasse & Hill, 2019), have been inspired by this multi-directional understanding of feedback, which leads to integrating both cognitive and metacognitive development of students in the learning process.

 
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