Students Assessment Approaches in the UAE

Introduction

According to a report by Garrison and Ehringhaus (2011, p. 1, para. 1), the approach that is used in assessing students is slowly changing because of the changing social demands. For a long time, students’ assessment was primarily based on academic performance. Excellence in academic performance was the only parameter used to assess students in formal learning institutions. However, the emerging socio-economic forces are redefining assessment techniques that learning institutions should use. Schools should offer students a platform where they can develop academically, socially, and economically to become useful members of society in different ways. Student-focused learning is increasingly becoming popular to ensure that students take full control of their development. In the past, learning could not occur in the absence of teachers because the entire process was teacher-centered. However, things are changing, and students are increasingly becoming empowered (Hamm, 2013, p. 14, para. 5). However, most learning institutions are yet to redefine assessment techniques used to determine their learners’ capabilities.

Some of the schools that have embraced new approaches to enhancing students’ academic and social development still rely on examinations to test their students (Kamens & McNeely, 2010, p. 8, para. 2). The truth is that academic excellence is just one of the aspects of students’ development. Ignoring other aspects means that the assessment will ignore the strengths of learners who are poor academically but very good in other areas of social development. As a leader, it is important to develop assessment techniques that can be used in learning institutions to ensure that students’ development in all spheres is determined when ranking them. This paper will look at various assessment techniques that can be used when ranking students’ performance in high school.

Students Assessment Approaches

According to Egbert (2012, p. 5, para. 2), the Ministry of Education in the United Arab Emirates is redefining assessment programs used in schools to ensure that they address specific educational goals in line with their education 2020 policy. The education sector has been under pressure to redefine the assessment approaches used because the current approaches overemphasize academic excellence. Indeed, academic excellence remains very critical in a student’s life. However, modern society demands more from students than just academic excellence. It is also important to appreciate that not every sector of the economy requires academic excellence. Art is becoming increasingly important in our society, and many are making a career out of it. Music and football have remained some of the top-paying professions in the United Arab Emirates and at a global level. However, the institutions of learning have never considered assessing the capacity of their students in these areas. Some students may be excellent in sports or artwork that can help them become highly successful members of society if they can sharpen their skills in these fields. However, if they cannot record impressive academic results, they are always classified as academic dwarfs. Their talents and unique skills are forgotten, and in most cases, they fail to progress from high schools to higher learning institutions because of their poor academic performance.

At the time has come when assessment strategies have to change to focus on both academics and special talents that an individual student may have. Schools should try to identify unique skills or talents in every student instead of the general classification of academic giants and dwarfs. Everyone has something unique in him or her, which, if developed, cannot only help him or her in his or her future lives but also help other members of society.

A time has come when learning institutions have to assess every student and identify ways of making them better persons in their future lives, even if it is determined that they cannot achieve academic excellence to the standards required. Time has come when teachers have to realize that each of their students is unique in one way or the other. Their cardinal responsibility is to identify this uniqueness and find ways of enhancing it to transform our society. The ministry of education has already bowed to the pressure, and steps are being taken to redefine assessment techniques. Massive changes are expected in education in this country, and teachers, being the primary stakeholders, must be ready to embrace change. Teachers must be ready to come up with a completely new and better way of assessing their students. The new assessment techniques must focus on all aspects, not just the academic excellence of the learners. It is important to analyze some of the assessment strategies currently used and determine their strengths and weaknesses.

Approaches I Currently Use and Their Significance

It is important to appreciate that the current assessment methods for students are still based on academic excellence. Stakeholders are yet to develop appropriate strategies that can be used to integrate other talents such as sports and arts into the overall performance of students. In this section, the researcher will look at the three major assessments currently available for teachers in determining learners’ capabilities.

Assessment of learning

Assessment of learning, also known as the summative assessment, is one of the oldest assessment methods that have been in use for centuries. The technique allows teachers to test how well students have learned a given concept over a given period. Teachers can determine students’ academic achievement over the selected period (Firestone & Mayrowetz, 2000, p. 724, para. 3). It is important to understand that summative assessment focuses on how well a learner can master a concept over a given period. The assessment often comes by the end of a term or semester. This form of assessment has been very popular in the past, but it is under massive criticism as it makes learning exam-centered. Learners are forced to master various concepts taught within a given period with a primary goal of passing exams.

Some learners are even forced to cram the concepts without necessarily knowing how they can be applied in real-life situations. Another weakness of this form of assessment is that it promotes drilling in schools, especially in private schools, where teachers have pressure to register impressive academic performance. Learners can pass their exams but can barely remember these concepts as soon as they are done with the exams. However, this assessment method has remained popular, and I use it because it allows teachers and parents to assess students’ ability over a long period. The technique has been misused by individuals who want to register academic excellence without considering the need for the learner to master specific concepts other than just memorizing them. As Tomlinson and Moon (2013, p. 101, para. 1) note, summative assessment is likely going to be used in the future because of the need to assess students’ capacity to master concepts for a long time.

Assessment for learning

Assessment for learning, also known as the formative assessment, has also become very popular in the recent past. According to Barkley and Major (2016, p. 25, para. 2), formative assessment is an ongoing assessment where teachers monitor their learners daily. This is one of the modern assessment methods that the ministry of education in the country is trying to promote because of its relevance to both the teachers and the learners. However, it is very involving to use and requires personal commitment on the side of the teachers. It requires the teacher to conduct a daily assessment of the students to determine students’ academic needs. The teacher is expected to adjust teaching methods based on the assessed needs. It is important to note that as opposed to summative learning that focuses on determining how well a student has learned a given concept, the formative assessment focuses on how well a teacher can teach a given concept based on the learners’ current capabilities. The technique offers the learners immediate feedback to help them make necessary adjustments to their learning (Pangaro, 2015, p. 3, para. 2).

This assessment technique comes in the form of daily homework or end of lesson exercises. A teacher can understand how well the students understood a given concept taught in a day through such daily assessment. He or she can determine whether it is possible to move to the next concept or go through the same concept again based on the assessment outcome. This is important because the syllabus is often designed so that the first concept forms a basis for other concepts as students advance in their academics. Therefore, a teacher shouldn’t move to the next more advanced concept if the basic concepts are not clearly understood by the students. I use this method because it allows me to give individual students personal attention. I can determine their weaknesses at a personal level so that appropriate action can be taken to help weak students. It is important to note that the method is not very effective when handling a highly diversified classroom where there are fast and slow learners. The method may also be deceptive when handling students with a short memory.

Assessment as learning

Assessment as learning is the third technique of assessing students. It is particularly important in supporting and developing learners’ metacognitive skills. When used appropriately, it may enable students to develop a culture of life-long learning. This assessment method makes a major shift from the first two methods discussed above. It emphasizes on the use of self and peer-assessment (Tomlinson, 2014, p. 6, para. 3). For a long time, teachers have been viewed as the appropriate assessors. However, it is increasingly becoming evident that self-assessment and peer-assessment are also equally important. Self-assessment allows learners to gauge their current knowledge with what they are expected to know using various available resources. This method of assessment promotes a sense of ownership among learners as they get to realize that they have to be in full control of their learning (Schuh et al., 2016, p. 13, para. 1).

The use of peer assessment is also becoming important. Peer assessment is becoming common in high schools, especially in private international schools where stakeholders are keen on aligning curriculum with career needs. However, it may be necessary for teachers to find ways of introducing it in public high schools in the country. Peer assessment promotes group discussion. Instead of overly relying on teachers, students can rely on themselves to understand their strengths and weaknesses. The feedback they get from their peers can enable them to make the necessary adjustment in their learning strategies. One of the main reasons I use this method is because it can work well in highly populated classrooms. In some public schools, a teacher is forced to handle over 45 students. It is not easy to give each student personalized attention. Empowering them so that they can engage in peer and self-assessment, therefore, becomes very important. They have to learn fairness in peer and self-assessments.

Future Assessment Strategies

The three assessment methods discussed above are still very important in different ways. However, the future assessment methods are expected to integrate these three assessment methods, focusing on the strengths of each. In the United Arab Emirates, it is clear that the stakeholders have come to appreciate that time has come to make a major shift in the assessment strategies used in a learning institution. Summative assessment, formative assessment, and assessment as learning are all unique in different ways. Teachers have to find out when and how to use each of these three methods to achieve the best outcome. The primary objective should be to ensure that students are capable of not only mastering the concepts but also applying them in real-life contexts. They must understand the relevance of these concepts in solving problems in life (Harlen & James, 1997, p. 377, para. 3). Other stakeholders, especially the parents and ministry officials, should work closely with teachers to find ways of coming with research-based methods of student assessment.

It is equally important for the stakeholders to find ways of including students’ performance in co-curricular activities to promote these skills. It is in the interest of every parent to see their students excel in school. When they are made to believe that excellence can only be measured based on academic performance, they will likely ignore other talents that their children may have. Some parents even go to the extent of discouraging their children from sports, music, and other natural skills that are not related to academics. However, when these skills are considered when making the overall assessment of students, learners may likely be helped to horn their skills in areas of their interest. They can come out of the learning institution as a promising artist or sportspeople who can help positively transform our society. This new assessment method will help in ensuring that learners who may be academic dwarfs can focus on other areas of interest that can help them become better people. Instead of spending their entire childhood and youth in school only to be informed that they are academic failures, they can start focusing on their natural talents as early as possible. Teachers can assess these natural talents as early as possible so that the students can develop on them.

Strategies to Be Avoided in Future

The world is increasingly becoming a competitive environment, and the future of this country will be defined by the current generation of young children who are still in school. It means that the mode of teaching used today shall define our future generation’s skills and capabilities. At this stage, it is important to emphasize the need to avoid exam-centered assessment strategies in the future. People who are trained to memorize concepts without relating them to real-life issues cannot solve real-life problems. Assessment methods should focus on how students can apply principles and concepts learned in the classroom to deal with society’s existing and future problems. These students must understand that society’s future relies on their ability to come up with an evidence-based solution (Schnurr, Nickerson, & Kundert, 2006, p. 86, para. 5). As such, they need to learn how to work as a team both in and outside classrooms.

Implication on Leadership

Leadership entails working with people to find a solution to the challenges in society. Teachers are leaders in their own right as they try to prepare the younger generation to take over strategic positions shortly. Therefore, the issue of assessment is of big interest to me as a stakeholder in the field of education. In my leadership role, I strongly believe that more still needs to be done to come up with better ways of assessing learners in all spheres. I appreciate that it may be challenging to come up with ways of scoring students’ performance in co-curriculum activities in a way that can make it possible to be included in their overall performance. However, I believe that something can be done in terms of assessment to make sure that students’ performance in fields other than academics is also reflected in their overall performance report.

Teachers need to embrace transformational leadership skills in the new school setting that is emerging. Transformational leadership theory emphasizes the need for leaders to challenge the current skills of the followers. Teachers, as leaders, should use this theory to motivate learners to achieve better results in various fields. When a teacher has identified an academic performer, they should help that student achieve academic excellence by positively challenging them to higher academic performance. If a student is good at music or sports, teachers should find a way of promoting such talents. Such a student can record poor academic performance, but if they can perfect their music or sports skills, they may have bright careers just like those who are academic performers.

Conclusion

Assessing students is one of the primary functions of teachers. Different assessment methods have emerged, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. The summative assessment has been a popular method of assessing how well students have mastered specific concepts over a given period. On the other hand, formative assessment is a technique that allows teachers to assess students daily to identify their areas of weakness. Peer and self-assessments are also becoming popular as they promote group work and self-learning. The stakeholders still have the responsibility of coming up with better assessment strategies that will also reflect students’ performance in co-curriculum activities.

References

Barkley, E. F., & Major, C. H. (2016). Learning assessment techniques: A handbook for college faculty. Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass & Pfeiffer Imprints. Web.

Egbert, A. (2012). A clearer picture: National and international testing in the UAE. International Developments, 2(2), 5-7

Firestone, W., & Mayrowetz, D. (2000).Rethinking high states lessons from the United States and England and Wales.Teachers College Records, 102(4), 724-749.

Garrison, C., & Ehringhaus, M. (2011).Formative and summative assessments in the classroom. Formative and Summative Assessments in the Classroom, 1-3.

Hamm, M. (2013). Activating assessment for all students: Differentiated instruction and informative methods in math and science. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Web.

Harlen, W., & James, M. (1997).Assessment and learning: Differences and relationships between formative and summative assessment.Assessment in Education, 4(3), 365-378.

Kamens, D., & McNeely, C. (2010). Globalization and the growth of international educational testing and national assessment.Comparative Education Review, 54(1), 5-25.

Pangaro, L. N. (2015). Handbook on medical student evaluation and assessment. New York, NY: Gegensatz Press. Web.

Schnurr, B., Nickerson, A., & Kundert, D. (2006). Beyond grade retention and social promotion: Promoting the social and academic competence of students. Psychology in the Schools, 43(1), 85-94.

Schuh, J. H., Biddix, J. P., Dean, L. A., & Kinzie, J. (2016). Assessment in student affairs.Hoboken, NY: Wiley & Sons. Web.

Tomlinson, C. A. (2014). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. London, UK: ASCD. Web.

Tomlinson, C. A.,& Moon, T. R. (2013). Assessment and student success in a differentiated classroom. New York, NY: Cengage. Web.