Assessment in Morocco: where to?

Yacine Ahtaitay was born in 1993 in the outskirts of Agadir. After he obtained his GED degree, he attended Ibn Zorh University where he enrolled in English studies and later majored in Linguistics. After he obtained his Linguistics Diploma, he continued his post-graduate studies in a ‘Linguistics’ MA program in Ibn Zohr under the name ‘Applied Linguistics & Language Studies’ where he is currently preparing his MA thesis. 

Agadir, Morocco

In the last few years and still to this day, a very heated debate is spanning the entire Moroccan academia about the way assessment is handled in the teaching and learning institutions, especially the ones related to language teaching. What is maddening about this debate is that some people in the academia, out of their mere intellectual stubbornness, go so far as to claim that language assessment in Morocco is fine the way it is and that it does not call for any emergencies. If that actually is what the academia 
says, then I beg to differ. The status of language assessment throughout the soil of Morocco, I believe, is critical, and nobody has the guts to deny that.
Much time was devoted to this unsettling fact and on methods in which the language assessment could be cured and rescued from this worrying condition. A series of suggestions were recommended by colleagues that could remedy the situation, but they were either too far-fetched or incompatible with the kind of learners concerned.
The assessment culture in Morocco is rife with favoritism and classroom class divisions; test scores are the absolute determinants of ranks inside a class. I cannot help but say that the grading system being adopted bears striking similarities to caste systems, where high-score students are treated as masters and get seats right in front of the teacher where they enjoy prestige, and low-score students are slaves and get tossed to the back of the classroom and far out of the teacher’s earshot and where humiliation is flung at their faces. (I can still remember my math class where my voice was never heard by the teacher unless in confirmation of my presence, merely because my exam paper was always returned with the infamous brand 4/20). This is the result of so many intertwined factors that have accumulated throughout many years which make them so difficult to eradicate completely, but that is not a reason why we should make as an excuse to refrain from trying to save this assessment system. Au contraire, it only means that we should try harder.   
It is my opinion that any alternative assessment strategy should make at its core the learners in question. The fundamental information that needs to be attained is an exhaustive list of learners’ needs, and we all know that this cannot be attainable since there is no agency of needs analysts, not that I know of, to take care of this job in the Moroccan department of education (if there is any at all). When learners’ needs have been identified, the objectives of the syllabus can be stated clearly and precisely, and in turn assessment materials to see whether the objectives have been met can be designed on the basis of that. With a column of learners’ needs labeled as ‘nada’, I find myself compelled to question the validity of an assessment system that is based not on learners’ actual needs but on teachers’ assumptions and second-guessing of what learners need to learn. So, my appeal to the ministry is just this: the establishment of an agency inside the ministry of education whose specialty is the careful analysis of learners’ needs.
Assessment, in its essence, reflects not just whether students have succeeded in understanding instruction, but also to what extent instruction was successful from the part of the teacher, so assessment assesses not just students but teachers as well. This has two main implications: 1) that teacher trainings should integrate assessment procedures in their programs and the familiarizing of teachers with the body of research on assessment and evaluation. 2) that Moroccan universities have to integrate departments of education that would enable students to carry out educational research on assessment and evaluation and get acquainted with the procedures of test designing. I hate to be hasty in giving judgments, but with no education departments in any of the Moroccan universities, I daresay that the continuously declining quality of assessment is partly justified because of that fact.
In closure, every concerned teacher and student researcher has to know that assessment in Morocco is not fine the way it is, and it needs the collective wisdom and hard work of stakeholders, teachers, students, and parents in order to be saved from the claws of discredibility. With that said, I find no reason to suspect that a better change is looming in the horizon which will make language assessment in Morocco a product of high standards. 

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