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Mark Johnstone: Competency-based assessment in second language learning and teaching

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I teach English in an academic bridge program in Saudi Arabia. A majority of students in our program were successful learners in high school but are highly reliant on memorization and repetition. Poor learning is typically compensated for by good student behaviours like coming to class, doing work on time, and performing well on standardized tests of content mastery. While these assessments often do not measure competency or skill, they tend to be regarded by all as reliable predictors of future academic success.
A popular view of successful education as an ability to faithfully recall information as demonstrated in summative examinations remains major barrier to implementation of competency-based assessment. Most stakeholders believe that examinations are the only legitimate measure of learning and regard formative assessment as an avenue to “grade inflation”.
This problem is not confined to the Middle East but endemic in both skills and content based instruction. It is a holdover from nineteenth century views of knowledge and its mastery, views that have great cultural currency.