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From left, Noha el Zayat, Sameeksha Narula, Alan Egbert and Amrita Broca. Photo © ACER Project Publishing.

Measuring language competency in the UAE

17 September 2012

ACER staff in Australia and the United Arab Emirates are collaborating on a new assessment that will help international schools meet the needs of students who are non-native speakers of Arabic.

Pioneered by Ms Bernadette Brouwers, Project Director in ACER’s Assessment Services division, the Measuring Arabic Language Competency (MALC) test will assess the student achievement of non-native speakers of Arabic.

According to Mr Alan Egbert, Manager of ACER’s United Arab Emirates (UAE) office, the new assessment meets the needs of international schools that offer Arabic for non-native speakers by providing expert scoring and analysis of results.

As UAE Project Manager Ms Sameeksha Narula explained, ‘The MALC assessment, initially for students in Grades 5 and 7, will provide schools with a tool to identify student achievement and assist them in placing students in beginner, intermediate or advanced language classes for non-native speakers. The test addresses reading and comprehension, grammar and the like.'

All non-Arabic speakers in the UAE are required to study Arabic until at least Grade 10, but, as UAE Senior Project Officer Ms Amrita Broca explained, there is currently no mandated language curriculum for non-native speakers of Arabic and no requirement that non-native speakers undertake an Arabic language examination.

‘While the MALC assessment is an achievement test, it also addresses the need for certification,’ Ms Broca said.

‘We’ve worked closely with schools in the UAE to identify their needs. Feedback from schools, particularly in terms of the International Benchmark Tests, ACER’s internationally administered program of assessments in English, mathematics and science, indicated a clear need for a quality assessment of Arabic for non-native speakers. We’ve worked closely with Ms Brouwers and ACER’s test item developers who are building the assessment.

‘Developing a test like the MALC assessment depends on significant collaboration across ACER to create a tool that’s fit for purpose,’ said Ms Narula.

‘Ms Brouwers and Principal Research Fellow Dr Annie Brown also saw the need to conduct school visits, which Dr Brown undertook with us. Our work with international schools showed a clear need for an achievement test that supported teachers’ judgements about placing non-native speakers of Arabic into classes at the appropriate beginner, intermediate or advanced level.’

As UAE Project Officer Ms Noha el Zayat explained, those school visits also provided an opportunity to collect resource material, which Ms Brouwers and the item writing team have been able to use to develop items.

Following a pilot in November 2012, the MALC assessment will be rolled out across international schools in the UAE, with Qatar, Saudi, Bahrain and Oman to follow. ■

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