Friday, January 11, 2013

Assessment and Testing

RRR Unit 10: Assessment and Testing

Expanding Horizons and Unresolved Conundrums: Language Testing and Assessment


    This paper focuses on two parts; the first dealing with issues relating to formal tests and the second to broader concerns of assessment. The first section addresses the test authenticity while the second section acknowledges issues related to validity, ethics and alternative assessment. For tests to be useful, Bachman and Palmer (1996) propose that developers need to consider six test qualities: reliability, construct validity, authenticity, interactiveness, impact, and practicality.

      Authenticity can be seen in terms of the extent to which a test or assessment task relates to the context in which it would normally be performed in real life. Bachman and Palmer (1996) define authenticity as “the degree of correspondence of the characteristics of a given language test task to the features of a TLU [target language use] task” , moving it away from a simple one-to-one correspondence of test task to real-life task toward a quality that can only be determined in relation to “the characteristics of the test takers, the TLU domain, and the test task”.
       Authenticity is important for two reasons; facilitating score interpretations and it affects test takers performance. The work on authenticity has certainly been both intellectually stimulating and challenging, and it has fostered some changes in the way a task in testing is operationalized.
       The debate on test authenticity and test usefulness raised some questions related to the multifaceted nature of authentic testing. First, performance tests that strive to be highly authentic are often extremely complex. Test performance is affected by test-taker characteristics, candidates’ familiarity with test tasks, personality types, testwiseness and interlocutor behaviour.
      The other problem is the inability to account for task difficulty. If authenticity was not reflected in test situations, it could have a negative impact on classroom practice, reducing the range and type of
task employed.
Bachman’s model brought some interesting issues concerning the nature of language ability and how the language testing and assessment community collects evidence of students’ ability to use language. Furthermore, it has brought the discussions within teaching and testing closer together, at least at the conceptual and theoretical level.

    Validity, on the other hand,  in traditional psychometric terms, refers to the extent or degree to which a test measures what it has been designed to measure. It focuses on 3 important aspects; construct validity, content validity, and criterion validity.
      Brown (2000) sees the overall English language proficiency as a construct. Another ethical concern is the effect of a test or assessment framework on pedagogy, in other words, wash back. As Hamp-Lyons (1997) and others have observed, washback can be beneficial or detrimental to students’ learning. If teachers teach to the test or assessment requirements and the consequence is a narrowing of the curriculum, the effect is educationally undesirable.
       In relation to language testing Shohamy (2001) argues that the field needs to adopt a critical language testing perspective need to consider these questions:
-Who are the testers?
-What are their agendas?
-Who are the test-takers?
-What are their contexts . . . ?
-Who will benefit from the tests . . . ?
-What will their results be used for?
-What areas are being tested, and why . .?

      Another important development in the past decade is the growing interest among educators and policy makers in alternative forms of assessment, such as student portfolio, work samples, and classroom based teacher assessment. These assessment processes are an essential part of everyday classroom practice and involve both teachers and learners in reflection, dialogue and decision making.

       The authors address three main issues that require attention . Firstly, teachers can interpret assessment criteria differently. So teachers should observe what learners say and do, interpret their work, and then provide guidance for improvement. Second, a teacher’s formative judgement may conceivably be incompatible with the requirements of a published official assessment scheme, for either summative or formative purposes. Third, the principles of formative assessment authors have cited give an impression that teachers readily adopt the kind of practice suggested.  Broadfoot and Black (2004) report some evidence suggesting that teachers do not distinguish between formative and summative assessment and, in some circumstances, may even resist reforms that challenge their preference for summative assessment. It may be a good idea to first find out what teachers think and do when carrying out classroom assessment. It is suggested that work in testing and assessment is deeply relevant to language pedagogy and curriculum development, and vice versa.


     While reading this article, I really felt dizzy and lost into its maize and tried to find my way out safely! I read the article twice putting myself into a high concentration mood, yet I couldn’t get through all the information provided. I am not really sure what caused this challenge. It might be the topic itself, the complicated language used by the authors or may be I was affected by the amount of flying ideas into my mind which prevented me from understanding the whole text!. However, I was able to figure out some of the key words such as testing, authenticity and validity, formative and summative assessment. Therefore, based on these key words and on my own experience as a person working in education, the assessment tendency nowadays is to have a clear picture about the learners’ performance through both continuous assessment and formal assessment using various tools. To support this idea, the Ministry of Education in the sultanate of Oman has adopted a new type of assessment since September 2002.It consists of two main types which are the continuous assessment and the formal assessment. For instance, continuous Assessment (CA) provides a way of collecting information about students learning throughout the school year, primarily by regular observations and valuation of studentsperformance in normal classroom conditions. Continuous Assessment has several strengths in terms of validity, fairness and student motivation. It aims at helping the teachers to:
-have a clear understanding of the different language elements, learning outcomes and assessment criteria;
-develop efficient strategies for classroom observation;
-keep systematic records (both formal and informal);
-achieve a balance between summative and formative assessment;
-be tactful, encouraging and, above all, fair.
    They can use a number of important approaches including; Portfolios, Project work, Generic Tasks, Quizzes, Group work, Self-assessment and  Giving feedback to students.

     On the other hand, the formal testing is conducted at the end of each semester where a formal examination will be administered either by the Ministry of Education or the Directorates in each region in the Sultanate. Formal tests have both advantages and disadvantages. Validity and reliability are also considered as  important aspects related to formal testing.

In summary, I think the authors of this paper aimed at investigating these areas using a very academic language!! Hopping that I was not mistaken!


Leung C.and Lewkowicz J. 2006 “Expanding Horizons and Unresolved Conundrums: Language Testing and Assessment” TESOL Quarterly 40/1:211-234

Badriya Al Mamari

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