The politics of testing and assessment
Date: 1 February 2018
Given the major role that the assessment of English as foreign language (EFL) and English as second language (ESL) plays in the educational experiences and lives of students around the world, TESOL practitioners and theoreticians have no choice but to ensure that assessment is solid, reliable, and unquestionable. To guarantee the quality ...
Given the major role that the assessment of English as foreign language (EFL) and English as second language (ESL) plays in the educational experiences and lives of students around the world, TESOL practitioners and theoreticians have no choice but to ensure that assessment is solid, reliable, and unquestionable. To guarantee the quality of assessment procedures, TESOL professionals have for long relied on the tools, language, and techniques of the scientific approach to research. At their disposal are mechanisms, procedures, and terminology that have been employed for decades, in an attempt to guarantee the validity, reliability, and above all the neutrality of the assessment procedures that measure students’ linguistic proficiency (Brown, 1996). Driven by the discourses of accountability, efficiency, objectivity, and accuracy, the field of language assessment has succeeded to a large extent in establishing a discourse of unquestioned credibility at theoretical and practical levels (Brown & Hudson, 1998). Internationally renowned high-stakes language tests such as the TOEFL, IELTS, or the Michigan tests have long surpassed their original function of language proficiency tests and serve as gatekeepers at established educational institutions around the world, which deploy several activities such as research, training of testers, marketization, and publication. Moreover, the content of these tests has influenced the curricular goals and the content of many language-preparation programs, as students have to take them for entry and exit purposes. While originally the tests were solely for testing the language proficiency of prospective students and their suitability for a university in the United States or Britain, this use has now been expanded to cover multiple educational, employment, and even immigration purposes. The dominance of the scientific approach to testing and the power of the major standardized tests have not stopped theoreticians and practitioners from questioning this power and the assumed neutrality, objectivity, and fairness of the tests (Shohamy, 2001; Au, 2009; Kunan, 2010). The use of the phrase “politics of assessment” implies that assessment in general and language assessment in particular are informed by such factors as ideologies, political and economic agendas, educational considerations, societal elements, issues of power, hierarchical structures, and teachers’ roles. This chapter will address the power of high-stakes tests and the teachers’ knowledge of testing from a critical perspective. Practical implications for TESOL professionals will be outlined.
College of Social Sciences and International Studies
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