Are students shying away from computer based language proficiency tests?


I was recently speaking to someone at a well known organisation that also acts as an examination centre for international proficiency exams. He made a very interesting comment, that certainly got my attention, and that was that students may shy away from computer based tests, simply because they may perceive that having to use a keyboard may impact on their chance of passing a proficiency test. Issues of concern may include potential candidates typing speeds, and computer literacy skills. Okay, we are in the internet age, and the kids may eat, sleep and dream social networks and cyberspace, but when it comes to high-stakes exams, people may shy away. I think there is something worth noting in this observation. So whilst the exam format for the TOEFL ibt and Pearson Academic may be all computer based, may be people at IDP/Cambridge Esol should think hard about whether turning IELTS into a computer based format exam is not necessarily the next logical step. Your view?


What is the purpose of classroom testing, assessment and evaluation?

When we think of testing, we often think of TOEFL or IELTS. These high stakes exams, with their potential to help make or break futures, are what many think of as the typical exam.

In classes across the world, teachers emulate these exams by using the same question types e.g. multiple choice questions (MCQs).

Often, testing, assessment or evaluation is reduced to a quiz of some kind. Students get a mark, and that’s the end of the story.

At the same time, people in the testing industry, who are mainly involved with the big examination bodies, cannot understand why teachers cannot grasp the ideas of validity and reliability.

I think that unless ‘testing people’ are not teaching themselves, they will never be able to understand class dynamics, and thus why there is such a gap or disconnect between those with testing knowledge, and people who want to assess in the classroom. But is it really up to people who are testers? What about teachers? What’s their take on this? Are they worried? Are they also unhappy about testing in their contexts?

In the Middle East, there is a tendency to reduce the role of teachers to just receiving centrally written quizzes and tests. In reality this reflects the lack of confidence in teacher testing ability.

There are a lot of issues.

I think we need to simplify things and create a take-off point, from which teachers can move forward in terms of their testing knowledge. Let’s keep the testing and assessment jargon to one side.

What I’m proposing, is that we start off with a simple question. The question being. “What is the purpose of classroom testing, assessment and evaluation?”

Once we have the answer to this, we can then take the discussion further. I have my own answers, but if you are a teacher, who teaches a language, what in your view is the purpose of a test?

Once you have an idea of this, it’ll open doors, and hopefully result in an innovative movement in testing, although it’ll be a tough job to convince those who see testing as merely a score producing exercise. But the point is, that we need to look at the classroom as a different context, and study it’s dynamics. The classroom is a learning environment. The role of testing has to be seen as something that contributes to this. Unless we start looking at testing in this sense, it is difficult to see how large numbers of teachers will see tests as anything beyond the merely producing a score.

Lastly, we mustn’t forget our most important stakeholder, the student. After all, they are the ones directly affected by all of this.

Until next time..

The Common European Framework – CEFR

A “wiki-leak” of Brian North’s rarely available PhD –

The Development of a Common Framework Scale of Language Proficiency. Here’s the link:

I have many issues with the CEFR, it’s implementation, the politics, the passive acceptance of it, both in the public and academic domains. At the same time, there are many people who are highly accomplished language testers who praise it highly. It has been implemented in different contexts and is proving invaluable. There are published case studies of it’s use. But it can also result in emotive discussions, where even respectable academics, people who I respect, become like angry gang members, ready to pull up their academic sleeves accusing each other of just plain jealousy – not academic talk you’d say. Yes, it’s not academic, but it’s good to let the human side out now and then, as it reminds us that in fact we are all mere humans at the end of the day.  But where did it all begin? This read is a part of it.

Having Brian’s PhD publicly available means that it is open to greater dissemination, by a more informed public.

Thanks to the sender.

Have an enjoyable read!