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There has been an increase in language testing and evaluation in the world due to globalisation. There has also been a wide acceptance of second language training in many countries in the world today. Therefore, there is a high demand of a common language that can aid in the interaction of people in tourism, technology, trade, science and research, international relations, and media. It is also common in various governments today to adapt a second language of communication in official matters.
According to Berthele (2012, p.453), adaptation of second languages, which are foreign languages in most cases, has increased the need for rigorous training, testing, and evaluation. Inclusion of second languages in various academic education curriculums has also increased the need for training, testing, and evaluation in languages.
Berthele (2012, p.454) points how language assessment mainly focuses on the evaluation of first language of study, the second language assessment, or any other language that the learner takes in various institutions of learning. Language assessment and evaluation may take the form of listening skill test, speaking skill tests, reading skill tests, writing skill tests, and cultural comprehension tests.
Taylor (2005, p.154) argues that an evaluation seeks to test the ability of the learner to understand how the language works and to test the level of proficiency in that particular language. This paper discusses and critically evaluates language testing and assessment in a school educational environment.
Major features of the assessment
Learners of languages should be part of the process of teaching and assessment. For a clear and standardised evaluation and assessment, the teacher and the learner should be ready to work together and to play their rightful role.
According to Taylor (2005, p.155), the purpose of language assessment and evaluation is to discover the level of knowledge that the learner has on a particular language and his or her ability at that stage. Assessment and evaluation of language is important in the learning process.
All stakeholders in a school situation approve that evaluation is important. For example, teachers want learners’ ability in language evaluation. Lockwood (2012, p.107) observes that teachers implement the language assessment plans of the administrators.
In the evaluation, teachers should know the previous level of performance together with what was to be done next. The teacher should also know what the students already know and/or do not know. The teacher makes a language program successful or not.
Lockwood (2012, p.107) observes that school administrators would want learners evaluated to gauge the level of performance of the institution.
The administrators provide the school institutions with human resources and finances. For administrators to understand the resources needed in the institution, they have to be well versed with language performance of the learners. The administrators also plan for changes in academic programs if they realise that the language learners are not achieving the expected success
Parents would want their sons and daughters evaluated to enable them know the ability of the learner. The students would want their language skills assessed to enable them gauge themselves. Parents are usually very anxious in knowing the results of their sons and daughters whenever they take them to school.
Parents will therefore depend on language teachers and administrators to know the results of their children. Jeong (2013, p.345) affirms that parents also trust the teachers to set the evaluation standards for their children, administer the tests, mark, and to analyse the results. Such results make parents more dedicated to the academic development of their children.
The students would also want to know their results occasionally. Learners would like to be assessed to know their level of development. It is also in the interest of the learners to evaluate themselves and to compare themselves with other learners. Language learners would also want to know their achievements at various stages of learning. Assessment and evaluation of learners’ language level would enhance their confidence and satisfaction level.
Language assessment results should be issued to learners in a supportive environment. Wrong environment and context may make the language learner develop a negative attitude towards the examinations and examiners. Teachers should therefore be supportive to learners in a bid to make them understand that the evaluation is meant to make them develop their skills. In most cases, negative implications of the evaluation and assessment result from aggression of the assessors.
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Learners feel humiliated by such degrading acts especially when they come from teachers, for example, when such teachers issue negative results to learners in the public or when they comment negatively about the results of a certain student in the presence of other. In most cases, problems in language evaluation result from different aspects of evaluation that the teachers adopt. The method of evaluation used may also influence the results of language evaluation.
Methods of language assessment and their degree of effectiveness
In language evaluation and assessment in a school level, assessors base their evaluation on learners’ situation. The method of assessment should be developed according to the learning situation. Assessment should also be wholesome based on the complete evaluation of the learner’s situation. Assessment should be distinguished from testing. Jeong (2013, p.345) affirms that testing is usually based on one occasion, is given in a short-answer form or multiple choices, is one-dimensional, and time based.
Moreover, Price (2013, p. 207) argues that testing takes place in a formal environment, which in most cases is similar for all the candidates. The assessor issues similar testing materials. Tests are given in a similar way. On the other hand, Scarino (2013, p.309) observes that assessment is broad and more inclusive. Evaluation encompasses gauging the learners’ ability and knowledge.
During assessments, the assessor applies a variety of information gathering methods to collect information about the student. In addition, assessments take both formal and informal methods. The assessor will also carry out the evaluation exercise at varying times and situations. Assessment is also progressive. The assessor searches the degree of progress that the learner depicts in a certain area of study for example in language.
Teacher’s assessment is another broad method of evaluation. Stoynoff (2012, p.523) affirms that teacher’s assessment method estimates the learner’s achievement in language development. In most cases, the estimates of the teacher are normally accurate or near accurate. The most common method of teacher’s assessment is observation. The teacher observes learners during the lessons and or during discussions with other learners.
Davin (2013, p.303) asserts that teachers observe the work of the learners, for example, their assignments and class presentations. Price (2013, p. 207) argues that linguistic researches indicate that teacher’s assessment of his or her students’ results in a better method of evaluating the learners relative to testing.
The teacher is able to understand the strength and weaknesses of individual learners in language knowledge and application. In this method of evaluation, the teacher should be very keen on observation.
Continuous assessment is also a method of language evaluation. In this method of evaluation, the assessor continually observes and keeps records of learners’ performance. All grades that the learner achieves in the course of learning are brought together and entered as the final grade for the learner.
Mansor et al. (2013, p.101) affirms that continuous assessment is not based on a single examination or activity. It is also not based on one occasion when the learner does a certain activity. The assessor collects information on how the learner fairs both in examinations and in practical activities and then brings them together to get the results. In various occasions, continuous assessment has been issued in the form of a report and not a grade.
Another method of evaluation is self-assessment. Under self-assessment, Ortis (2013, p. 226) asserts that learners are empowered in a way that they can carry out personal evaluation in an accurate and clear way. The assessors agree with the learners on the methods that they will use to evaluate themselves long before the training. In some instances, learners and teachers agree on the method and criteria of assessment.
The method of weighting the results is also agreed on. With correct and adequate information, Rea-Dickins (2000, p. 376) argues that learners are able to assess themselves accurately. This method of evaluation is also advantageous since learners are likely to become more responsible in the way they handle their performance in language. Since they are exposed to the methods of evaluation at an early age, they are therefore likely to make very few mistakes.
The method is therefore said to yield better results if learners are trained to avoid self-bias. The most commonly adopted criteria of testing in this method of assessment are non-referenced and criterion-referenced tests. Mansor et al. (2013, p.101) affirms that criterion-referenced test is carried out based on a particular standard of language testing. In most cases, schools adopt this kind of testing since it is fixed and easy to carry out comparisons.
Several schools may come together and adopt a certain criterion-referenced assessment for testing their students in language. The advantage of this method is that it can be used to compare several learners and/or schools performance in languages. Pesco and O’Neill (2012, p.421) assert that the non-referenced test has also been applied in comparing one group of learners with reference to another. In this method, other learners use one group as a reference point.
The performance of individual learners in language is also rated with reference to that of another student. The method is advantageous in that poorly performing students can set their language targets with reference to better performing ones. However, the method is also limited in scope since it limits its standards to that of another individual. Stoynoff (2012, p.523) affirms that the individual-referenced assessment has also been adopted in language assessment.
This testing method makes use of the individual learner’s previous performance as a reference. The learner is therefore made to assess his or her performance with reference to his or her past results and his or her ability. For example, in language assessment, the learner can evaluate the number of words he or she could write during the end of the last learning season and compare it with the number of such words that he or she can pronounce.
Davin (2013, p.303) asserts that individual-referenced testing is advantageous in that learners can be able to set individual standards to measure their level of growth. Learners can also take stock of their language development from one season to the other.
Ortis (2013,p. 226) asserts that, when a learner knows that a certain act, utterance, or a way of writing will make him or her fail in the evaluation, he or she is likely to avoid it. In this way, learners are able to make accurate evaluations of their assessments.
Language ability and knowledge are also assessed through portfolios. Rea-Dickins (2000, p. 375) argues that, when using portfolio method of assessment and evaluation, various portfolios that learners do within the course of their studies in school are collected. Such portfolios comprise projects, term papers, assignments, and activities that the learners engage in during the period of learning.
The learner or the teacher collects and files all these materials. It is from these portfolios that the learners’ ability and knowledge in a particular language are evaluated. Collection of all these items forms the basis on which the learner is evaluated. Individual portfolios account for certain marks or grades.
Pesco and O’Neill (2012, p.421) affirm that the use of a portfolio is also advantageous because there is continuity in evaluation. The learners’ ability and knowledge in a certain language may change over time. It is therefore necessary to use a method of assessment that accounts for the entire period.
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