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Language testing stands for the identification of the level of a learner’s preparation to use their language skills and knowledge in real life situations and environments. Testing is an essential part of teaching a language and should not be viewed as a separate activity.
Since the result is crucial in teaching, an educator is to be able to measure the performance of the learners, their improvements, strengths and weaknesses and this is where testing is necessary. Testing and teaching can be seen as two sides of one coin (Widyantoro, 2013). The relationship between teaching and testing can be described as mutual support because neither of the two processes can exist without the other.
Test results determine whether teaching actually happened and how well the learners have processed and mastered the new knowledge and skills. Testing is a very important aspect of any foreign language teaching program that has an impact on other program components. This paper aims to demonstrate this impact and how it should be considered by test makers in designing and developing their tests.
Purpose and Objectives Factor
Teaching is an activity that can be viewed as a process with only one direction – positive. This means that negative teaching does not exist simply because negative teaching is absence of teaching and knowledge acquisition by the learner. In other words, teaching as an activity implies the presence of positive results.
Testing is a part of teaching that helps to determine whether or not the results are present and whether or not they match the teacher’s expectations. This way, testing can be viewed as a marker that serves as the basis for a variety of important decisions of a teacher (Widyantoro, 2013). Test results are not only designed to help the teacher evaluate the progress of their learners, but also to evaluate their own performance.
For example, based on testing results a teacher makes decisions about the materials they employ, methods and techniques they implement, the way they interact with the learners. A large variety of tests is available to the modern teachers, tests of different types can be held during the learning process in order to address different needs of a teacher and their students.
A teacher selects particular types of tests based on the aspects they need to evaluate for the further decision-making. For example, diagnostic tests are held when a teacher needs to determine progress made by their students over a certain period of time. Tests of this type are normally performed in the end of a unit to test how well the students mastered the material.
Another example is the use of placement tests which represent a category of diagnostic tests. These tests are conducted when a teacher needs to make a decision concerning the placement of the students in terms of the materials studied within a particular curriculum. The purpose of these tests is to save effort and time to both learners and educators and avoid going through the same material twice.
The choice of the types of tests conducted by an educator is determined by the learning objectives of their program and can be characterised by the outcomes an educator expects to achieve.
Learning outcomes are divided into three categories or domains – cognitive (includes intellectual skills), affective (incorporates motivation, values, attitudes, desire to participate), and psychomotor (focuses on smoothly and accurately performed motor activities) (Vinson, n. d.).
Tests covering cognitive domain are to be oriented at the evaluation of intellectual skills such as memorising, self-check, synthesis and analysis, summarising and discussion. Such tests may be held in forms of essays, summaries, presentation of personal opinions, tabulating.
Affective domain is rarely covered directly as it is rather abstract. It is tested based on the attitudes the learners show during the class, their level of involvement. Psychomotor domain in language learning can be referred to phonetics, pronunciation, writing skills testing.
In teaching, language is viewed as a unity composed of several skills and components. The educators differentiate between such language skills as reading, writing, speaking, and listening. The language components are its structure, vocabulary, and sound. Language skills are built of language components.
For example, reading and writing skills consist of such components are structure and vocabulary, while speaking consists of sound plus the other two components, and listening contains just vocabulary and structure. Testing and test design rely on these skills and components. Teaching a language educators often need to check their learners’ progress on particular skills and test them separately from others.
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At the same time, there are tests designed to evaluate the learner’s language skills using integrative approach. When a teacher targets particular skills, they carefully select the assignments for the class in order to develop the skills. This way, the content of a lesson alters based on the objective of a teacher.
For example, when reading assignments prevail during a lesson, this means that a teacher targets reading skills of the learners particularly. As a result, this will influence the content of the future testing because it will be likely to address reading separately from other language components. In other words, test tasks are selected based on the skills an educator needs to evaluate.
Tests oriented at the evaluation of certain language skills separately normally contain only the tasks of one type. Such tests are referred to as discrete-item tests, their main objective is to provide an educator with information concerning the difficulties their learners may experience within a particular language skill. When a teacher intends to test several language skills in a complex, they apply integrative or global tests.
These tests address language as a whole without separating it into elements and skills. Such tests check the learners’ ability to use a variety of different skills in a combination. For example, to test reading and writing language skills a teacher may conduct close tests where learners are to fill in missing parts of sentences based on the context.
Another way to test reading and writing skills using integrative approach is written translation. An integrative test for listening and speaking skills may include an oral interview or audition followed by an oral summary or discussion. Generally, integrative tests provide an educator with a broader understanding of the progress of their learners, while discrete-item tests offer a more precise view on the difficulties the students face.
During the teaching process, an educator is the one to compile tests for their learners. An educator is responsible for the objectives of their lessons and for the ways they choose to test the progress of the students and their own professional performance. Preparing a test an educator faces an important task of balancing out several crucial qualities of a test, which are practicality, validity, reliability, authenticity and wash back.
Only when a test matches this requirement it can be considered well-designed. A teacher’s competence and professionalism are the determinants of their success at test design. Preparing a test, a teacher is to identify its main objective because it will determine the balance between its qualities.
For example, when a language test is conducted with a purpose of professional selection, reliability and validity are the qualities the test designer is to prioritise; at the same time, for the classroom assessment practicality and wash back need to be emphasised (Milanovic, 2002). In a classroom assessment practicality comes in combination with transferability of a test.
This means that a test is to carefully reflect the materials studied previously and also be transferable to real life communication skills and needs of the students. A teacher needs to be competent to organise a versatile teaching process and then address its objectives in a test. Besides, a teacher is to know their learners and identify their needs which will determine the need for a test. This also requires pedagogical qualification.
Among all test qualities reliability and validity have been the most common focuses of scholarly discussions. Validity has been recognised as the most vital quality which defines to what extent the results of particular tests can be used as bases for conclusions; it can be divided into construct, content and predictive validity (Liao, 2004). The first type focuses on the performance of the examinee.
The second type involves coverage and relevance of test content. The third type of validity involves a test’s ability to predict how an examinee would do in a non-testing environment. Test reliability stands for a test’s ability to provide consistent data that is replicable after retest. Reliability is evaluated based on such markers as consistency of the test results and simulation of tasks in a test (Liao, 2004).
To design valid and reliable tests a teacher is to have a sufficient professional experience providing statistical base for reference concerning the correlation between testing and non-testing performance of the learners and the sustainability of test results and impacts. Wash back is another quality a teacher is to be properly qualified to use. Wash back refers to the influence a test has on learning and teaching processes and aligned curriculum.
In other words, educators tend to adjust their teaching and curriculum to the contents and requirements of tests. Only reliable and valid tests can integrate into the curriculum and influence it.
Authenticity is another vital feature of a test; it refers to a test’s ability to replicate the real life situation it targets. It is important because the main goal of language testing is to identify the level of a learner’s preparation to use a language in real life environment.
Testing is only successful when it addresses the students’ academic needs. Among these needs there are a need for motivation, a need for practice and transferability, a need for personal development and a need for optimal feedback. Designing a test a teacher is to address all of these needs in order to facilitate active learning. Timing of a test is a crucial aspect for addressing all of the learners’ needs.
The success of a test depends on the right timing. For example, motivation is to be regular and systematic in order to maintain the learners’ interest towards the language. Practice is very important for language learners. The time for practice needs to be selected is repetitive manner because frequent practice provides tighter connection between the learners and the additional language they study.
Tests fulfill these needs keeping the learners challenged and motivating for improvement. Therefore, test of different types are to be placed within a program in a way that provides ongoing feedback, practice, monitoring and motivation. Feedback is a crucial aspect of teaching and testing. For the students, feedback is a part of motivation; this is why it needs to be provided in time to maintain the student’s desire to improve.
Moreover, feedback is the learners’ basis for self-assessment. Through the teacher’s feedback direct or indirect, the students learn about their strengths and weaknesses, identify the areas which need to be improved or require particular focus.
Feedback provided to the students is important for the teacher as well, because it follows the analysis of the learners’ strengths and weaknesses which helps the educator to determine the future needs of the students. This is why the timing of feedback has to be particularly accurate. Timely feedback facilitates timely improvement and helps both learners and teachers to keep track of their progress.
One of the best ways to provide ongoing and accurate feedback is formative assessment.
The main objectives of formative assessment are to provide the learners with valid information about their progress and weaknesses, identifying the areas that require better focus, and to help the educators find out which aspect of teaching make the learners experience struggle to address them right away (What is the difference between formative and summative assessment?, n. d.).
Summative assessments are conducted frequently within a curriculum and their point value is rather low compared to that of summative assessments. Examples of summative assessments include performing summaries or schemes of the new materials in class, identification of main ideas of a text or a lecture.
To compare, the examples of summative assessments are final papers, and course exams. Formative assessment can be viewed as an ongoing flow of testing and feedback for the constant monitoring of the learners’ progress and teachers’ performance.
Setting and Aids Factor
In the contemporary world technologies have penetrated every aspect of people’s life. Education is one of spheres where technologies have been used for many years already. Teaching and testing languages has benefited from the employment of technologies and their addition to the day-to-day life of the individuals.
For example, English, as the main language of the internet has become much more available for the users of computers. Besides, the development of technologies and their application in education facilitated that appearance of different types of educational software which allows faster and more efficient learning and testing. The technologies have made a large contribution into the test design and implementation.
Today, multiple tests can be conducted online or vie different computer programs, and the calculation of results is computerised and helps to save a lot of teachers’ time and effort. Besides, computerised adaptive testing (also known as CAT) is a recent innovation in the sphere of education software that helps to make testing more differentiated and flexible to be suitable for the learners with different academic performance.
CAT operates by means of adjusting the number and difficulty of test items for each particular student and stops when a targeted criterion is met (Advantages of Computerised Adaptive Testing, n. d.). The main advantages of CAT are its precision, flexibility, positive experience for the examinees (due to the adjustment of task difficulty), and an ability of retesting without repeating the tasks.
CAT is also highly accessible because it only requires software and basic computer knowledge for an examinee to be able to get tested. In general, computer assisted language testing (or CALT) has changed the nature of language testing making it more individual, and also making logistics and administration of the assessment easier and more effortless.
To conclude, testing has a very complex and multidimensional nature and a variety of objectives in every case. In order to design a valid and transferable test an educator is to have a range of professional competencies and have the knowledge of pedagogy. Besides, the planning and design of a test depend on its purpose and the content of knowledge that is being evaluated.
Moreover, testing is equally important for students and teachers. The latter need testing to identify the challenges of the program for the learners and adjust it where necessary.
The purpose of testing is to provide motivation though timely and accurate feedback and keep the learners challenged and interested in improvement. Testing is designed to motivate learning experiences, but not cause anxieties and low self-esteem for the learners. This is why, designing a test a teacher is approach this process professionally and carefully.
Advantages of Computerised Adaptive Testing. Fastestweb. Web.
Liao, Y. (2004). Issues of Validity and Reliability in Second Language Performance Assessment. Columbia University Working Papers in TESOL & Applied Linguistics, 4(2), 1-4. Web.
Milanovic, M. (2002). Language examining and test development. Strasbourg, France: Language Policy Division. Web.
Vinson, C. Learning Domains and Delivery of Instruction. Web.
What is the difference between formative and summative assessment? Carnegie Mellon. Web.
Widyantoro, A. (2013). Transferability: A Missing Link Between Language Testing and Language Teaching. In 3rd International Conference in Foreign Language Teaching and Learning held 15-16 March 2013 at The Ambassador Hotel (pp. 795-801). Bangkok, Thailand: LITU. Web.