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Washback Effect of School-Based Assessment on Teaching and Learning in Hong Kong Qualitative Research Essay

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Updated: Dec 27th, 2019


School-based assessment has brought lots of changes to Hong Kong education systems. It has changed the system from norm referenced to standard-referenced assessment which includes incorporation of school-based summative oral assessment elements into the English language for form four and five.

According to SBA Consultancy Team, (2005) fundamental skills as well as knowledge required by form five students will also be indicated and there will be no competition among students. Under this system, teachers will be using a wide range of assessments like student’s performance in class as well as participation in other projects with the aim of promoting flexible learning environments.

In addition, this system addresses all shortcomings encountered when students are judged based on only a single examination, apart from developing all-round students. This paper aims at reviewing and criticizing current literature, research and school practices related to the above mentioned assessment strategies and procedures used in English language learning contexts, which focus on productive skills from form 4-5.

Just as Biggs (2007) and Shepard (2001) state, there is a need to align curriculum, pedology and assessment constructively to ensure that while teaching and assessment form the better part of curriculum, there should be conducive strategies that promote learning and development of all-round students.

As a result, assessments should not only be used in gauging student’s performance, but also as a way of improving learning (Brindley, 1998).


Every learner of English should be provided with opportunities that can help him/her extend his/her knowledge as well as experience of other peoples’ culture along with opportunities that can help intellectual and personal development.

The main objectives of English language curriculum includes provision of lifelong as well as independent learning opportunities through development of student’s ability to learn different skills apart from encouraging learner that involve problem solving and inquiry (Carless, 2005). At the end of this curriculum, students should be in a position to present information and ideas individually.

They should also be able to provide intended meanings, attitudes, views as well as feelings in a manner that is clear, coherent and appropriate depending on the contexts. Students should also be able to participate effectively and efficiently in oral interactions.

In writing, students should also learn strategies of presenting information, views, ideas, and attitudes along with feelings in a manner that is clear, coherent, and appropriate depending on textual context (Brindley, 1998).

Review of Literature

Normally after form 5, students are expected to sit for Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE) in English Language which is provided in two versions. The first version is syllabi A, while the second is syllabi B. Amongst the two, students in my school are expected to select one depending on the advice they have been given by their teachers, but they have a freedom of selecting between the two.

Formally, the versions were designed in a manner that they contained 4 test papers. However, with the introduction of SBA, the assessment has been slightly changed as the system has changed from non-referenced to standards-referenced (Qian, 2008).

In Hong Kong, the culture of examination was influenced by two major factors. To begin with, since the country was colonized by Britain, British examination has influenced Hong Kong examination systems heavily. Secondly, long examination history in China has affected Hong Kong examination system.

Due to the fact that in history, examinations have been used for various reasons, assessments in Hong Kong have been majorly aimed at selecting students for further education or employment. However, this last fact has been criticized seriously because in one way or the other, it has suppressed innovation and creativity among students.

However, with the introduction of SBA, there have been improvements in learning and teaching in secondary schools. According to (Qian, 2008), this seems to be the beginning of new era in Hong Kong.

This is because the SBA seems to be one of the most effective ways of innovative assessment system. The system also gives teachers opportunities of assessing the performance of their own students in some areas that are termed as being specific.

Due to the fact that SBA involves a variety of tasks which vary in length as well as complexity depending on the number of factors to be tested, students are given necessary multiple along with varied opportunities of demonstrating the ability of their oral language depending on the language level as well as their interests (Lee, 2009).

SBA system also ensures that students produce their own original and oral concepts, other than encouraging memorization of concepts without understanding them. This is because the SBA approach ensures stringent conditions during assessments.

Secondly, students are required to understand types of tasks used when assessing, in addition, students are given enough time to ensure that they are confident with their work for the assessment. Thirdly, candidates are not allowed to make any reference to extended notes, neither are they required to have any written materials when being tested (SBA Consultancy Team 2005).

Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (2005) reiterate that, teachers have changed from traditional norm referencing styles to standards-referenced assessment systems. This is because students are being examined on oral components. According to Carless (2005), this system aims at aligning English language curriculum and the senior secondary school curriculum.

Particularly, SBA has been very effective in assessing achievements of students in areas that traditional public assessment systems through examinations were not able to asses. This involves areas like speaking and reading extensively.

According to (Davison 2007), SBA strategy has integrated teaching in classrooms along with the learning process. This is because the system has been calling teachers to be involved in all assessment cycle starting with planning to the level of scoring.

According to Stephen (2004), since different teachers have different interpretation capabilities, this SBA system might lead to variations in the grading systems. Davison (2007) supports this point by arguing that that due to diversity in teacher’s assessment strategies and approaches, the system might not provide equal grounds for student’s assessments.

This is because, there are teachers having prior experience as well as professional training. The assessment also depends on the scales and frameworks the teacher will be using during assessment.

Nevertheless, requirements for reporting the assessment differ from one school to another as every school places its own reporting systems. Due to these factors, SBA approach has no equal grounds for all students, hence some students will benefit while others will be suffering depending on the side the above factors might be favouring.

Davison (2007) adds that, SBA system leads to some mechanistic criterion problems. This is because, though the approach is thought to improve classroom –embedded assessment procedures, but in real sense, the system undermines such procedures. For instance, during assessments, it is a must that some students have to be present to witness when another student is being assessed.

Moreover, in traditional systems the role and form of formative and summative tests were much different. In addition, teachers and assessors’ roles were demarcated clearly. However, in SBA approach, there is no clear demarcation of summative and formative assessments.

This is based on the fact that summative tests of candidates’ speaking skills are also used as formatively in giving helpful candidate feedbacks as well as improving learning. As an effect, the implementation of SBA leads to theoretical as well practical implications.

Nonetheless, Qian (2008) insists that the system seems not to be effective and efficient as it was thought to be. As a result, most teachers have become more resistant and negative towards the system. Amongst the most concern issues that are leading to this resistance and negative attitude, is the amount of workload involved in this system. Teachers have argued that the system demands a lot of workload in their part.

This is because teachers are involved in all stages of learning, starting from assessment program planning, identification as well as development of proper assessment tests, to the final judgements which involve awarding marks. As a result, most of them have argued that they have to undertake normal lessons and carry out extra activities to test students.

As a result, they feel that they are not in a position to implement the system either technically or practically. This is because, most of these teacher lack proper training required in assessing students through SBA system. As a result, they are demanding for English Language learning curriculum that is user friendly to them.


Teachers and students were asked about their perception towards the washback effect of school-based assessment (SBA) on teaching and learning in Hong Kong. It was reported that SBA approach has led to unfairness in student assessment. This is because candidates are assessed based on a criterion, other than against other candidates.

In addition, teachers are given the freedom of tailoring tests, time, as well as grouping arrangements suit students needs, interests and language levels. So, to ensure fairness, this system has led to unequal treatment of students because students having lower reading abilities are given simple stories to read as compared to their counterparts.

In addition, SBA approach was reported as being unfair because it varies from one school to the other. This is based on the fact that books and stories given to students in one school differ with those given to students in other schools.

In addition, students and teachers explained that the system allows teachers to set assessment time limits depending on the students’ need and level. However, this depends more on the experience of teachers, though some schools use stopwatches to ensure that every student is given equal time. However, in some schools students reported that time allocation is not enough and their performance rushed.

Teachers were also worried about the issue of cheating because some students are just memorizing some texts by rehearsing them every time, or even parroting fellow group members during group discussions. In addition, teachers and students reported that some teachers were cheating by permitting their students to carry notes, or by giving them similar tasks every now and then. Some of them might even fabricate results.

There were some doubts among teachers concerning their capability to asses properly. As a result, it was requested that HKEAA should be taking some marks to check if the assessment criteria were correctly followed.

Moreover, teachers expressed that this system was just adding more workload to what they already have.

However, some teachers reported that since students were each reading different materials, hence, they all have different ideas and opinions, so when such students interact with others, there are high chances that the information will be genuine because other group members will be very eager to hear the story they are being told.

This perception was also seconded by students themselves who gave similar opinions. It was also reported by some teachers that the criterion along with assessment process increases authenticity because students who have tried rehearsing and memorizing, have not been performing well as their pronunciation was poor.

In addition, assessment reliability is also evident as assessment is not only based on a single exam, but on a series of assessments by usual English teachers. On the other hand, some teachers and students maintained that the process of attaining standardized superficial agreement is a hard nut to crack when it comes to reliability of this assessment system.

Most teachers and students were worried about the practicality of SBA system. Teachers differed on the technical expertise, skills and resources required for the implementation of SBA approach. This is because there were teachers who argued that they have no access to some resources like video cameras. As a result, modifications on the SBA guidelines ensure that activities like recording are just optional.

Another issue is that teachers claim that they were not given enough time to adopt the system, therefore, they were not ready to adopt the system. It happens because though teachers have undergone some training, they lacked enough experience of integrating assessment in teaching as well as learning. They also required more time to create effective and adequate assessment tests.

In general, most of the issues raised by teachers and students on the topic under discussion dealt with socio-cultural, practicality and technical stands of SBA approach (Lee, 2009)


This paper has reviewed and criticized current literature, research as well as practices related to the washback effect of school-based assessment (SBA) on teaching and learning in Hong Kong.

In general, though the government through HKEAA has tried much to initiate the implementation of SBA approach in senior secondary schools, but both teachers and students are still worried about technical, socio-cultural and practical issues of this system. As a result, there is still more to do to ensure that all stakeholders are satisfied with the system. To achieve this:

HKEAA should ensure that it comes up with a fair system of assessing and grading students. To ensure this, teachers should be taken for further training on the SBA guidelines to make sure students from different schools have a fair assessment baseline.

To ensure that this guideline is followed, HKEAA should also be carrying out its own assessments in different schools randomly on different students to compare the marks awarded by teachers and what they can award themselves. This will ensure that assessment guidelines are followed.

To ensure that there is no cheating from teachers and students, HKEAA should emphasize on professional code of conduct among teachers. However, under severe conditions both teachers and students should be given severe punishments.


Biggs, J. (2007). Teaching for Quality Learning at University, (3rd Ed). Buckingham: SRHE and Open University Press.

Brindley, G. (1998). Outcomes-based assessment and reporting in language learning programmes: A review of the issues. Language Testing, 15(2): 45–85.

Carless, D. (2005). Prospects for the implementation of assessment for learning. Assessment in Education. 12(1): 39–54.

Davison, C. (2007).Views from the Chalkface: English Language School-Based Assessment in Hong Kong. Language Assessment Quarterly, 4(1): 37-68.

Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority. (2005). Assessment Reform for 2007 HKCEE Chinese and English Subject. Hong Kong: HKEAA

Lee, C. (2009).The Beneficial Washback of The School-Based Assessment Component on The Speaking Performance of Students. Hong Kong Teachers’ Centre Journal, 8(3): 18-29.

Qian, D. (2008). English language assessment in Hong Kong: A survey of practices, developments and issues. Language Testing, 25 (1): 85–110.

2007 HKCEE English examination: Introduction to the school-based assessment component. Hong Kong: HKEAA.

Shepard, L. (2001). “The role of classroom assessment in teaching and learning.” In V. Richardson (Ed.).The Handbook of Research on Teaching. (4th Ed). Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.

Stephen, A. (2004). “Washback and curriculum innovation.” In: Cheng, L., Watanabe, Y. & Curtis, A. (Eds). Washback in Language Testing: Research Contexts and Methods. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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