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Testing and Assessment

Small Steps for Big Leap

Testing and assessment

Submitted by admin on 15 November, 2004 - 12:00
I will always remember the horror of receiving my chemistry result when I was thirteen years
old. I knew it wasn't going to be high, but to come bottom of the class was very upsetting.
It was all made worse by the fact that the chemistry teacher read the results to the whole class,
from first to last place. My humiliation was complete. Students can have very negative reactions
towards tests and it's no surprise when they too may have had experiences like this.

Why testing doesn't work

Reasons for testing
Making testing more productive
Learning from tests
Alternatives to testing

Why testing doesn't work

There are many arguments against using tests as a form of assessment:

Some students become so nervous that they can't perform and don't give a true account of their
knowledge or ability
Other students can do well with last-minute cramming despite not having worked throughout the
Once the test has finished, students can just forget all that they had learned
Students become focused on passing tests rather than learning to improve their language skills.

Reasons for testing

Testing is certainly not the only way to assess students, but there are many good reasons for
including a test in your language course.

A test can give the teacher valuable information about where the students are in their learning
and can affect what the teacher will cover next. They will help a teacher to decide if her teaching
has been effective and help to highlight what needs to be reviewed. Testing can be as much an
assessment of the teaching as the learning
Tests can give students a sense of accomplishment as well as information about what they know
and what they need to review.
In the 1970s students in an intensive EFL program were taught in an unstructured conversation
course. They complained that even though they had a lot of time to practise communicating,
they felt as if they hadn't learned anything. Not long afterwards a testing system was introduced
and helped to give them a sense of satisfaction that they were accomplishing things. Tests can
be extremely motivating and give students a sense of progress. They can highlight areas for
students to work on and tell them what has and hasn't been effective in their learning.
Tests can also have a positive effect in that they encourage students to review material covered
on the course.
At university I experienced this first hand, I always learned the most before an exam. Tests can
encourage students to consolidate and extend their knowledge.



Testing and Assessment

Small Steps for Big Leap

Tests are also a learning opportunity after they have been taken. The feedback after a test can
be invaluable in helping a student to understand something she couldn't do during the test. Thus
the test is a review in itself.

Making testing more productive

Despite all of these strong arguments for testing, it is very important to bear in mind the
negative aspects we looked at first and to try and minimise the effects.

Try to make the test a less intimidating experience by explaining to the students the purpose for
the test and stress the positive effects it will have. Many may have very negative feelings left
over from previous bad experiences.
Give the students plenty of notice and teach some revision classes beforehand.
Tell the students that you will take into account their work on the course as well as the test
Be sensitive when you hand out the results. I usually go through the answers fairly quickly,
highlight any specific areas of difficulty and give the students their results on slips of paper.
Emphasise that an individual should compare their results with their own previous scores not
with others in the class.

Learning from tests

Finally, it is very important to remember that tests also give teachers valuable information on
how to improve the process of evaluation. Questions such as:

"Were the instructions clear?"

"Are the test results consistent with the work that the students have done on the course.
Why/why not?"
"Did I manage to create a non-threatening atmosphere?"
All of this will help the teacher to improve the evaluative process for next time.

Alternatives to testing
Using only tests as a basis for assessment has obvious drawbacks. They are 'one-off' events that
do not necessarily give an entirely fair account of a student's proficiency. As we have already
mentioned, some people are more suited to them than others. There are other alternatives that
can be used instead of or alongside tests.

Continuous assessment
Teachers give grades for a number of assignments over a period of time. A final grade is decided
on a combination of assignments.
A student collects a number of assignments and projects and presents them in a file. The file is
then used as a basis for evaluation.
The students evaluate themselves. The criteria must be carefully decided upon beforehand.
Teacher's assessment
The teacher gives an assessment of the learner for work done throughout the course including
classroom contributions.

Overall, I think that all the above methods have strengths and limitations and that tests have an



Testing and Assessment

Small Steps for Big Leap

important function for both students and teachers. By trying to limit the negative effects of tests
we can try to ensure that they are as effective as possible. I don't think that tests should be the
only criteria for assessment, but that they are one of many tools that we can use. I feel that
choosing a combination of methods of assessment is the fairest and most logical approach.

Ongoing assessment - fun not fear!

Submitted by admin on 2 September, 2009 - 15:00
In my experience of teaching juniors (6-11) and seniors (11-16) I have found that there is a
notable difference in their attitudes to assessment.
For example, the older age group are much more likely to anticipate a forthcoming test with
nervousness and dread, whereas the younger learners display a certain amount of excitement
and even pleasure at the prospect of being able to show off what they have learnt. I suppose
this is not so surprising when we consider the fact that the outcome of senior tests are likely to
have more serious consequences with the added pressure of parent and teacher expectations.

Overall assessment
Formative assessment

Overall assessment
Another reason for the difference is perhaps the type of assessment that we, as teachers, often
administer to juniors and seniors. Whereas the younger learners are usually assessed in a nonthreatening, enjoyable environment; working in groups to demonstrate their collective ability,
seniors are more likely to experience assessment carried out individually where they are
expected to reproduce discrete language items from memory. This more formal type of testing
would probably occur at the end of a semester or academic year and the results then used to
write a school report and to determine where the student is placed the following year. This is
known as overall assessment or summative assessment, which may provide straightforward
results for teachers to analyse, but does not necessarily provide a clear picture of an individuals
overall progress or even their full potential, especially if they are hindered by the fear factor of
physically sitting a test.

Formative assessment
The alternative type of testing is referred to as ongoing or formative assessment and as well as
providing a more positive experience for learners it can also be invaluable for us as teachers, to
see if our lesson aims have been fulfilled and our overall objectives have been met. It can also
help us to assess student strengths and weaknesses and give us a strong indication as to which
type of activities students like and dislike.

Here is an example of ongoing assessment, which I carried out with a group of 8-9 year old
Portuguese learners in their second year of learning English. We were using a coursebook and at
the end of each module students were required to complete an evaluation sheet that was divided
into 4 parts.



Testing and Assessment

Small Steps for Big Leap

Part 1 - A series of 5 or 6 tasks to demonstrate the skills and language they had just learnt.
These tasks were generally completed in pairs or small groups and would vary in type; matching
exercises, sentence ordering, gap-fills, songs, miming actions, reading comprehension, labelling
diagrams, describing pictures, performing mini dialogues etc. The important thing was not to
repeat the same task-type that the students had completed in the module so that they were
demonstrating their understanding of the language, not from memory alone, but by their ability
to manipulate it in a different way. After completing the task students coloured in one of three
related icons to demonstrate how well they had performed.

One icon = quite well

Two icons = well
Three icons = very well

Part 2 - A list of statements referring to students general behaviour and overall class
These statements were presented in a chart that students coloured in according to how well they
rated their own performance. For example:



I speak to the teacher in English

I do my homework
I try to speak to my friends in English
I work well on my own

Part 3 - A simple self-reflection task to show how much the students enjoyed the activities in
the coursebook module. Again, they coloured in one of three simple face icons.

Sad face = didnt enjoy it

Neutral face = it was ok
Smiley face = enjoyed it

Part 4 - A separate box for the teacher to write his/her own comments. Also, a box for parents
to sign, as students were expected to take the evaluation sheet home to display as part of their
ongoing portfolio of work.

I found that the students really looked forward to these assessment lessons and were very
proud of their completed evaluation sheets. Surprisingly, even at this age, they were able to
self-reflect quite openly and honestly and did not automatically give themselves the maximum



Testing and Assessment

Small Steps for Big Leap

award if they felt it was undeserved. Sometimes, though, it was necessary for me to intervene if
students were colouring in 3 pictures when they had clearly struggled to complete the task.
The opportunity to complete the tasks in pairs or small groups removed the pressure of being
individually tested and added an enjoyable element to the assessment process. Clearly, there is
also a necessity for students to be able to work independently, which is why students are asked
to reflect on their ability to work alone in Part 2. If desired, an individual task could easily be
included in the assessment to distinguish the stronger students from the weaker ones.

Overall, I think this type of ongoing assessment is effective not only in recycling and revising
language but also in encouraging younger learners to be aware of their own abilities and needs
and to perceive assessment as a positive experience.
As far as teachers are concerned, it is also an excellent way of monitoring student progress on a
regular basis and discovering which activities students respond to more favourably. This is
invaluable information when planning future lessons to suit the learning styles within the group
as well as pinpointing which language areas and which skills need developing further.
Finally, I think ongoing assessment works best when it is combined with an element of overall
assessment, particularly with seniors, who are perhaps more motivated by the opportunity to
display their individual knowledge as well as their ability to work as a group. Personally, I find
the productive skills, speaking and writing, which require a process of drafting and editing, are
better suited to formative assessment, whereas the receptive skills, listening and reading, can
be effectively tested using summative assessment methods. In this way learners benefit from
the social, co-operative skills required for group work but also have the opportunity to
demonstrate their individual potential.

Observations - why bother?

Submitted by admin on 7 December, 2010 - 16:04
"Nice board work." This was a killer phrase back in the days before the invention of the
interactive whiteboard. It normally sat, all alone, in the left hand column of a page divided by a
vertical line, under the label "Good".
The right hand column was labelled "To Think About". And, even though you were just starting
to learn how to teach, you couldn't help noticing that the number of entries that your Teacher
Trainer had made in the "To Think About" section had overflowed into the bottom of the "Good"
half, and sometimes even on to the back of the page.
It meant your lesson had been rubbish. Or rather, it meant that your lesson had been judged as
rubbish. Because this phrase was, essentially, a code. To a novice teacher, it meant that you
had written on the board in straight lines and not made any really bad spelling mistakes. But to
the more experienced observer, the code was clear: the lesson was a stinker.
This may be an extreme example, but it does show how the notes from lesson observations do
not necessarily mean what they say. Indeed, they will say one thing to one person (or set of
people) and something quite different to another.



Testing and Assessment

Small Steps for Big Leap

Why is this? And why does it matter?

Well, partly it is an example of groupthink. Trainers train trainers and those trainers become
trainer trainers and so on: unless your organisation has seen a significant influx of new staff
there will be a line of continuity. And unfortunately all those trainers will have the same belief:
that they are describing the lesson they are observing.
They are not. They are, rather, demonstrating what they have been conditioned to see. To see
this phenomenon in a different area of activity, let us look at the examples of football referees.
Supporters criticise referees during games because the refs are discriminating against their club.
And yet both sets of supporters feel this discrimination. Obviously, they can't both be right. In
fact, I would suggest that they are both wrong. The referee is observing the game carefully. But
he or she can only see half the action (even with the help of assistant referees). And, even then,
they too have been subjected to groupthink. After every international match, football experts on
TV complain that the referee comes from a country with different tolerances of physicality or
In football, as in teaching, people want to remove the subjectivity. They want objectivity. In
teaching recently, there has been more of a move to write descriptive observation notes rather
than subjective ones. The notes should state what the teacher did - their behaviours - and not
add commentary. But as we have seen with referees, what you (manage to) see is already a
commentary in itself.

Can we make observation notes more useful?

I think we can. But to do that, we need to change their role. We need to make observations into
a conversation. In teacher development, pointing out behaviours and asking questions should
have the same effect as we hope it does in language teaching. If we ask noticing-type questions,
we would hope that this leads to the learner/trainee asking themselves similar questions. So
instead of writing "students do not seem engaged", we could ask "Why did Tina spend five
minutes talking to John during the matching activity?"
Notice a couple of things here:
1. it's a real question, not a pseudo-question (a pseudo-question is when you already know the
answer, which makes it a test, not an enquiry), and
2. you need to listen to the answer. This means sitting and talking to the person afterwards and
talking as an equal. Of course, they may have less experience (of teaching) than you, and they
may not have the professional terminology, but that, surprisingly is a good thing, as it means
you can hear their ideas being formed, before they've learned to put a label on all their
classroom behaviours.

Experienced teachers
So much, perhaps, for pre-service training. But what about experienced teachers? Here, too, we
need to move towards conversations.
For example, we could decide to observe a lesson jointly prepared by observer and observee.
How would this alter the observer's comments? How much responsibility for the successful and
unsuccessful outcomes do they take? Perhaps we could add another observer, and discuss how
having an investment in the lesson alters observational judgement?



Testing and Assessment

Small Steps for Big Leap

And what if the observation is of a lesson prepared by the observer, but delivered by the
observee, what useful insights can be gained? What needs to be changed? Are the problems
caused by the content, or the delivery, or the lesson structure, or even the fact it is being
Or we could create an action-research aim, like why a particular piece of content doesn't seem
to work in your school. Ask two or three teachers to observe each other teaching it, and work
out why it doesn't work, or how it needs to be altered, or create some substitute content.
With this investment in the observation, observation notes become useful. Yes, they can feed
into the action-research process. But they have another role.
Many people ask "What is the point of observing teachers who've been in the classroom for
years and years?" Are such observations simply part of the bureaucratic process? Something to
put in their bulging personal files or shiny new Teacher Portfolio?
I would ask, when an observer gives an observee advice or suggestions, what does that advice
say about their philosophy of teaching, of their attitude to learning by both learners and
observee? Which half of the class do they see? What do they choose to comment on? What do
they take as a given what is "normal" for them?
Observations can tell us a lot but they tell us a lot about the observer, rather than the class, or
even the observee. In my view, the best and only place that an observation report should be
kept is in the portfolio of the observer.

Test question types

Submitted by admin on 7 February, 2005 - 12:00
In my previous article Test writing I looked at some of the difficulties of writing good tests and
how to make tests more reliable and useful.
I will now go on to look at testing and elicitation and in particular some different question types
and their functions, advantages and disadvantages.


Types of test
Types of task
Multiple choice
True / False
Open questions
Error correction
Other techniques

Types of test
Before writing a test it is vital to think about what it is you want to test and what its purpose is.



Testing and Assessment

Small Steps for Big Leap

We must make a distinction here between proficiency tests, achievement tests, diagnostic tests
and prognostic tests.

A proficiency test is one that measures a candidate's overall ability in a language, it isn't related
to a specific course.
An achievement test on the other hand tests the students' knowledge of the material that has
been taught on a course.
A diagnostic test highlights the strong and weak points that a learner may have in a particular
A prognostic test attempts to predict how a student will perform on a course.

There are of course many other types of tests. It is important to choose elicitation techniques
carefully when you prepare one of the aforementioned tests.

Types of task
There are many elicitation techniques that can be used when writing a test. Below are some
widely used types with some guidance on their strengths and weaknesses. Using the right kind
of question at the right time can
be enormously important in giving us a clear understanding of our students' abilities, but we
must also be aware of the limitations of each of these task or question types so that we use
each one appropriately.
Multiple choice
Choose the correct word to complete the sentence.
Cook is ________________today for being one of Britain's most famous explorers.
a) recommended b) reminded c) recognised d) remembered
In this question type there is a stem and various options to choose from. The advantages of this
question type are that it is easy to mark and minimises guess work by having multiple
distracters. The disadvantage is that it
can be very time-consuming to create, effective multiple choice items are surprisingly difficult to
write. Also it takes time for the candidate to process the information which leads to problems
with the validity of the exam. If a low level candidate has to read through lots of complicated
information before they can answer the question, you may find you are testing their reading
skills more than their lexical knowledge.

Multiple choice can be used to test most things such as grammar, vocabulary, reading, listening
etc. but you must remember that it is still possible for students to just 'guess' without knowing
the correct answer.

Complete the second sentence so that it has the same meaning as the first.
'Do you know what the time is, John?' asked Dave.
Dave asked John __________ (what) _______________ it was.
This time a candidate has to rewrite a sentence based on an instruction or a key word given.



Testing and Assessment

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This type of task is fairly easy to mark, but the problem is that it doesn't test understanding. A
candidate may simply be able to rewrite sentences to a formula. The fact that a candidate has to
paraphrase the whole meaning of the sentence in the example above however minimises this

Transformations are particularly effective for testing grammar and understanding of form. This
wouldn't be an appropriate question type if you wanted to test skills such as reading or listening.
Complete the sentence.
Check the exchange ______________ to see how much your money is worth.
The candidate fills the gap to complete the sentence. A hint may sometimes be included such as
a root verb that needs to be changed, or the first letter of the word etc. This usually tests
grammar or vocabulary. Again
this type of task is easy to mark and relatively easy to write. The teacher must bear in mind
though that in some cases there may be many possible correct answers.

Gap-fills can be used to test a variety of areas such as vocabulary, grammar and are very
effective at testing listening for specific words.
Match the word on the left to the word with the opposite meaning.


With this question type, the candidate must link items from the first column to items in the
second. This could be individual words, words and definitions, parts of sentences, pictures to
words etc. Whilst it is easy to mark, candidates can get the right answers without knowing the
words, if she has most of the answers correct she knows the last one left must be right. To avoid
this, have more words than is necessary.

Matching exercises are most often used to test vocabulary.

Complete the text by adding a word to each gap.
This is the kind _____ test where a word _____ omitted from a passage every so
often. The candidate must _____ the gaps, usually the first two lines are without gaps.
This kind of task type is much more integrative as candidates have to process the components
of the language simultaneously. It has also been proved to be a good indicator of overall
language proficiency. The teacher must be careful about multiple correct answers and students
may need some practice of this type of task.



Testing and Assessment

Small Steps for Big Leap

Cloze tests can be very effective for testing grammar, vocabulary and intensive reading.
True / False
Decide if the statement is true or false.
England won the world cup in 1966. T/F
Here the candidate must decide if a statement is true or false. Again this type is easy to mark
but guessing can result in many correct answers. The best way to counteract this effect is to
have a lot of items.

This question type is mostly used to test listening and reading comprehension.
Open questions
Answer the questions.
Why did John steal the money?
Here the candidate must answer simple questions after a reading or listening or as part of an
oral interview. It can be used to test anything. If the answer is open-ended it will be more
difficult and time consuming to mark and there may also be a an element of subjectivity
involved in judging how 'complete' the answer is, but it may also be a more accurate test.

These question types are very useful for testing any of the four skills, but less useful for testing
grammar or vocabulary.
Error Correction
Find the mistakes in the sentence and correct them.
Ipswich Town was the more better team on the night.
Errors must be found and corrected in a sentence or passage. It could be an extra word,
mistakes with verb forms, words missed etc. One problem with this question type is that some
errors can be corrected in more than one way.

Error correction is useful for testing grammar and vocabulary as well as readings and listening.

Other Techniques
There are of course many other elicitation techniques such as translation, essays, dictations,
ordering words/phrases into a sequence and sentence construction (He/go/school/yesterday).
It is important to ask yourself what exactly you are trying to test, which techniques suit this
purpose best and to bear in mind the drawbacks of each technique. Awareness of this will help
you to minimise the problems and produce a more effective test.

Test writing
Submitted by admin on 31 January, 2005 - 12:00
If you think taking tests is difficult then you should try writing them! Writing a good test is
indeed quite a challenge and one that takes patience, experience and a degree of trial and error.

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Testing and Assessment

Small Steps for Big Leap

There are many steps you can take to ensure that your test is more effective and that test
writing becomes a learning experience.

The elements of a good test

Validity of a test
Reliability of a test
The affect of tests
Other features of a good test
Assessing difficulty

The elements of a good test

A good test will give us a more reliable indication of our students' skills and it ensures that they
don't suffer unfairly because of a poor question. How can we be sure that we have produced a
good test?

One way is very simply to think about how we feel about it afterwards. Do the results reflect
what we had previously thought about the skills of the students? Another simple way is to ask
the students for some feedback. They will soon tell you if they felt a question was unfair or if a
task type was unfamiliar.

Validity of a test
A good test also needs to be valid. It must test what it is meant to test. A listening test that has
very complicated questions afterwards can be as much of a test of reading as listening. Also a
test that relies on cultural knowledge cannot measure a student's ability to read and
comprehend a passage.

Reliability of a test
A test should also be reliable. This means that it should produce consistent results at different
times. If the test conditions stay the same, different groups of students at a particular level of
ability should get the same result each time.

A writing test may not be reliable as the marking may be inconsistent and extremely subjective,
especially if there are a number of different markers. Thus to try and ensure the test is more
reliable it is essential to have clear descriptors of what constitutes each grade.
In an oral interview it is important to ensure that the examiner maintains the same attitude with
all the candidates. The test will be less reliable if he is friendly with some candidates but stern
with others. You should try to ensure that the test conditions are as consistent as possible.

The affect of tests

We must also bear in mind the affect of our tests. Has the test caused too much anxiety in the
students? Are the students familiar with the test types in the exam?

If a student has never seen a cloze passage before she may not be able to write a test that
reflects her true ability. The solution to this is to try and reduce the negative effects by using
familiar test types and making the test as non-threatening as possible.

Other features of a good test

Other features of a good test are that there is a variety of test types and that it is as interesting
as possible.

A variety of test types will ensure that the students have to stay focused and minimise the
tiredness and boredom you can feel during a repetitive test.

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Testing and Assessment

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Finding reading passages that are actually interesting to read can also help to maintain
motivation during a test. A test should also be as objective as possible, providing a marking key
and descriptors can help with this.

Assessing difficulty
Another important feature of a good test is that it is set at an appropriate level. You can only
really find this out by giving the test and studying the results. Basically if everyone gets above
90% you know it is too easy or if everyone gets less than 10% it is obviously too difficult. For
tests that aren't so extreme you will need to do some analysis of your test. You can do this by
analysing the individual items for difficulty.


In order to do this mark all of the tests and divide them into three equal groups, high, middle
and low.
Make a note for each item of how many candidates got the answer correct from the high and the
low group (leave aside the middle group). To find the level of difficulty you need to do a quick
Take one question and add the number of students from the high group who have the correct
answer to the number from the low group
Then divide this by the total number of people from both groups (high and low). It is thought
that if over 90% of candidates get the answer right it is too easy. If fewer than 30% get it right
it is too difficult.
Also bear in mind that if most of the answers are in the 30's and 40's it would be best to rewrite
the test. It's the same if most of the answers are in the 80's and 90's.
The final step is to reject the items that are too easy or difficult.

Always bear in mind though that the difficulty of an item may relate to whether it has been
covered in class or it may give an indication of how well it was understood. Such test analysis
can give us information about how effective our teaching has been as well as actually evaluating
the test. Evaluating tests carefully can ensure that the test improves after it is taken and can
give us feedback on improving our test writing.
Below is a suggested procedure for writing a test.

Decide what kind of test it is going to be (achievement, proficiency)

Write a list of what the test is going to cover
Think about the length, layout and the format
Find appropriate texts
Weight the sections according to importance/time spent etc.
Write the questions
Write the instructions and examples
Decide on the marks
Make a key
Write a marking scheme for less objective questions
Pilot the test
Review and revise the test and key
After the test has been taken, analyse the results and decide what can be kept / rejected.

Testing - why bother?

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Testing and Assessment

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Submitted by admin on 15 March, 2011 - 11:02

This article will ask why we test learners of English.
Before I start, let's get some terminology straight. I'm not talking about exams. We as a
society need exams. Governments and large institutions couldn't function without exams.
Governments can't deal with tiny sub-sets of people: individuality prevents it from doing
its business of dividing people up into large groups, separating out, say, the kind of
person who will go on in life to run the laundrette on the corner, from those who will go
on to run our banks into the ground. Governments have to plan via demographics. How
many spaces will universities need in 20 years time? Will this area need a new or
different type of school? Should we encourage people into the IT industry? This basic
business of government - sorting people into socio-economic groups largely through the
education system - has been going on for years.
And there are some other exams, too, like driving tests, or IELTS, that need to exist to
test a particular function. Such as whether Person A will be able to function on University
course X in English (the English not being able to speak any other languages).
Okay, so we can see that there is an argument that exams need to exist. But tests? And
by "test" I mean anything that looks or acts as a test, and that hasn't been designed by
experts at a national level. Do they need to exist? Most teachers say yes. Let's look at
some of the arguments why.

I need to see if my students have learned what I've taught them.

I need to see if my learners have made progress

Well, this is the easiest one to answer. The answer is a simple "No, they haven't". Why?
Well, because they have learned what they have learnt, and not what you have taught
them. It has often been pointed out that the relationship between "teach" and "learn" is
very different from that of "sell" and "buy". You can't say "I sold him the bike, but he
didn't buy it". Yet all round the world staffrooms are filled with people saying "I taught
the present perfect but they still haven't learnt it". Learners learn what they notice, not
what the teacher notices for them. There may be happy occasions where the teacher
helps the learner to notice. But these are few and far between. Because there isn't much
time to allow for encouraging or assisting learners to pay attention to their individual
intake because we must cover the syllabus so they can pass the test.
Another easy one. The answer is that your test won't tell you this. The chances that we
could devise a test that could test exactly the same items or skills on Occasion A as again
on Occasion B are tiny. And what would it tell us anyway? "This person has made
progress". Oh. Good. Can it tell us why? Can it tell us how? Can it tell us whether, if we
had taught differently, they would make the same progress? Or less? Or more? Should
they have made more progress than the progress they did make? Then you start asking
"What is progress?", and we disappear down the rabbit hole of madness.
And progress tests can easily be misused. Sometimes teachers want to prove to
themselves that they have been Doing A Good Job. Sometimes Academic Directors use
them to prove the opposite as a form of teacher appraisal: "none of her students knew
their reported speech!"
Of course, progress is entirely a perceptual construct, so really it would be better to ask
the learner "Do you feel you have made progress?" Our learners might then consider the
question, and this might lead to a discussion about what helps them learn, how they
notice progress, how the teaching process could help more. But of course that syllabus
means we haven't got time. And the learners know the game. They will say "Yes, I have
made a lot of progress. Could you write that on my report, please?" Because they realise
that schools value tests more than learning.

I need to know what they don't know

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Testing and Assessment

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Another familiar test is the placement and/or needs analysis test. These are often the
saddest tests. A group of teachers with a dodgy take on grammar and testing will devise
a test which will cover the traditional structures in a traditional order, with a few
prepositions and phrasal verbs thrown in. This will represent The Ladder of English (or
any other language), up which prospective learners will be sent, like newly press-ganged
recruits on 18th century sailing ships, up, into the masts amid the howling winds of the
Mixed Conditional and the Gales of Inversions. In colleges and offices some of these
items will be replaced by Special Vocabulary and be born again as ESP. Does "the
language of negotiation" come higher or lower than "describing graphs"? The tragedy is
that, once this information is collected and the scores assigned, what does it mean? Who
will interpret it and following what logic? Why test these things indirectly when you could
simply ask a question? It's as if involving the learner is somehow a threat: we need to
prove our professionalism by producing yes! a special syllabus to follow. And then test.

A waste of time


Let's face it. Most testing that we do today is a waste of time. It has all the trappings of
good responsible teaching, but essentially is just a time-consuming activity. Teachers
administer tests that take up useful class time (unless, of course, they're being used as a
form of collective class punishment). And then comes the marking "Do we give halfmarks or not?" "I think she's shown she understands the questions" "Does spelling
count?" "Is that an "s" or a squiggle?" Hours of this stuff using all your breaks at school
or late at night while the family watches TV in another room wondering where you are.
To produce what?
Registration software produced where I once worked allowed us to enter a single
percentage mark to sum up a learner's year of learning. Yes, we had to summarise Peter.
We had to balance out his reading difficulties and his handwriting issues with his wide
vocabulary and his excellent interest in the classes, his variable control of past tenses,
his playing a constructive and leading role in group work but with his high total of
absences due to him taking his sister to school when his mother was working. When I
asked where I could enter these comments, I was told the software didn't keep
comments, just percentages. Okay then. Let's give him, erm, 58.5% then. And round it
up. Of course, every teacher in the school used slightly different criteria and assigned
their percentages in different ways. The school thought that made us look unprofessional.
So they told us to write a test to make it fairer.
Testing. Yeah. Whatever

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