Friday, 29 November 2013

Principles of testing for the classroom

This was the title of a Cambridge English Teacher webinar presented by Shakeh Manassian and what follows is a summary of what she had to say.

What is a test?

Talking mainly about summative assessment, a test is/has:
  • a tool or device
  • an activity which helps to elicit certain types of performance
  • a measure of learner performance - evidence of what a learner knows, understands and can do
  • a defined duration
  • a clear purpose
  • a standard delivery format
  • tasks which relate back to what was taught and learned
  • a variety of task types to ensure fairness
  • an evaluation of the evidence with reference to a set of criteria or a standard (this could be our own or an internationally recognised one, such as CEFR)
  • marks which are indicative of the learners' underlying ability
  • results which are used to make inferences about the ability of the learners
  • these inferences must link back to the purpose for testing the learner, and the skills and abilities we thought we were eliciting
Purposes of testing

A clear purpose helps to identify:
  • the kind of evidence we need
  • the task types
The purpose also links to the way we:
  • mark the learners' work
  • interpret learners' performances
  • make inferences about learners' abilities
  • report our findings
  • make decisions
The purposes of testing include:
  • giving feedback
  • checking progress
  • analysing learning needs
  • deciding what you're going to teach next
  • selecting for a particular course
  • assessing suitability for the next level
The purposes of international language tests will be different from those you use in the classroom.  In most cases, the purpose is generally to report on the performance of candidates in such a way that organisations that use the results can make decisions, for example, for selection.

Qualities of good coursebook learning tasks
  • Focused
  • May come before or after a presentation of new language
  • Are part of a series of learning tasks
  • Fit in with the curriculum
  • May lead to freer activities
  • Often have an example at the beginning
  • Are repetitive
  • Help learners understand what has been taught
  • Give learners an opportunity to practise
All of these things make learning tasks very different to testing tasks.  Such activities are not suitable in a testing context, not least because they repeat the same piece of language many times.

What makes a good testing task?
  • it has a clear purpose which is stated in writing (for example, in a syllabus or handout)
  • it's linked to a given model of language teaching and learning
  • it makes the best use of the time available
  • it tries to be authentic
  • it isn't focused on a single element of language
  • it has a clear marking scheme
What makes a good reading learning task?
  • it exploits the reading text
  • it develops a variety of reading skills
  • it takes account of the classroom context
  • it tries to develop other learning skills
  • it tries to develop other language skills
What makes a good reading testing task?
  • it tests a variety of reading skills.
  • questions are ordered in the same order as the information appears in the text - we are testing comprehension, not information location.
  • questions are clearly worded and are appropriate to the level.  All students should be able to access the questions - we are testing their ability to find the answers.
  • questions should be unbiased.
  • questions shouldn't contain the same wording as the text - we should paraphrase so that students have to demonstrate their understanding of the language.
  • each question should test only one reading skill.
  • all options in multiple choice questions must relate back to something in the text.
  • there needs to be a clear indication of the marks being allocated to each response.
  • questions must have the right level of difficulty.
  • texts should be interesting to our students and as authentic as possible.
  • texts must allow us to test the kind of skills we're interested in.
  • the selection of the topic and the sources should reflect the purposes of testing.
  • the length of the texts should be appropriate for our purposes and for the time available.
  • a variety of texts and question types should be used to be fairer to the students and to enable us to make broader inferences about what a learner can do.
  • the test must allow the comparison of performance across huge cohorts of candidates.
Testing speaking
  • there needs to be a clear purpose.
  • we need to have a clear idea of the performance we want to elicit.
  • there needs to be a clearly defined format.
  • the testing tasks and questions must be clearly designed.
Conclusions - some principles of testing

We need to have:
  • a clear purpose
  • a clear understanding of how the results will be used
  • a clear identification of the performance to be elicited
  • designed tasks that elicit enough of this performance
  • tasks that are fair to learners
  • a set delivery format
  • clear marking criteria and marking schemes
  • a clear approach to the interpretation of the results
We also need to:
  • know what each of the questions we've designed is testing
  • make sure that we're testing key skills more than once, but that we're not overtaxing the learner
  • be able to relate the results back to the skills we've tested
  • be consistent in our approach each time we test our learners
  • document decisions and actions

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