Ch 8: Assessments

Tackles the importance of tests reflecting practice, though there is more focus on form than I’d be interested in.

Problem with standardized assessment p. 113:

“Teachers began teaching toward the tests by developing materials that mirrored the formats found on the national examination. In other words, the tests did not open up their instructional practices, but limited and restricted them rather severely.” (emphasis mine)

I looked up the source of the study, but can’t dl it :( I will try to get it some other way.

The problem is, standardized assessments can bring improvement to places where there is a deficit due to lack of effort; however they also lock in innovative educators by measuring achievement in a single format.

Divides test-making into those that reflect content and those that reflect practice.

Backwards Design

Teaching to the Test

  • Start with what you want kids to be able to do (final task)
  • Work backwards - build a unit
  • Test reflects teaching
  • tests are more open, include student input, and are creative
  • Make a list of facts kids need to know based on test
  • provide notes and study guides
  • teaching reflects test
  • teaching is singular (stagnant) and can rely heavily on memorisation.

Nota Bene: (114) Testing has no power. We, when we decide what to do with it, give it power!

  1. Testing as Motivation. Testing content from class is one way to make attending class more important to students. This is really a problem for college-level classes and less a problem for our students. There is an interesting quote on motivation, however p. 114: “Most language instructors stress the importance of attendance and participation, but as abstract concepts—it’s good for you, or you can’t learn a language without practicing it—rather than as concrete constructs that directly affect learning.” Using abstract reasons to motivate students is ineffective. The students motivated by these reasons already are motivated by them and don’t need us to remind them. The others are not motivated by these reasons.
  2. Importance of Format. p. 115 “Test formats can and do shape learning behaviors and they should, therefore, support in-class activity, not undermine it...tests, then, should account for the purpose for which learners used language in the classroom...[and] be communicative events: Learners should have opportunities to communicate via testing formats. They should express, interpret, and negotiate meaning.” They need to reflect student knowledge as it was gained in class. Ideally, they even ask for the same skills that were built in class.
  3. Tests should p. 115
  1. be neutral instruments
  2. be used by instructors to make appropriate decisions
  3. encourage appropriate learning behavior
  4. make learners responsible for what happens in class
  5. incorporate formats that allow learners to express, interpret, and negotiate meaning
  1. Tests can either test content or practice
  1. Content
  1. “Test sections that privilege specific in-class interaction require that each learner have firsthand knowledge of the instructional event in order to complete the test section” p. 116
  2. asks students to respond appropriately to questions they have already answered in class, so the material is not unknown, though it could be difficult if a student missed the class that discussed or used the material.
  3. Still not as good as SBG--still tests memorization and note-taking
  1. Practice (blog post - The Fault in Our Plans)
  1. Practice privileges “the mental processes underlying the classroom interaction. These formats reflect the type of thinking that takes place during the activity. By privileging the mental processes underlying the completion of an activity, and instructor makes a clear connection between classroom interaction and the test.” p. 115
  2. You could recreate a class activity for a test by providing information at the beginning that students must use to complete the test (as on p. 126)
  1. Tests should reflect teaching. Students will not accept a test as valid if it does not connect to actions done in class (I hear them talk about the same all the time about other classes)
  2. Test instructions need to be clear, and you need to know you are testing their ability to function in the language; book recommends starting with instructions in English, then working up to TL instructions by second year.
  3. Tests also should be at level of the student--ask for examples vs explanations at low levels
  4. Offering choice on the test accounts for absenteeism but still rewards attention and participation.

But tests are not meant to catch students out, and I am not sure that is expressed in this chapter (it actually seems to lean toward catching them out)


A favorite quote from the chapter: “Instructional innovation needs to be supported by testing innovation.” p. 123

Also, the quote insert on p. 123 is great advice; you should communicate why you do what you do to your students.

Ch. 9 Oral Assessment

The point of the chapter is to demonstrate some methods to test students orally, and while it touches on one-on-one interview style assessment, I think it clearly favors the interactive student group assessments.

One on One


Whole Class*

  • OPI is an example
  • interview/report giving
  • high pressure
  • teacher and ss
  • ss and ss
  • INOPT includes an example
  • discussion
  • teacher is observer, silent
  • lower pressure
  • discussion/debate
  • teacher is facilitator and observer
  • lower pressure, but pressure on teacher to make sure all get a chance to share - NOT FORCED

*I added this one

Importance of Proficiency: “By virtue of being proficiency measures, they are supposed to measure ability independent of the instructional means by which learners have developed communicative language ability.” p. 130. If proficiency is the goal, assessments should never be binge-n-purge exams.

The chapter recognizes that there is a communicative burden on a student in either exam format, though the burden is lightened when in a group format because there are other students sharing the burden. I like that the term “communicative burden” acknowledges the effort and stress communication can put on a student.

Ch. 9 also warns against setting up exams that are “communicatively artificial,” i.e., they ask the student a question about information the teacher was present for (they give the example, “What were the three characteristics the class came up with” although the teacher was present for the discussion of the characteristics). There needs to be some sort of use for the information.

To bring down the test stress level, the book suggests offering test options to students--something we’ve been doing for a while. I think that’s still very formal for what I want to do with my classes in the future.

Table 9.2 is neat--it shows a way of grading based on successful communication. I’d like to ruminate on it some more. p. 137 Also table 9.4. Both of these seem to be focusing on testing by doing.