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Part 2 - Why Do English and Foreign Language Teachers Really Give Tests?

Larry M. Lynch

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In the first part of this two-part article series we asked, “Why do English and other foreign language teachers really give tests?" We then considered some concrete academic and personal reasons for doing so. We explored the two assessment types and five key Assessment categories. Here, we'll continue with a more detailed look at the five key assessment categories as well as identifying the two contrasting categories of EFL and ESL tests. Finally, whether teachers and language institutions should adopt, develop or adapt tests, assessments and evaluations they use with comments from a leading authority on testing, evaluation and assessment.

The Five Key Assessment Categories

1. Placement assessment . . .

. . . is concerned with the identification of a learner's entry level for class enrollment and selection.

2. Formative assessment (*Progress tests i. e. , semester partial exams) . . . is used to provide ongoing monitoring of student progress used by the teacher to gather feedback in order to adjust the educational process to insure that learning is occurring and to correct learning errors (per King and Rowe, 1997)

3. Diagnostic assessment begins where formative assessment leaves off. It is concerned with the “identification of persistent or recurring learning difficulties that are left unresolved by the standard correction perspective of formative evaluation. " (Gronlund, 1985)

4. Summative evaluation (*Achievement tests, i. e. , final exams) comes at the end of units or courses and / or aims to assign grades to certify the learner's global level of knowledge on the topics taught.

5. Self- assessment is a mix of formative and diagnostic assessment that may be used
by the learner to monitor the level of acquired knowledge in order to decide how and when to face summative evaluation.

*Proficiency Tests are also needed and are used to certify the learner's global level of knowledge on a topic, i. e. , TOEFL, IELTS, PET, etc. (*Spratt, Pulverness, Williams, 2005)

Contrasting Categories of EFL and ESL TESTS:

Tests are also prepared in two contrasting categories based on general purpose. These are knowledge tests designed to determine what a language learner knows about the language, and skill or performance tests designed to determine what a language learner can do (referred to as competencies). The Common European Framework purports an extensive catalogue of “Can Do" statements of English and other foreign language learner competencies at: cfm

Types of tests generally included in each category are:

Knowledge tests

  • Subjective tests

  • Productive tests

  • Language sub-skills tests

  • Norm-referenced tests

  • Discrete point tests

  • Proficiency tests

    Skills (performance) tests

  • Objective tests

  • Receptive tests

  • Communication skills tests

  • Criterion-referenced tests

  • Integrative tests

  • Achievement tests

    Adopt, Develop or Adapt?

    Another point to consider is, “where should tests come from?" Should English or other foreign language teachers adopt “standard" tests, develop their own classroom or institutional tests, or adapt existing evaluation models to suit their current needs?"

    According to testing, assessments and evaluations researcher J. D. Brown (1984), “language tests are, or should be, situation specific. That is to say, a test can be very effective in one situation with one particular group of students and be virtually useless in another situation or with another group of students. "

    Brown also cautions, “Teachers cannot simply go out and buy (or worse yet, illegally photocopy) a test and automatically expect it to work with their students. It may have been developed for completely different types of students (different in background, level of proficiency, gender, and so forth) and for entirely different purposes (that is, based on differing approaches, syllabuses, techniques or exercises)".

    Finally J. D. Brown concludes with, “. . . remember that in most language programs, any rational approach to testing will be a vast improvement over the existing conditions. "

    Now, what do YOU think, English or other foreign language teachers?

  • Would YOU change anything about the language evaluation system you now have?

  • Should language teachers prepare their OWN exams?

  • What areas or topics related to English or other foreign language testing, evaluation and assessment would you like to know MORE about?

    Your personal insights, observations, questions and comments on this topic will be greatly appreciated.

    Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an EFL Teacher Trainer, Intellectual Development Specialist, author and speaker. He has written ESP, foreign language learning, English language teaching texts and hundreds of articles used in more than 80 countries. Get your FREE E-books, English language teaching and learning information at:

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