Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Fundamentals of Assessment is an integral part of our job. It can be be informal such as when we assess students’ understanding of the subject explained and evaluate/adjust our teaching or formal as in written or oral tests when a specific day and length of time is allotted for students to take it.  Either way, there is no questioning that assessing is of utmost importance for it connects the learning and teaching processes providing feedback on next moves for teachers and students as well.  

Due to the effects tests have on teaching and learning, also known as washback effect, what is taught and what is tested should always be aligned. Moreover, tests should drive learning. Consequently, there is more to designing a test than just picking up an exercise and grading it. Knowing the foundations to design a solid assessment gives us a broader perspective of all that is involved in designing tests, assessments or even graded exercises. The literature lists seven cornerstones:

1    1.    Usefulness and purpose are considered the most important cornerstones. They have to do with the purpose of the assessment and how aligned it is to the course being taught, the students being tested and the language use you want to evaluate. Let`s say you want to test your students` ability to order food in a restaurant, then you would need to have a reading that reflects that specific situation in terms of language and text style. A passage from a newspaper would not meet the purpose of the test or be useful for that group of students.

2    2.  Reliability is related to the consistency of test conditions and score. If a student takes the same test at another time, under the same conditions, results have to be the same. To be reliable a test should be neither too difficult nor too easy, questions should not be tricky or ambitious, directions should be clear, the right amount of time should be allotted for most students to finish and there should be scoring rubrics to guide teacher correct all tests using the same criteria.

3   3. Validity checks if the item really measures what it is supposed to measure. If the test is about listening, for example, students’ ability in spelling and grammar cannot be evaluated. Besides, the vocabulary, sentence structure and grammar usage cannot be beyond the level of the students. Otherwise, you will be testing them on more than just their listening comprehension skills and thus decreasing the validity of the test as a measure for listening.

4    4.  Practicality is how teacher-friendly the test is. If the correction requires a great amount of time, there will be a practicality issue. Ideally, tests should be corrected, graded and returned to the students promptly so they can benefit from the feedback.

5    5. Washback concerns the effect of testing on students, teachers and the program. For a test to have positive washback, “teachers should link teaching and testing with instructional objective and provide feedback in a timely manner so that students learn and benefit from the assessment process.

6    6. Authenticity refers to relevant use of real-life contexts which motivate students to perform well in the test. This way, a course designed to develop students’ ability to answer phones in English asks for an oral exam which mimics a telephone call format.

     7. Transparency has to do with the availability of information to students. Students should know what they will learn, how this will be assessed and graded. When students have the chance to practice question types beforehand, anxiety is reduced and they focus on the completion of the exercise and not on the directions.

In a nutshell, not only do these cornerstones allow us a more comprehensive look, but also help us make more effective choices when designing or analyzing assessments.

Cláudia Furtado

Based on the article written by Dawn Rogier named Assessment Literacy: Building a Base for a Better Teaching and Learning in English (Teaching Forum – number 3, p. 4).