Monday, June 26, 2006

Part 1 Should English Language Formal and Summative Evaluations Be Knowledge or Performance Based?

Viva la Revolution

A revolution is in progress. It’s tranquil and orderly in places, but not so quiet in others. This revolution has swept up the academic world almost in its entirety from students to TEFL teachers and professors, administrators, curriculum designers and materials developers. It’s creating new jobs while obsoleting others. It’s altering the face and structure of the teaching, learning and language acquisition processes. The focus of the hubbub can be summed up in three key words: testing, evaluation and assessment. These three words can strike fear and terror into the hearts of teachers and students alike on a daily basis.

Five Categories of Assessment

Of the five categories of assessment: Placement assessment, Formative assessment, Diagnostic assessment, Summative evaluation, and Self- assessment. (Cucchiarelli, Panti, Valenti, 2000). We will consider aspects of Formative assessment and Summative evaluation.

Formal or Formative assessment such as Progress tests and semester partial exams, provide ongoing monitoring of student progress and are 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. (King and Rowe, 1997)

In Summative evaluation such as achievement tests and final exams, a grade or score is received at the end of a program or course and / or aims to assign grades to certify the student’s global level of knowledge on the topics taught. Based on this grade or score, the language learner is permitted (or not) to progress to the next level, semester or school year.

Knowledge vs. Performance

Testing occurs in one of two format types: “Knowledge of Language” or “Ability to Perform” using the language. (Spratt, Pulverness, Williams, 2005)

Some examples of knowledge tests can include:

-Proficiency tests
-Norm-referenced tests
-Discrete-point tests
-Language sub-skills tests

Some examples of performance tests can include:

-Achievement tests
-Criterion-referenced tests
-Communication skills tests
-Integrative tests
-Receptive tests

So the question becomes then, “Which type of test is best for formal and summative evaluations designed to assess language learning and ability or language level?” In my opinion, this should be done using language performance assessments. In part 2 of this article we’ll examine some reasons why.

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