Sunday, March 09, 2008

Why Do English and Foreign Language Teachers Really Give Tests?

Why Test?

You know how your learners dread to hear, “Next class we have a test on …” Why, you can practically hear their groans of displeasure even now. Even teachers hate tests to some degree. There’s preparing the test, administering it and then the meager efforts to try to prevent the almost inevitable cheating. It’s a cat-and-mouse game of “catch-me-if-you-can”. Who’s “smarter”, the teacher or the learners? So considering the fear and dread that both the learners and teachers have of testing, what is really the role of testing, evaluation and assessment in English Language Teaching? The following are key points in consideration of English and other foreign language tests.

Did you know that:

• Students learn more in classes that use tests

• The connection between testing and increased learning is well-proven in research

• Students are more motivated in classes that use tests …

• The classes in which students learn most and for which they study hardest are ones in which they are frequently and thoroughly tested… (Eggan - Kauchak, 1994)

• Students expect to be tested – adult students expect and respect formal testing and are challenged by it… (M. Thompson, 2001)

ASSESSMENT means judging learner’s performance by collecting information about it.
There are basically two types of assessment, informal and formal.

INFORMAL ASSESSMENT is when we observe learners to see how well they are doing and then comment on their performance.

FORMAL ASSESSMENT is when we assess learners through tests or exams and give them a grade.

In addition, testing, evaluation and assessment in English and other foreign language teaching can also serve the interests of four distinctive groups; teachers, learners, the administration and parents in the case of young language learners.

Testing, evaluation and assessment in English and other foreign language teaching can serve the interests of teachers in at least three major aspects:

- Evaluation of teaching and didactic methods
- Evaluation of learner language competencies
- Teacher accountability to the administration and parents: i.e., are objectives being met?

Testing, evaluation and assessment in English and other foreign language teaching can serve the interests of learners in three principal aspects:

- Demonstrate knowledge
- Diagnostic to point out areas of weakness or inability
- Promote study

There are five key Assessment categories (ref. Cucchiarelli, Panti, Valenti, 2000):

Placement assessment
Formative assessment
Diagnostic assessment
Summative evaluation
Self- assessment

In the next part of this article series we’ll continue and consider each of these assessment categories in more detail. English and other foreign language teachers, 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,"If you Want to Teach English Abroad, Here's What You Need to Know" or "7 Techniques to Motivate Your English Language Learners and Make Your Classes More Dynamic" by requesting the title you want at:

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