I have been interested in assessment since I needed to write them in my first job in higher education. That was in 2000. In that year, the FH Kufstein in Austria ran a training day for its language teachers. It was a really good day and one activity in particular I use to this day. At the end of it, there was a feedback session and we were asked what other areas we would be interested in for future training days. As often occurs, there was a deafening silence. Eventually, my wife and I suggested language assessment. The response was unexpected to both of us at the time. I think it can best be summarised as “why?”.
I would like to emphasise up front that there are clearly lots of practitioners out there who are very knowledgeable about language assessment. The TEASIG at IATEFL does great work and has a great deal of knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject among its members. However, I would suggest that most language teachers have little knowledge of assessment as a subject in its own right. For many, that’s fine. If you teach in an environment where either there is no high-stakes assessment, or external assessments such as from Cambridge or Trinity are used, that is ok, although I would still suggest that knowledge of assessment would be useful in the latter case. There are, however, many others who are involved in high-stakes environments where they are involved in any of writing, running and grading various forms of assessment that can have life-affecting consequences. The obvious area for me is in foundation and pre-sessional language courses for university entrance. If a student fails who shouldn’t have done, that has a clear effect on their life. Just as important, though, is passing a student we shouldn’t have, potentially setting them up for spending lots of money on a course they are unlikely to pass due to their language level. In these situations, great teaching is pointless unless it is supported by great assessment.
Recent moves to distance learning, and therefore assessment, have made assessment even more challenging, so on the Delivering Development podcast we have decided to take a look at some of the key issues in language assessment, both generally and as they relate to distance assessment. I will be supporting the podcasts with some posts on the subject. We will be thinking about how to ensure you are assessing what you think you are, dealing with cheating, appropriate assessment , reliability and much more!
I hope you can join us. We are still thinking about what to include in the podcasts, so, if you have any suggestions, let us know.