This article was originally published in ENGLISH TEACHING professional, Issue 20, July 2001. © Copyright Anthony Bynom.
TESTING: BASIC CONCEPTS: BASIC TERMINOLOGY
by Anthony Bynom, Ph.D., December 2001
Most teachers are involved in testing
in some form, either invigilating, marking or actually writing tests. This
article is aimed at teachers who may be either assessing test material or
writing their own tests. The basic question to begin with is why do we test?
I hope there are not many of you who will follow the example of a former colleague. This person would use tests as a punishment. If his class became too boisterous he would announce a test. Then he would retire to his desk and set the most difficult grammar test he could find in order, as he put it, ‘to teach the blighters a lesson.’ In this instance testing was used as a means of classroom management. The more conventional answer to the question of why we test is to get information. The type of information required will dictate the type of test needed. Types of information needed could come under the following headings.
This is where testees are being selected for some future course or type
employment. You are trying to find out if the people concerned have the
attributes to benefit from the course.
Is when you want to place
testees at a correct level for their abilities.
This familiar process
places testees in order, who is first second etc.
This attempts to Predict
likely future performance.
OF PROBLEM AREAS
An attempt to find out
why things are happening.
CURRICULA, PEDAGOGICAL PRACTICES AND MATERIALS
Is the curriculum
working? Do your classroom practices succeed? Are the materials you are using
This is used to amend procedures, if necessary.
When you want to try
something new or different.
may initially be divided into two types.
Norm Referenced Tests
Referenced tests answer such questions as, how student ‘A’ compares with
student ‘B’. Attainment or Achievement
tests should be specifically designed to answer this question.
Referenced tests answer such questions as, How much has student ‘Y’ learnt?
Or, How much does student ‘X’ know?
Proficiency tests should be designed to answer such questions.
all the other test areas you should always bear in mind the purpose of your
test. For example;
should be designed to provide information to assist prediction of future
tests should obviously provide information on areas of difficulty.
Performance tests should be designed to provide information for the evaluation of a specific skill or task.
RELIABILITY AND VALIDITY
We now move on to the two key issues for any test, reliability and validity.
These two concepts and
their relationship to testing form the most fundamental issue in current
thinking on testing. Although they are absolutely basic they very often appear
to be incompatible, in that some tests that are known as reliable are seen as
falling short in validity. While criticism of test validity is based on the
question of how reliable they are In fact it might be truly said that the whole
art and science of testing lies in attempting to find ways of harmonising these
two important qualities. To help with this let’s look at their meaning.
Reliability. This means the consistency of the test’s judgement and results. It is about producing precise and repeatable measurements on a clear scale of measurement units. Such tests give consistent results across a wide range of situations. This is achieved by carefully piloted trials of the test. Sometimes, several versions of the test may be used on a controlled population of testees. The outcomes of these trials are carefully analysed in order to establish consistency. When a consistent set of figures is achieved the test may be deemed reliable.
This means the truth of the test in relation to what it is supposed to
evaluate. It concerns the relevance and usefulness
of what you are is measuring. The difficulty in setting such tests lies in the
problem how sure you can be about what is actually
being measured. Is it consistent with the worthwhile quality you think you’re
help with this you should consider the following:
Have satisfactory samples of language and language skills been selected
validity. Is the
test based on the best available theory of language and language use?
validity. Does the
test successfully predict future outcomes?
validity. Does the
test correlate with other existing measures? Usually a similar test.
There are other ways one can look at the subject of validity but the above are the main ones and give you the basic idea.
may see or hear these words when being asked to assess or even write a test so
let’s see what they mean.
tests are based on an analytical view of language. This is where language is
divided up so that components of it may be tested. Discrete point tests aim to
achieve a high reliability factor by testing a large number of discrete items.
From these separated parts, you can form an opinion is which is then applied to
language as an entity. You may
recognise some of the following Discrete Point tests:
2. Yes/No, True/ False answers.
4. Word completion.
tests have a down side in that they take language out of context and usually
bear no relationship to the concept or use of whole language.
In order to overcome the above defect, you should consider Integrative
tests. Such tests usually require the testees to demonstrate simultaneous
control over several aspects of language, just as they would in real language
use situations. Examples of Integrative tests that you may be familiar with
Essays and other coherent writing tasks
Oral interviews and conversation
Reading, or other extended samples of real text
Should you aim
or indirect testing? To help with
this decision you may find the following helpful:
testing makes no attempt to measure the way language is used in real life, but
proceeds by means of analogy. Some examples that you may have used are:
Most, if not all,
of the discrete point tests mentioned above.
on a specific office skills course)
Indirect tests have the
big advantage of being very ‘test-like’.
They are popular with some teachers and most administrators because can
be easily administered and scored, they also produce measurable results and have
a high degree of reliability.
on the other hand, try to introduce authentic tasks, which model the student’s
real life future use of language. Such tests include:
texts, listening to authentic texts.
reports, form filling and note taking.
Direct tests are task
oriented rather than test oriented, they require the ability to use language in
real situations, and they therefore should have a good formative effect on your
future teaching methods and help you with curricula writing. However, they do
call for skill and judgment on the part of the teacher.
COMMUNICATIVE LANGUAGE TESTING
Since the late 1970s and
early 1980s the Communicative approach to language teaching has gained
dominance. What is actually meant by ‘Communicative ability’ is still a
matter of academic interest and research. Broadly speaking communicative ability
should encompass the following skills:
competence. How grammar rules are actually applied in written and oral real life
competence. Knowing the rules of language use, ‘Turn taking’ during
conversation discourse, etc. or using appropriate language for a given
competence. Being able to use appropriate verbal and non-verbal communication
Communicative tests are
concerned not only with these different aspects of knowledge but on the testees’
ability to demonstrate them in actual situations. So, how should you go about
setting a Communicative test?
Firstly, you should
attempt to replicate real life situations. Within these situations communicative
ability can be tested as representatively as possible. There is a strong
emphasis on the purpose of the test. The
importance of context is recognised. There should be both authenticity of task
and genuiness of texts. Tasks ought
to be as direct as possible. When engaged in oral assessment you should attempt to reflect
the interactive nature of normal speech and also assess pragmatic skills being
Communicative tests are
both direct and integrative. They
attempt to focus on the expression and understanding of the functional use of
language rather than on the more limited mastery of language form found in
discreet point tests.
The theoretical status of communicative testing is still subject to criticism in some quarters, yet as language teachers see the positive benefits accruing from such testing, they are becoming more and more acceptable. They will not only help you to develop communicative classroom competence but also to bridge the gap between teaching, testing and real life. They are useful tools in the areas of curriculum development and in the assessment of future needs, as they aim to reflect real life situations. For participating teachers and students this can only be beneficial.
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