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Did your training adequately cover assessment?
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LongShiKong



Joined: 28 May 2007
Posts: 1072
Location: China

PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 3:09 am    Post subject: Did your training adequately cover assessment? Reply with quote

Mine sure didn't but is that just because it was just 100 hrs? But if those who taught my course considered it important, wouldn't they've at least provided handouts or a reading list? But it seems such a reading list for ELT assessment wouldn't even fill a page. The one book I have on the subject,Testing for Language Teachers [CUP ©1989 Arthur Hughes] starts of by saying:
Quote:
Many language teachers harbour a deep mistrust of tests and of testers. The starting point for this book is the admission that this mistrust is frequently well-founded. It cannot be denied that a great deal of language
testing is of very poor quality. Too often language tests have a harmful effect on teaching and learning; and too often they fail to measure
accurately whatever it is they are intended to measure.


There is an Assessment forum on this site with only 4 pages of threads spanning an entire decade. Most threads are unresolved questions or complaints about the sorry state of assessment in ELT. The longest thread (23 posts) is off-topic and the 2nd longest with 11,116 views has only 19 posts. On a thread regarding the inadequacy of initial placement tests, I made the comment that they're usually just final evaluations.

So, what's behind this? I know a 1/3 of you have more training than I do? I'd like to hear from those of you who've done a CELTA, DELTA or Masters in applied linguistics. Has your program adequately covered assessment? It seems to me, testing is so fundamentally a part of teaching (at least in regular teaching), whether it's overt or covert--there's a whole science behind it--despite the problems with standardized testing. I'm just surprised there's such little commentary on it on these forums or within the ELT industry as a whole.
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Kofola



Joined: 20 Feb 2009
Posts: 158
Location: Slovakia

PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 7:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

My MA in Applied Linguistics offered a separate (optional) module on this and it was also covered in another module.

It wasn't covered in my CELTA - but then again its such a short course and covers so little that I'm not sure I would expect it to.

I would agree that assessment is an area that receives less attention than it deserves.
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nomad soul



Joined: 31 Jan 2010
Posts: 10829
Location: The real world

PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 8:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Same here. My grad program offered a language testing and evaluation course, which was one of the reasons I chose the program. However, I've noticed it's not a subject commonly offered in TESOL/applied lingustics degree programs. The course I took was invaluable in that it introduced the basic types of language tests and test items as well as the key concepts and issues in designing, trialling, administering and evaluating tests. Additionally, it provided the knowledge and skills to construct quality, reliable second language tests for a variety of purposes.
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 11061
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 9:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

DELTA courses include a little on this area. Not much, but enough for full-time teachers to get to grips with the basic concepts, e.g. validity, reliability etc. Completely avoids the hard science of it all, though, i.e the statistical wizardry that drives most testing batteries. Not sure I'd want to do much of that though, EFLers being notoriously rubbish at maths.
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spiral78



Joined: 05 Apr 2004
Posts: 11422
Location: On a Short Leash

PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 12:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My MA TEFL/TESL course included a significant module on assessment along the lines of what nomad soul's described, and at the end I designed, piloted, and evaluated a test (reading comprehension). That was a decent intro to the topic.

Since, I've worked with Canadian Language Benchmarking and one other proficiency test quite extensively, after specific training in each.

There are some decent-ish tests out there, but I generally agree with the statement you quote from Hughes. Lots of tests just don't actually measure anything meaningful and they can most definitely hinder the teaching/learning process in many ways.

I suspect that there is less focus in ELT on classroom testing because most learners are expected to take one of the big tests for a definitive measure anyway (TOEIC, TOEFL, IELTS, Cambridge, etc). Any classroom tests applied are relatively low-stakes in the global picture in the face of the big standardised tests.

I think in this sense, (big standardised tests) there is LOTS of focus on assessment in ELT.
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HLJHLJ



Joined: 06 Oct 2009
Posts: 1161
Location: Ecuador

PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 1:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My CELTA didn't really touch on it, other than to mention the main tests and tests providers. That's all I would expect from such a short introductory course.

I studied test development in reasonable depth as part of a research methods MSc. It wasn't specific to language testing but the statistical analysis is essentially the same for most tests. With the theory, practicals and statistics it probably accounted for about 1/3 of my MSc and we only scraped the surface. It ended with a huge appendix of reading lists for topics we hadn't covered. (None of which I ever read. Embarassed )

I would be surprised if there was time to cover it in any great detail in most language related masters courses. (Assuming we are talking about major standardised tests, and not just an in-house end of module quiz). As has already been mentioned, most people won't be going into those courses with sufficient statistical knowledge to be able to do more than grasp the basics in the time available. However, I would hope they would at least equip people to be able to make a first analysis of a test and get a feeling for what makes a good and bad test.

The main problem is that testing a language is essentially a skills test rather than a knowledge test. Written tests are far more effective at testing knowledge than skills. Testing skills is possible, but it's time consuming, and therefore expensive, so it gets squashed into an inappropriate format. It's not unique to language testing, but in all these situations finance and marketing usually win out in the end.
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denise



Joined: 23 Apr 2003
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 1:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My MA program had a course on assessment. We started by analyzing a common test (TOEFL, TWE, IELTS, etc.), then wrote, pre-piloted, piloted, and analyzed our own. Over the years, I've kinda forgotten how to do the statistical analyses (but that's what computers are for...), but the principles have stayed with me. And much of the analyses can be done by hand & common sense, without complicated statistics.

d
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HLJHLJ



Joined: 06 Oct 2009
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Location: Ecuador

PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 2:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

denise wrote:
And much of the analyses can be done by hand & common sense, without complicated statistics.


As a training tool, you can do some of the initial and simple analyses on a small amount of data by hand. It's fine to use it as a way to show students the rough idea, and it's common practice to do so. However, you could not do an adequate analysis of a proper test by hand, and that should be being made clear to students. If MA course are telling students that a couple of pilots and some basic stats are sufficient, it would go some way to explaining some of the appallingly bad tests out there.
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coledavis



Joined: 21 Jun 2003
Posts: 1838

PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 3:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

We did some work on it on CELTA (I was taught at St Giles, Highgate, London) and tried out our own ideas in a session with one our usual classes. Not a very long period but for a four week course with most students being newbies, I think it was reasonable and allowed scope for development.
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denise



Joined: 23 Apr 2003
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 3:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

HLJHLJ wrote:
denise wrote:
And much of the analyses can be done by hand & common sense, without complicated statistics.


As a training tool, you can do some of the initial and simple analyses on a small amount of data by hand. It's fine to use it as a way to show students the rough idea, and it's common practice to do so. However, you could not do an adequate analysis of a proper test by hand, and that should be being made clear to students. If MA course are telling students that a couple of pilots and some basic stats are sufficient, it would go some way to explaining some of the appallingly bad tests out there.


If that's how you read my quote, then my attempt at brevity backfired... Time to backtrack. No, doing a major analysis by hand would not work. Using basic principles (e.g., looking at the top scorers and the lowest scorers and seeing how they fared on certain test items--if the lowest scorers got an item right and the top scorers got it wrong, then it's a dud--that sort of thing; you can do the tallies by hand) you can analyze your own class, assuming you've got a reasonably small class. By no means should this be done institution-wide. Lots of problems that way.

Is this more clear now?

Oh, and my MA program's assessment course was quite rigorous. I am very critical of tests, thanks to what I learned.

d
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 11061
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Sat Apr 14, 2012 4:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Slightly on a tangent, I think the reason that assessment is not given much mention on the boards here is that teachers and testers are usually different people. As far as I know, the staff who make up most of the test bank materials in the universities I have worked with or attended do not do any teaching as such. It's a dedicated role. Which may go a long way to addressing why lots of test materials are found wanting.

Could be just my limited experience, though...
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coledavis



Joined: 21 Jun 2003
Posts: 1838

PostPosted: Sat Apr 14, 2012 9:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Also, Sashadroogie, the majority of CELTA/Trinity trainees are going to be focused almost exclusively on their observed teaching sessions, so testing is not going to loom large on their horizons.
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LongShiKong



Joined: 28 May 2007
Posts: 1072
Location: China

PostPosted: Sat Apr 14, 2012 4:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

coledavis wrote:
...the majority of CELTA/Trinity trainees are going to be focused almost exclusively on their observed teaching sessions, so testing is not going to loom large on their horizons.


If you'd gone through that training you'd be aware that there's more to assessment than formal tests. A private I taught at had my TA and I keep notes about student performance and progress during class as part of an 'ongoing assessment' worth 50% of the term mark.

This is why I'm arguing there's a disconnect between ELT academics, publishers and the rest of us. No wonder many newbies (including me when I began) despite training begin their careers lecturing students about English rather than teaching it. We'd been shown how to create lesson plans with an objective but not how to set and achieve such objectives nor the importance of sharing or negotiating such objectives with students. Am I right?

Here's a way to think about assessment from a learner-centric framework:
Quote:
Assessment for learning involves using assessment in the classroom to support studentsí achievement. A teacher who practices assessment for learning creates a culture of learning and teaching that is driven by feedback. It is based on the idea that students will improve if they understand the aim of their learning, where they are in relation to this aim and how they can achieve the aim (or close the gap in their knowledge). Effective assessment for learning happens all the time in the classroom throughout the learning process.
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coledavis



Joined: 21 Jun 2003
Posts: 1838

PostPosted: Sun Apr 15, 2012 8:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"If you'd gone through that training you'd be aware that there's more to assessment than formal tests." Now then! Of course there's monitoring, but are you sure that formal input is required to note down that student X is a bit weak on present perfect?

As to the rest of it, my answer to your question in general is 'No, you're wrong'. There are people, and this includes my Russian students, who like nothing better than a lecture on English grammar, semantics, etc. If given an opportunity to 'negotiate' they may lead you down a path which may be rather unhelpful. Sure, I agree that nothing is worse than an item of linguistics being taught without any understanding of its aims, but personally, I would stick to discussing the overall aims, only discussing English as a language as and when the need arises. Have a general strategy but otherwise stick to the practicalities, I say.

In management strategy, I opt for for a kind of logical incrementalism (adapted from Quinn). Keep a general eye on your overall strategy and then make short-term decisions which help towards that aim, seizing opportunities as they arise.
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LongShiKong



Joined: 28 May 2007
Posts: 1072
Location: China

PostPosted: Sun Apr 15, 2012 3:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

coledavis wrote:
... are you sure that formal input is required to note down that student X is a bit weak on present perfect?


Don't know what you mean by formal input but unless you're teaching lecture hall classes, aren't you required to keep notes on individual/class performance and provide frequent feedback?

coledavis wrote:
As to the rest of it, my answer to your question in general is 'No, you're wrong'. There are people, and this includes my Russian students, who like nothing better than a lecture on English grammar, semantics, etc. If given an opportunity to 'negotiate' they may lead you down a path which may be rather unhelpful.


Who are we talking about: paying customers or their children? If they're paying, do they not have a right to negotiate course aims? If not, then it's their parents directly, or community stakeholders indirectly (high school/uni entrance exams, future job prospects; etc.)

The first task of assessment is to set clear learning goals but what school takes into account the actual needs of the student(s) when doing so? I once took over a business writing course for adults. Halfway through the course, it became clear the aim of the students (oral proficiency) conflicted with that of their employer (business writing). Had all 3 parties negotiated the aims and format of the course, perhaps with a compromise, I'm sure the results would've been much better.

A lot depends on how you see your role as teacher. At best, all I can do is create the conditions for learning. How effective those conditions are will be determined by how well I know those students and that's why assessment is essential,for learning, and learning for classroom manageemnt.
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