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Useful Assessment and Evaluation in Language Education


reviewed by Catherine Ritz — October 11, 2018

coverTitle: Useful Assessment and Evaluation in Language Education
Author(s): John McE. Davis, John M. Norris, Margaret E. Malone, Todd H. McKay, & Young-A Son (Eds.)
Publisher: Georgetown University Press, Washington, DC
ISBN: 1626165408, Pages: 276, Year: 2017
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Useful Assessment and Evaluation in Language Education pulls together various presentations from the 2016 Georgetown University Round Table, which had been organized by the Assessment and Evaluation Language Resource Center (AELRC). Focusing on language assessment and evaluation, the presentations represented the view that “assessment and evaluation [are] tools of educational transformation” (p. vii). Across the 14 chapters of this book, that view is weaved throughout the different perspectives and approaches discussed, expanding on an Assessment for Learning (AfL) framework and in contrast with the traditional Assessment of Learning framework. The editors note the importance of this area of research due to the increasing focus on accountability faced by language educators with regards to their programs’ effectiveness.

 

The book is divided into three main parts: “Part One: Connecting Assessment, Learners, and Learning,” “Part Two: Innovating, Framing, and Exploring Assessment in Language Education,” and “Part Three: Validity Evaluation.” Part One includes five chapters, three of which are focused on self-assessment in the language classroom. Beginning with a theoretical rationale for the use of self-assessments in language learning, the first chapter discusses a project designed by U.K. teachers of English to adults called “Enhancing Self-Assessment Skills.” This project and the discussion of its impact brings to light the “complexity of enhancing students’ roles in classroom self-assessment” (p. 15) and the dichotomy between the student-centered philosophy of self-assessment and conceptualization of the word “assessment” itself as being representative of a teacher-centered classroom.


The second of these chapters considers the processes for young language learners and their ability to make evaluative judgements of their own abilities when using self-assessments in elementary language learning environments. Self-assessments are then explored through the use of “teletandum” online interactions, in which two students of differing language backgrounds meet virtually to help each other practice speaking each other’s target languages. The authors find that these assessments have many benefits for students, such as “enhanced awareness of strengths and weaknesses, ability to self-monitor progress, and a sense of ownership of the process” (p. 54). The focus of this section then shifts in the following chapter to discussing “an approach to foreign-language (FL) instruction and assessment that integrates three skill domains: language learning, knowledge acquisition, and communication” (p. 57): the reading-to-learn framework. This framework attempts to provide clear learning outcomes for students and uses a pre/post-assessment to measure student growth.


The last chapter in this section presents four projects in which assessment is embedded in the learning process. These projects include the “Tools to Enhance Assessment Literacy for Teachers of English as an Additional Language (TEAL) project” (p. 80), a “teacher-assessed component of student speaking for the senior secondary school system for the Hong Kong Examination and Assessment Authority” (p. 82), and the use of dynamic assessment for English as an Additional Language (EAL) (p. 86). Within each of these projects, tensions between theory and practice are discussed, outlining various challenges for implementation. While self-assessment, the reading-to-learn framework, and embedded assessments hold promise for enhancing language learning and making learners more active and engaged in their own learning, each of these approaches also presents many challenges to successful implementation that need to be addressed before they can be adopted with fidelity on a wide-scale basis.

 

Part Two of the book presents a collection of innovative approaches to language assessment and evaluation, beginning with research into the development of an assessment measure called the Linguistic Correlates of Proficiency (LCP), intended to serve as a complement to proficiency scale-based assessments that are correlated to scales such as the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Proficiency Guidelines or the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). These scales are language agnostic, describing generally how learners can function in the language at various proficiency levels, whereas the LCP attempts to measure “developing command of the linguistic features of [a specific] language” (p. 110). As a complement to proficiency-scale normed assessments, the LCP promised to “reveal a more complete picture of learners’ foreign language ability” (p. 111), though it appears that a large amount of research is still needed before it can be used effectively.


Other innovations in language assessment presented here are digital approaches and task-based approaches. First, challenges and opportunities with the use of face-to-face assessments and online digital tools, such as Skype, are explored, which the authors feel will “both [open] new ways of assessing speaking and [provide] opportunities for studying spoken interaction in a new domain” (p. 129). Then, task-based assessments are discussed through the lens of a small-scale study. In both articles, the challenges of practical implementation are discussed, and there appear to be numerous impediments for practicing teachers. This section concludes with an investigation of an assessment method used to place Finnish immigrants in language levels.

 

Part Three of the book includes five chapters that focus on various aspects of validity in evaluation measures. This section begins by presenting a study that looked at university entrance exams in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, investigating whether different language exams are or are not equivalent measures of proficiency, and whether they result in unjust entrance policies. The findings call into question language entrance exam policies and suggest the need for further research in this area. The theme of justice is present in the next chapter as well. The Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) Validation Framework is presented as an important tool to help ensure that test measures are reliable and valid, and readers are reminded that “individuals affected by test scores matter and should be at the forefront of our minds throughout test development” (p. 199). The following chapter presents how the CAL Validation Framework “shapes qualitative and quantitative research into tests,” and may be of interest to researchers who want to develop evaluation measures as part of their research program.


The penultimate chapter presents a rationale for using Theory of Action (ToA) as a comprehensive approach for evaluating Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) given “all its diversity of focuses, purposes, contexts, and audiences” (p. 230). The final chapter reaffirms the ultimate goal of this book: to contribute to the development, implementation, and interpretation of language assessment and evaluation that is “meaningful and useful,” and valid (p. 235). This chapter discusses newer approaches to assessment, such as learning progressions, and validation models that can ensure their usefulness.

 

This book raises the need for further research in many areas related to language assessment and evaluation, and draws attention to the many challenges that remain for language teachers tasked with implementing assessments within the Assessment for Learning framework. Overall, this collection of well-written studies is laudable in the contribution it makes to this field of research.





Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 11, 2018
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22530, Date Accessed: 10/19/2018 3:12:10 AM

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About the Author
  • Catherine Ritz
    Boston University
    E-mail Author
    CATHERINE RITZ is a clinical assistant professor and the program director for Modern Foreign Language Education at the Boston University Wheelock College of Education and Human Development. She is the faculty advisor for pre-service foreign language teachers, and teaches courses in Methods of Teaching Modern Foreign Languages and Second Language Acquisition. Her areas of interest include developing proficiency-based thematic curricula and performance assessments, effective foreign language methods and pedagogy, and foreign language teacher development.
 
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