Monday, June 3, 2013

Testing times

Even those of us teachers who don't like taking exams (dare I say that's 99% of us?) end up administering a lot of tests throughout our careers. But here is where the danger lies, as this ubiquity of testing may make us take it for granted.

For instance, if duty calls, many of us will blithely use tests to decide on learners' courses of study: fail, pass, revise this, study more of that. In other words, we often act as if all tests were really good representations of a student's current proficiency level.

On the other hand, I've noticed that, as soon as teachers change places and take tests as candidates or students, they tend to see raters, invigilators or test developers as big bad wolves. Let he or she who has never complained about a test cast the first stone!

A paradoxical view, that's for sure. But perhaps that duality is right to some extent: tests are certainly useful, but at the same time they have the potential for misuse and unfairness. In short, tests can be both the beauty and the beast.

"Tale as old as time", "bittersweet and strange", testing is "certain as the sun", 
but is there a "beauty and the beast" quality to it?

To my mind, the double-edged sword nature of testing derives from the fact that, no matter how "objective" tests claim to be, they are necessarily full of value-laden judgements. They're ideological. At the very least, they presuppose a view of
(1) what constitutes the target language;
(2) what constitutes learning a language;
(3) what is acceptable evidence of language learning;
and so on, so forth.

And that's all well and good if we think it through, feel comfortable with the embedded values and know how to keep them when we are writing and grading/rating tests. But do we?


I'd love to know your take on this. How do you feel about testing and being tested? What do you take into consideration when writing and grading tests?

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