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Language Assessment

How do you measure a students’ learning? and is that the same measure of their success? At the community college where I teach, the students are given three exams to determine their language ability. A reading test, a writing test, and a grammar test. My students have improved immensely over the last three months, in all four facets of the language: reading, writing, listening and speaking. But my boss told me that the students were not going to pass. It happens quite frequently that half the class fails; it simply isn’t always possible to improve that much in one term. I wonder how that affects students in our program. How does that make them feel? I think, It leaves them feeling unsuccessful. When we know they have not only worked hard, but have been very successful. It feels wrong to fail them because of the test scores. So I am left asking myself, why do we test them on so much material? Why do we test them on more than they can learn in a term?

The answer might just be: Because its easy. Because the tests are already made. Because tests don’t really matter. I find myself leaning towards the third answer. I hope that our program is not changing the tests because they feel the tests don’t matter. Personally, I think that the test scores aren’t very meaningful because they do not look at all aspects of language growth. They do not evaluate listing and speaking skills. At the same time, the people that my students interact with (there bosses, for example) are most likely judging their language ability on their speaking and listening skills.

So I wonder, what makes a good test? Is it an easy to grade multiple choice test? Or is it something more rooted in the students’ whole language ability?

One Response to “Language Assessment”

  1. GertiSaada Says:

    Hi Katie
    Well, I run my own language center and face this problem of “examination” all the time. Some of my students study just to improve their language but many others have to pass a test, such as the IELTS. OET, TOEFL, etc….. So they are under the constant stress of “passing or failing” an exam. Honestly, this doesn’t make learning a language very enoyable, as a matter of fact, it somehow hinders the process.
    Anyway, to come to your question, I think, a student should be tested in grammar and reading by multiple choice questions. Listening questions should not be too specific to be answered freely and without limiting the number of words too much. They ought to allow the student to express or explain what s/he has heard or understood.
    The writing skill also should be tested in a more flexible way…with more than one topic to choose from.
    In my opinion, is not the kind of questions alone that should be considered, it is “time” that plays a very important role in all exams. When students are put under time pressure many do not perform as well as they would do under normal circumstances. There are various aspects that may affect their results, they may be anxious and nervous about the exam, be pre-occupied with personal problems or may even be sick. All these may lead to low marks and thus failure.
    The kind of questions or the strategy of a test can be practiced and when the student thinks he is ready for the test he should sit for it. Ok, some time limit should be set, but it should not be too short.
    I think, this way everybody gets a chance to show his abilities and level.

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