This summary was kindly contributed by one of our #ELTchat followers, @SueAnnan

 

Many thanks for organising all the ideas so neatly, Sue!

To Test or not to Test? And if we don’t what then?


This was the subject of the 12GMT #ELTchat of 19th January 2011. 60 educators from around the world took part in the discussion and many others followed the chat.

One key issue was to differentiate between Assessment, Evaluation and Testing.

Assessment was seen as the more positive application in a classroom. It was noted that genuine assessment comes with real world application of the learned skill. Developing self-assessment was promoted as an important learner tool for students, although the point was made that not all sts see the benefits, and may feel that it is the job of the teacher to make assessments.

Some participants were supporters of such things as:

  • Informal weekly reviews to focus on points to develop
  • Themed tasks to encourage production rather than rules
  • Students setting own goals (based on negotiated criteria)
  • Using portfolios, particularly with Young Learners, as their parents would also have access to them. However it was pointed out that these needed to be maintained throughout the course and not allowed to lapse.
  • End of term presentations

The attention turned to tests and we considered different types of test and their purposes:

  1. Placement Which class is right for this student?
  2. Diagnosis What are the needs of the student?
  3. Grading How does this student measure against the others?
  4. Evaluation How good is the student’s language?
  5. Prognosis What does the student now need to study?
  6. Certification

Many felt that placement tests were limited in their efficacy by not including any testing of the productive skills of Speaking and Writing, although some teachers do adapt them to suit.

 

Other tests were judged, by some, to assess a very narrow range of outcomes.

Some teachers write their own tests which could benefit their students, if they are well-written, which is not a skill given to everyone. It was noted that tests produced by the professionals are seen as reliable and practicable, but must be used appropriately.

Another point raised was the reason for the test. Was it an expectation on the part of the student, parents, school administration, workplace or even the government? Part of the challenge faced by teachers is to increase awareness that tests are not the only means of evaluating performance and subject development.

Although many adult students can appreciate the benefit, the necessity to test should depend on the individual needs. It was felt that tests were often demotivational and could induce feelings of fear, stress and inadequacy in some students. It was questioned whether culture, learning background, study skill ability or family attitude could affect the outcome.

We all agreed that students enjoy seeing their own progress, but the question was:

How do we make tests stress-free?

  • An interesting idea is to allow students to make the tests in groups. This could provide a learning opportunity at the same time and peer correction is good.
  • It is also important to test what we teach.
  • Is it important to give grades? No grades can change the dynamics
  • Do lots of preparation
  • Base tests on student errors to help them improve
  • Show sts the advantages; stretching, remembering, guessing
  • Give plenty of feedback
  • Remember to test communication skills
  • Test to show accomplishments too
  • Tell sts that test is to evaluate the skill of the teacher
  • The video-game-like approach, where students are tested to progress to the next level could provide motivation to do well
  • Online tests could be done at home
  • Desuggestopedic relaxation exercises might work for suggestible students
  • Create psychological tests as activity

Brain research suggests that testing helps retention and acquisition of information. It is important to remember that testing, however well done, constitutes only a small part of the total course.

Some links offered are:

Books
  • A Practical Guide to Assessing ELLs by Coombe, Folse, Hubley
  • The Study Skills Handbook (Palgrave Study Skills) Dr Stella Cotterill
Blog posts

 

By @SueAnnan