Classroom Assessment: A New Era in Language Testing or An Additional exercise?
Presented By: Ashok Raj Khati and Manita Karki
Language testing cannot be separated from the changing understanding of the nature of language, language abilities, and language teaching and learning. Accordingly, what is to be tested in language teaching has drastically been changing in recent times as a result of changes in what is to be taught. In this regard, we have entered a new era in language testing, which is classroom assessment also termed as performance assessment.
In recent years, there has been a growing discussion on whether classroom testing should replace other tests. In this essay, we suggest that it should work as a supplement to paper and pencil tests. The method may not be capable of replacing established methods of testing but there are a number of benefits that make classroom-based language testing more genuine and better attuned to effective language teaching and learning by today’s standards.
Let us begin with the central role of teacher in classroom assessment through this real story.
In an award giving ceremony to School Leaving Certificate (SLC) graduates, a teacher stepped forward and asked a particular student whom he had taught for years, “How did you get the first division, you deserve the second division.” Though the student passed SLC and got certificate of the first division, the teacher remarked so confidently that he should not have got first division.
It indicates the fact that teacher spend long time with his/her students and are able to evaluate them more or less rightly. In many countries, a teacher is the authority. If a student is unable to sit in the final examination because of certain reasons; the teacher has a right to recommend grades or percentages to examination board based on the students’ internal/classroom assessment and the board accepts it. Doing that makes teacher fair and ethical. However, there are many other contexts where teachers have not gained this sort of credibility. The point is it is the teacher who can best judge his or her students and it the classroom tests which allows teachers to do so. Therefore, classroom assessment is accepted as being close to what we are struggling for a long time.
Secondly, in most of the cases, we make a machine type of judgement when we test students through paper and pencil beyond the class but it is a human mind or brain that is involved in making judgement on classroom assessment. It used to be believed that everything can be tested by using a paper and pencil test but now people have started asking how? There are things that we want to test which cannot be tested by paper and pencil based test. The answer to this question is classroom testing. There are so many things that we can do in classroom which cannot be done through a paper and pencil test. We cannot test all types of abilities and skills by paper and pencil test because of expertise, time, and other limitations, but classroom assessment is genuine and it is worth implementing.
Class room assessment or performance assessment is genuine because one cannot test people’s actual language ability while they are not actually performing an act by using it. It is the classroom that allows learners to perform. In this regard, classroom assessment captures genuineness. Many scholars have realized that paper and pencil test, whether it is based on communicative approach or something else, cannot authentically test students’ performance. Especially a large-scale test cannot be a performance based test. There were classroom tests after 2010 but those tests were used for internal assessment. Classroom tests are different, they are bound to be different and they are of different designs.
Classroom assessment is collaborative in nature. When students obtains marks in board examination, one common thing they cannot figure out is on what basis was their answers marked and consequently, they think they are given less and what they deserve. However, in classroom assessment, teacher works with students before, during, and after the assessment. The present of students makes teacher cautious and transparent. Thus, the teacher makes judgement of the students in a collaborative manner. Further, teachers can also assess students’ performance by assigning group work that makes classroom testing different from large-scale assessment. That adds one more dimension to collaboration.
The best thing about classroom testing is that it is learning focused. As a result, it has positive wash back. It mainly focuses process and less product. Teachers get enough opportunities to observe the different learning processes of their students in classroom assessment. By contrast, paper and pencil test may not be able to create situations and offer adequate opportunities to demonstrate different abilities and skills, and perform certain tasks on the part of students. It is more product-oriented. It is only classroom test that can make learners perform tasks while being tested.
In the same way, classroom assessment is a social phenomenon. The classroom is a society. A school is run for teaching and learning but at the same time, we mange it in a way that that would be the representation of the society. Thus, the classroom assessment is a social phenomenon where we promote classroom assessment and students learn and practise performance based activities, which they will continue to practise outside the classroom.
In terms of creativity, classroom testing is not an entirely new approach because in some way prior approaches also tried to capture what this approach tries to do. A good example of this is how Bloom’s Taxonomy captured a range of simple to complex competencies. It is very difficult to capture the psychological processing of learners in many occasions. We have to be tentative to assess it. Testing cannot be a science; it is different from many other activities. The focus of language testing is: what is the content of the language, where is it, how do we get hold of it? Scholars who are advocating for communicative testing have now realized that what they were trying to accomplish with it is something different. Icons of language testing has different views on communicative testing. Some say that it is not necessary to test communicative abilities through communicative approach. After 2010, testing has moved into assessment, assessment has moved into performance, and testing tends to be always indirect unless one asks students to perform certain tasks. It is not the test that test; it is the tasks that test. It may be hard to determine whether or not classroom testing can entirely replace communicative testing. However, classroom-based testing can be a focus of testing because it is very close to reality since teachers will be asking students those tasks in the classroom which they are supposed to do outside the classroom in their real lives.
While talking about classroom-based testing communicative testing, there may arise a question of construct. The construct is the basic characteristics of activities of an event, the psychological and the philosophical aspects of skills and abilities, and the quality of the content. The construct in communicative language testing may be assessed in an indirect way by bringing language performance into the classroom and assessing it. The concept of communicative language teaching and testing in a real sense has been changing. Henry Widdowson, one of the prominent scholars in the field of Applied Linguistics, wrote a book in 1979, “Teaching English as Communication”. Once in 2000, he said that he if he were to revisit that book, he would call it “Teaching English for Communication”. He realized that it is not possible to teach English as communication. He was excited to talk about communication in 1980s but later he found that it was not easy to capture communicative activities and bring them into the classroom and make it happen. In some ways, it has to be indirect, less communicative and difficult to bring communication in the classroom.
In a way, the philosophy behind the communicative language teaching (CLT) is the continuity of what we have been doing for the last 70 years. Somehow, CLT is also based on a paper and pencil test. At the end of the day, teachers give test to students to perform where they may not authentically perform language use. Based on the change from CLT to language teaching and testing, teachers and scholars began to realize that classroom assessment should be an additional learning exercise. Therefore, a genuine assessment must be a performance assessment and an inherent part of the whole process and that is the next era of language testing. It does not mean that communicative language testing has nothing to do with language teaching and testing in the days to come. We are still using 1960s’ multiple choice items. All previous methods of language testing have made lots of contributions to language testing but we are moving toward something new. Communicative approach in testing will also continue because it has strengths and potentialities but at the same time, the thrust of classroom assessment needs to lead classroom teaching and learning activities.
In sum, classroom assessment is an important approach to language testing. It appears to be very close to what we have been trying to find out. It may take time to make a strong ground to be a prominent approach. So for now, classroom assessment is an additional option- not a replacement. It will contribute to make assessment more authentic and better attuned to current understanding of language learning. It will be a good instrument for us to improve teaching and testing in the classroom.
(The piece is based on a lecture delivered by Prof. Dr. Tirth Raj Khaniya at the School of Education, Kathmandu University)
Ashok Raj Khati