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Resources

Online Resources: Digests

2011

Assessment Literacy for Language Educators

by Margaret E. Malone, Center for Applied Linguistics

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Assessment literacy is an understanding of the measurement basics related directly to classroom learning; language assessment literacy extends this definition to issues specific to language classrooms (Inbar-Lourie, 2008; Stiggins, 2001; Taylor, 2009). While most agree that teachers need to assess students’ progress (National Education Association, 1983; Schafer, 1993), many teachers have a limited background in assessment fundamentals (Popham, 2009).

Strong, properly implemented assessment provides teachers, students, and other stakeholders with important information about student performance and the extent to which learning objectives have been attained (Stoynoff & Chapelle, 2005). Assessment can and should integrate with teaching, forming a relationship in which the two inform and improve each other. However, this relationship cannot develop when language teachers do not have adequate training in assessment.

In 2006, CAL conducted an online survey (N=1,600) of foreign language teachers, administrators, and teacher trainers in preK–university settings to investigate how and what kinds of assessments were being used and what other resources were needed. The results showed that these educators wanted more information on how to select and develop tests and interpret and report test scores (Malone, Swender, Montee, Gallagher, & Wicher, 2008). Furthermore, survey results revealed that standardized language tests developed for specific contexts, audiences, and purposes were being used in ways inconsistent with their stated purposes. Overall, the survey results indicated a need for improved assessment literacy.

When instructors understand assessment, they are able to create a learning culture in their classrooms (Shepard, 2000) that allows for continuous improvements to teaching and learning based on feedback from assessments. Moreover, assessment, when used appropriately, can have significant positive washback (Hughes, 2003)—that is, positive effects on classroom practices—with the potential to improve teaching, learning, and the overall quality of the language education experience.

Professional development is often limited by resources such as time and distance. New technological resources have made it easier for language educators to gain important training in assessment literacy without taking time away from their primary responsibilities (Malone, 2008). This digest describes some of these resources. It discusses key concepts of assessment, presents select resources that promote assessment literacy among language educators, and explores how these tools can be useful for all stakeholders.

Key Concepts in Assessment

Language teachers want to know why and how they should assess their students and what kinds of assessment instruments to use. These questions speak directly to the four key concepts of assessment: validity, reliability, practicality, and impact.

Validity
A test’s fidelity in measuring what it purports to measure is called validity. Some testers believe that validity is the primary concern in any testing situation. Traditional testing focuses on multiple aspects of validity, such as construct validity, content validity, and face validity. Messick (1989) portrays validity as multifaceted and encompassing all aspects of assessment. However, the most important aspect of validity is the appropriateness of a particular test for the audience and context in which it is being used. In selecting a test, educators should consider what information they want to gain from administering the test and how that information will be used.

Reliability
One factor of reliability is a test’s consistency in producing results. If a test is reliable, a student taking it at two different times should receive the same result, assuming all else remains equal. Similarly, a test should yield the same results regardless of who scores the test (human or machine). Finally, in tests with multiple versions, all versions should have comparable content and yield the same results. It is important to understand, however, that a test may be reliable without being valid. For example, a highly reliable test developed for university students will not be valid if administered to fourth-grade students.

Practicality and Impact
The practicality, or feasibility, of a test will often be the primary concern when making testing decisions. Important factors include the availability of time, personnel, equipment, space, and funding to implement a test. Impact requires thinking about and planning for the effects a test may have on stakeholders. Knowledge of assessment allows educators to make informed decisions about the types of assessments that are appropriate for their classrooms and programs.

Online Resources

In recent years, organizations and individuals working in the field of language testing have developed new resources for promoting assessment literacy. The following resources are available online for free.

The Foreign Language Assessment Directory
Developed by the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL), the Foreign Language Assessment Directory (FLAD) is a searchable directory of nearly 200 tests in over 90 languages. Educators can search by name of test, grade, proficiency level, language, skills targeted by the test, and intended test use. Entries also include background on the test’s development and the publisher’s or developer’s contact information for further inquiries. (http://www.cal.org/calwebdb/flad/)

Understanding Assessment: A Guide for Foreign Language Educators
CAL created this tutorial as a companion resource to the FLAD. It introduces key concepts in language testing to help educators select tests and use results appropriately. Topics include practical considerations when selecting a test, reliability and validity, the use of results, and the impact of testing in the classroom. A list of resources and a glossary of assessment terms are included. (http://www.cal.org/flad/tutorial/)

The Virtual Assessment Center
The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition developed the Virtual Assessment Center (VAC) to help language educators plan for and implement assessment in their classrooms. The VAC offers a series of learning modules that provide teachers with background information, step-by-step guidance, and practical resources on developing proficiency-based second language assessments. (http://www.carla.umn.edu/assessment/vac/)

Language Testing Resources Website
This website, developed and maintained by Dr. Glenn Fulcher, provides a variety of print, electronic, and video resources on general language testing. The site includes current popular press reports on language testing outcomes and issues worldwide. (http://languagetesting.info/)

Conclusion

Language assessment and language teaching go hand in hand. The best teaching involves high-quality assessment practices, and great assessment provides positive washback to the teaching and learning process. Educators need a strong background in assessment literacy in order to implement effective assessment practices in their classrooms and programs. New online resources make it easier to gain this knowledge, leading to an improved testing, teaching, and learning experience.

References

Hughes, A. (2003). Testing for language teachers (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Inbar-Lourie, O. (2008). Constructing a language assessment knowledge base: A focus on language assessment courses. Language Testing, 25, 385-402.

Malone, M. (2008). Training in language assessment. In E. Shohamy & N. Hornberger (Eds.), Encyclopedia of language and education: Vol. 7. Language testing and assessment (2nd ed., pp. 225-239). New York: Springer Science+Business Media.

Malone, M., Swender, E., Montee, M., Gallagher, C. M., & Wicher, M. (2008). Study of assessment uses and needs in U.S. world language programs. Unpublished manuscript.

Messick, S. (1989). Validity. In R.L. Linn (Ed.), Educational measurement (3rd ed., pp. 13-103). New York: Macmillan.

National Education Association. (1983). Teachers’ views about student assessment. Washington, DC: Author.

Popham, W. J. (2009). Assessment literacy for teachers: Faddish or fundamental? Theory Into Practice, 48(1), 4-11.

Schafer, W. D. (1993). Assessment literacy for teachers. Theory Into Practice, 32(2), 118-126.

Shepard, L. (2000). The role of assessment in learning culture. Educational Researcher, 29(7),4-17.

Stiggins, R. J. (2001). Student-involved classroom assessment (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Stoynoff, S., & Chapelle, C. A. (Eds.). (2005). ESOL tests and testing: A resource for teachers and program administrators. Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

Taylor, L. (2009). Developing assessment literacy. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 29, 21-36.

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