Language testing is a powerful social tool used by language policymakers to promote a desired and favoured section of society as winners and accepted ones, and the rest as losers, failures and rejected ones. Though voices have been raised against the door - keeping nature of tests and attempts have been made to make testing student - and learning- friendly, we still continue to be acknowledged by our performance in high stake standardized tests.
English language assessment has a history that runs parallel to that of English language teaching, and thus, it seems to have evolved in line with changes in approach to language teaching.
Language testing is also a very profitable phenomenon deeply rooted in society and culture.
Tests are instruments of evaluation which measure ability, knowledge or performance by eliciting observable behaviour from the test taker. In language contexts, a test is designed to measure and evaluate students’ language proficiency according to different qualities.
A test is useful when it has authenticity, interactiveness and practicality in addition to measurement qualities which are reliability and validity.
An important aspect of test is being reliable. Reliability is defined as the extent to which a test produces the same results on repeated trials. In short, it is the stability or consistency of scores over time or across raters.
Validity is also an important term related to tests and it is defined as the extent to which the instrument measures what it purports to measure. According to Fowler (2002), there are six guidelines to review the EFL exam for content validity criteria:
(1) clarity in wording,
(2) relevance of the items,
(3) use of Standard English,
(4) absence of biased words and phrases,
(5) formatting of items, and
(6) clarity of the instructions.
It should be kept in mind that reliability is necessary but not sufficient for validity. That is, for something to be valid it must be reliable but it must also measure what it is intended to measure.
Pedagogical Purposes in Testing
It is claimed that the main purpose of language testing is to provide opportunities for learning, both for the students who are being tested, and for the professionals who are administering the tests.
It is obviously important that tests should be fair, valid, and reliable; the most important of all is that tests should provide useful opportunities for learning. A good test is one that allows us to make useful inferences about the test taker’s communicative language ability.
Tomlinson (2005) supports that tests are not normally viewed as events in which new learning takes place. But it is perfectly possible for learners to gain new knowledge and to develop new awareness and skills whilst actually taking a test.
Standardized tests play an important role in student evaluation. Contrary to students’ beliefs, tests are not just a means to complicate students’ lives. They can be used to enhance learning and teaching.
EFL teachers can easily diagnose students’ difficulties in learning. Why then externally-imposed tests have become so popular since there is no evidence that they have improved school quality? Even though teachers are told that such impositions are designed to raise standards of pupil achievement, there are many occasions where teachers become hard pressed to reconcile external demands with their knowledge and experience of teaching and learning.
Misinterpretation of tests
There are also factors that can cause a student’s score on a test to misrepresent his or her real achievement. Problems can arise from the test, the student, or the environment where the test is administered.
Besides that there are many other factors which may lead to inaccurate test results. Tests can consist of poorly worded questions, have more than one correct response or be incorrectly scored.
Using past papers can help students see what will be expected of them. They can compare what they have done with examples of successful and unsuccessful performance in previous exams.
A language test is a procedure for gathering evidence of general or specific language abilities from performance on tasks designed to provide a basis for predictions about an individual’s use of those abilities in real world contexts. All such tests require us to make a distinction between the data of the learner’s behaviour, the actual language that is produced, and what these data signify, that is what they count in terms of evidence of ‘proficiency’, ‘readiness for communicative roles in the real world’ and so on.
We also need to consider how views about the nature of language have had an impact on test design. •