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CRELLA LTF Nottingham 2013 Professor Cyril J. Weir AcSS Language Testing in the Past: Three lessons to be learned Centre for Research in English Language.

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Presentation on theme: "CRELLA LTF Nottingham 2013 Professor Cyril J. Weir AcSS Language Testing in the Past: Three lessons to be learned Centre for Research in English Language."— Presentation transcript:

1 CRELLA LTF Nottingham 2013 Professor Cyril J. Weir AcSS Language Testing in the Past: Three lessons to be learned Centre for Research in English Language Learning and Assessment

2 There is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, 'See, this is new'? It has already been in the ages before us. [Ecclesiastes, Chapter 1, verses 9-10]

3 News item in the Daily Telegraph on 6th December 2011: Primary school pupils should be given an oral reading test at the age of 11 to assess whether they can read properly, according to one of the Government's most senior education advisers… "If a child cannot read fluently at age 11 they are going to have a problem at secondary school," Sir Cyril Taylor told The Sunday Telegraph. “In some cases, the English results in the Key Stage 2 tests are overstating what a child is capable of. Any teacher will tell you, if a child cannot read, they can't learn. What we need is a test where they read out loud — then you can tell in seconds. "

4 Death in the Cathedral Following the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the king sought a way of placating an important, religious power elite. Clergymen were accordingly allowed to claim that they were outside the jurisdiction of the secular courts and could only be tried for a felony in an ecclesiastical court, with the expectation of being treated with far greater leniency than in a secular court, e.g. a penance rather than hanging in a number of cases. I Initially, being tonsured and wearing ecclesiastical dress were taken as sufficient proof of being a cleric

5 The neck verse But after 1351 a literacy test was required. As most of the people who could read at this time were clerics, so the ability to read aloud a verse from the bible was taken as proof of clericity. Miserere mei, Deus: secundum magnam misericordiam tuam et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum: dele iniquitatem meam. Psalm 51 (Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.) Only abolished in England in 1706.

6 Testing oral proficiency Spolsky writes: …pride of place for a direct measure of oral language proficiency is usually granted to the oral interview created by the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the US State Department Developed originally between … Spolsky, B. (1990: 158). Oral examination: an historical note. Language Testing, 7 (2)

7 Trinity College 1938 (1877)

8 Assessment Scales Glenn Fulcher traces the first attempt to assess second language speaking to the work of the Rev. George Fisher who became Headmaster of the Greenwich Royal Hospital Schools in “In order to improve and record academic achievement, he instituted a “Scale Book”, which recorded performance on a scale of 1 to 5 with quarter intervals. A scale was created for French as a second language, with typical speaking prompts to which boys would be expected to respond at each level. The Scale Book has not survived.”

9 Marker standardisation Thorndike developed a standardized scale for the measurement of quality in the handwriting of children and also one for the handwriting of women in 1908 (Thorndike 1911, 1912). Instead of estimating a scale based simply on connoisseurship as was often the case in the United Kingdom, Thorndike took a large sample of student handwritten scripts and used 200 teachers to rank these scripts in order. From the data he created a scale upon which he placed each script. He then provided a set of exemplar scripts at various levels to operationalise a scale from an absolute zero base with scale points defined, and their distances defined (1912: ). Teachers were asked to compare their student’s scripts with those samples on the scale and identify the closest match to give the level.

10 Reading into Writing Robeson, F. E. (1913) in A Progressive Course of Precis Writing quotes from the criteria for marking the precis test set by the Oxford and Cambridge Schools Examination Board: …The object of the précis is that anyone who had not time to read the original correspondence might, by reading the précis, be put in possession of all the leading features of what passed. The merits of such a précis are (a) to include all that is important in the correspondence, (b) to present this in a consecutive and readable shape, expressed as distinctly as possible, and as briefly as is compatible with distinctness.

11 Assessment Literacy 11 Familiarity with how a construct was measured in the past provides us with a valuable perspective when developing 'new' tests and marking schemes or critiquing existing ones.

12 First Lesson There is nothing new under the sun, but there are lots of old things we don't know. Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary Examination boards/test developers need to preserve/write their own histories and archive important documents for posterity…

13 The influence of people and ideas

14 The washback of language teaching on testing Changing priorities in the methods and content of language teaching obtaining at various stages in the C20th in the UK included:  the Grammar Translation or Traditional Method, based upon the method used for the teaching of classical languages  the direct method promoted in continental Europe for the formal education system  the oral method, Harold Palmer’s attempt to systematise direct method teaching procedures and align them with emerging ideas on structural and lexical progression  the audio-lingual method  the situational approach  the communicative approach with its focus on the needs of learners to use language for real life communication accompanied by a sub-skills approach to teaching the four macro skills

15 C 19 th : Grammar the foundation of all knowledge Not only was grammar viewed as the “gateway to all of knowledge” in the C19th, it was thought to “discipline the mind and the soul, at the same time honing the intellectual and spiritual abilities that would enable reading and speaking with discernment” (Huntsman 1983 p 50) … (Hillocks 2008 p311) 15

16 Language teaching at the end of the C19th “The prime object of scholastic education is the training of the mental faculties. Hence a youth is put to hard and dry studies, often confessedly distasteful, though the whole of them may be forgotten when he enters practical life. The mental training is never forgotten; on the contrary, the powers so developed increase in grasp and tenacity. Training by the ear will never do this: it simply cultivates one faculty, memory, and that only for a short time. It is always found that children so trained are the most volatile have not power of application, and in after life seldom settle to any definite pursuit.” (R.W. Hiley 1887 Journal of Education Vol IX: 308) 16

17 The Reform Movement Throughout the 19 th century the GTM tried to carve out a role in the schools by modeling itself on the classics, but it was not popular with some teachers, and in the 1880s a number of language teachers and academics in Europe instigated a Reform Movement which, with the assistance of modern ideas from phonetics, allowed for a new pedagogical approach rooted in the spoken language. 17

18 Grudging acceptance of spoken language Schools were being encouraged to include modern languages with an oral component towards the end of the C19th but headmasters, according to Gilbert (1953: 3) “…consented only because they thereby satisfied utilitarian parents and because the Modern Side enabled them to ‘shunt the empties’ or transfer the dullards from classics to modern languages.” 18

19 What to teach/test? Stern argues that:  where aims are scholarly there will be an emphasis on written and analytical skills;  where social objectives are dominant there will be an emphasis on communication especially oral.  [In the C20th] the needs of the scholar were superseded by the needs of the non scholar for practical everyday use of the language in a spoken form. Stern, H. H. (1983). Fundamental concepts of language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 19

20 Henry Sweet Henry Sweet’s (1899) The Practical Study of Languages. A Guide for Teachers and Learners regarded by Howatt (1984:202) as one of the best Language Teaching methodology books ever written: “… unsurpassed in the history of linguistic pedagogy”.http://www.henrysweet.org/ The papers in CPE 1913 correspond closely to the chapters in his book

21 Stability and Innovation in the C20th: CPE 21 Phonetics Dictation Listening1975- Reading aloud Conversation/oral1913- Translation Composition1913- Literature Reading1975- Knowledge of grammar Use of English1956-

22 Stage 1 (1936 – 1959) Traditional Approaches to Language Testing 1941 The UCLES-British Council Joint Committee for overseeing Cambridge English exams 1945 The Diploma of English Studies (DES) 1954 Knowledge of English Form for screening applicants for UK Universities by BC abroad 1958 OSI 210 Assessment of Competence in English Form Stage 2 (1960 onwards) Psychometric-structuralist Approaches to Language Testing English Proficiency Test Battery (EPTB), (Davies PhD University of Birmingham 1965) Stage 3 (1971 onwards )Communicative Approaches to Language Testing 1980 ELTS Test (Carroll 1978, Munby 1978) 1989 IELTS Test (Alderson, Clapham and Hargreaves) 2012 APTIS (O’Sullivan) British Council and testing in C20th

23 Knowledge of English Form

24 Lesson 2 People and ideas have an important influence on English language testing in the UK

25 Atlantic rift Substantive differences grew between the UK and the USA in their approaches to testing from In the US the predominant focus was on scoring validity, in particular the psychometric qualities of a test In the UK we find a far greater concern with construct validity: a concern with the how in the US as against the what in the UK.

26 The wider context One reason for the Atlantic rift can be found in the differing socio economic contexts prevailing in Britain and the USA in the early C20th. The compelling need to produce tests on an industrial scale in the US strongly influenced testing organizations in the direction of objective multiple choice methods at a very early stage.

27 Population explosion Resnick (1982: 177,187) describes how in the US “the need to identify those who had the least probability of being able to carry on normal work for their age, was stimulated by the demographic explosion. In 1870 there were about 80,000 students … by 1910 there were 900,000.”

28 Needs of the military Glenn Fulcher (1999: 390) identified the role played by politics and war in the US and argues the crisis in the army in WW1 and later in WW2 contributed to the spread in use of objective test formats in intelligence tests. Resnick (1982:182) records the successful placement in appropriate jobs of 1.7 million army recruits mobilised in

29 Numbers In short it was the pressure of numbers that drove US testing in the direction of psychometrically driven tests and the move was not unwelcome to school authorities as standardised tests provided them with the serendipitous means of enforcing accountability in schools.

30 Birth of MCQ Advances in standardised testing (Thorndike 1908) coupled with the development of the multiple choice question (MCQ) format by Kelly (1915) in his Kansas Test of Silent Reading, marked the beginning of large scale testing in the USA and provided the impetus for the birth of psychometrics, spawning the testing industry we now know.

31 First MCQ Question 1915

32 MCQ Samelson (op. cit.:123) concludes: “The multiple choice test – efficient quantitative, objective, capable of sampling wide areas of subject matter and easily generating data for complicated statistical analysis – had become the symbol or synonym of American Education.”

33 Third Lesson Spolsky (1990a:159) reminds us of the crucial connection of developments in testing with: “…external, non theoretical, institutional social forces, that on deeper analysis, often turn out to be a much more powerful explanation of actual practice… A clearer view of the history of the field will emerge once we are willing to look carefully at not just the ideas that underlie it, but also the institutional, social and economic situations in which they are realized.”


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