Last week, Education First released its English Proficiency Index for the year of 2015. This index was launched in 2011 and since then, EF has released reports about the English proficiency of different countries around the world.  The 2015 report is based on tests taken by around 910 thousand adults from 70 countries in 2014 (Education First, 2015). Besides ranking the countries around the world, the report also ranks the different states in Brazil. EF’s index was widely publicized in the news, since it showed that Brazil ranks 41st...

Despite my 15 years of experience with portfolio assessment, its power never ceases to amaze me. I’ve recently conducted a course for public school English teachers in the Federal District and, once again, used portfolio assessment. I have a feeling that some educators might not adopt portfolio assessment because they think it is too complicated; others might think it is not “serious” or “valid” and “reliable” enough, and that anything goes. I’m going to demonstrate how portfolio assessment is simple, valid, and reliable as a classroom assessment tool. More importantly,...

I want to talk about drilling. To be more specific, repetition drills. A repetition drill is a technique, which involves the students listening to a model of a word or phrase, usually provided by the teacher, and then repeating it. The original rationale for repetition drills was based on a behaviourist view of language learning. The idea that learning a language was a question of habit formation and that repeating words and phrases ad nauseam would result in mastery of the language. This view of language learning has since been...

No matter how much we love our profession, there will always be that mind-numbing task we have to carry out. To me, that’s marking a seemingly endless pile of multiple-choice/short answer tests, the kind even a computer could grade. However, there is always that outside-the-box answer that will cheer me up. The web has no shortage of such examples. [caption id="attachment_3547" align="aligncenter" width="455"] Me too, Frankie, me too. -- Source: Distractify[/caption] The answers students give may be creative, funny or just oh-so-very-wrong, but there might be more to them than...

On announcing my groups’ final testing dates, I can vividly remember one student coining the chunk, if I may say so, ‘TeStressing Times are coming.’ Well, in terms of pronunciation one might easily say she has aced the test.  Living and learning seems to be a fair motto, I say. We all know that the end of an academic year or, our academic semester, is packed with surprises that most learners love, not to say hate. Either fortunately or unfortunately testing is one them. One thing is for sure,...

I am teaching a course for public school English teachers in Brasilia and one of the topics addressed is assessment. The aim of this part of the course is to improve teachers' assessment literacy, allowing them to provide informed feedback on the assessment system used in their institution and develop assessment systems and tools that are in keeping with the most current assessment practices. While going over the ELT assessment literature and discussing topics such as reliability, validity, washback, practicality, formative versus summative assessment, formal versus informal assessment, and...

February has come and we are all back to school again. So let’s talk about homework? For some years I have observed that a certain number of teachers have had difficulties setting and correcting homework for several reasons, from time management to lack of interest on the part of the SS. I have then started to think about the theme "homework" and made myself the following questions: What is the quality of the homework that is being assigned? Is the homework valuable and meaningful to students? Does the homework...

Most language teachers have an operating definition of proficiency, even if it is not a very conscious one. In the first part of this post, three different views of the term came to light. Proficiency can be the last stage in a language acquisition journey, hence “certificate of proficiency”. It can also be a set of stages or degrees, the proficiency levelS. Finally, we talk of proficiency in certain tasks or domains, as ESP practitioners would probably frame the concept: proficient FOR some things or IN some areas, but...

“Proficiency” is a concept that is very dear to us language teachers. As dear as hard to define, perhaps. After all, the term “proficiency” is ambiguous at best. If we consider common uses of the word, there are at least three competing definitions. 1.       PROFICIENCY = A HIGHLY ADVANCED LEVEL Some international exams offer certificates at “proficiency level”, a step up from advanced. In this sense, proficiency seems to be the top end of a scale and it is often compared, more or less implicitly, to the competence/ability/knowledge/performance of an...

It’s election day in Brazil, and polls have featured extensively both in the traditional and social media. Some voters seem to work out their candidates based on the polling results; others doubt them. Either way, I don’t see much questioning of the importance of polling. And that kind of reminds me of classroom tests. (I know, it sounds like a crazy association to be drawing, but bear with me.) Firstly, there is the seeming unavoidability of election polls and educational tests. Death, taxes and tests, one could have said. Indeed tests may be inescapable depending on the school or system we work for. However, we must not forget that a test is but an instrument. Assessment, which is what we should be doing in class, can be carried out in several other ways, such as observation, portfolios and self-assessment questionnaires. In fact the more varied our instruments, the better the chance of capturing a more complete snapshot of our students’ achievements. Secondly, pollings are often treated matter-of-factly. Here in Brazil I frequently hear (and have actually engaged in) the discourse of not voting on the candidate of choice because he or she stands no chance. “What if the polls are wrong?,” the skeptics are right to remind us. Polls are developed and carried out by humans, so there is the chance of human error or hidden agendas. Also, polls sample from the population. Finally, polls draw inferences and generalize from that sample. Exactly like tests. But as teachers we don’t quickly concede to that, now do we? We tend to act as if test results are crystal clear portraits of our students’ proficiency level or learning stage [grade = proficiency/achievement]. We forget the so many bridging inferences we have to draw to get to a test score. To start, the grade depends on our rating/marking criteria and our ability to be consistent when applying them. That brings in one or two middlemen: [grade – criteria – rater – proficiency/achievement]. Plus, students’ performances on the test depend on their interaction with the tasks. Like all of us who have never been asked who are we going to vote for, many aspects of our students’ competence might not be tapped into by the tests we have been issuing them. So [grade – criteria – rater – tasks – performance – proficiency/achievement]. The tasks we choose and items we write also depend on our concepts of language and learning. Because we cannot possibly test everything there is to test, we consciously or unconsciously make judgment calls. With that we show our view on what learning objectives are most important. We’re now up to [grade – criteria – rater – teacher’s views on language learning – tasks – test - performance – proficiency/achievement]. And we could go on and on, adding factors that make those inferential jumps quite clear and show that testing is not so easy as we make it look. And that brings us to the final similarity to boot: the power of polls and tests to influence decisions. Of course that is why we do classroom assessment in the first place: to go over what our students have and have not learned, source out problems in the learning process and try and tackle them. In theory, at least. And when “theory” becomes the operative word, all alarms should go off. It is all too easy to forget about the testing purpose and use grades to label students: “This is the front-runner or high achiever. That is the hopeless underdog.” Or worse still, regardless of how careful we are not to judge, learners themselves take their scores at face value and resign themselves to the role of “winner/loser” in the learning process. And hey, the elections are only over once those ballots are cast and counted.

To my fellow countrypeople, happy and responsible voting.

And to teachers, especially at the end of our school year, happy responsible testing!