Glenn Fulcher is a professor in the School of Education of the University of Leicester. He also co-edits the journal Language Testing and is on the editorial board of Assessing Writing. In 1993 he received his PhD in Applied Linguistics at the University of Lancaster and he also has a master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Birmingham. In 2003 he authored Testing Second Language Speaking (Longman/Pearson Education), and in 2007 he authored Language Testing and Assessment: An Advanced Resource Book with Fred Davidson. He has held various executive posts in the International Language Testing Association since 1998. This interview was conducted by email in July-August 2007.
[ p. 9 ]From your perspective, how do you feel the language testing field is changing? What trends concern you most? Are there any you particularly laud?
[ p. 10 ]Although I certainly do not work within the tradition of Foucault, as you will probably gather from Unit A9 of our new book; and we explore this further in another new publication for 2007 in Educational Philosophy and Theory. Because Foucault's analytical method arises from a fundamentally pessimistic interpretation of history, it emphasizes the impotence of the marginalized and downtrodden to change their lot in life, and therefore any critique of testing from this perspective is of necessity negative. We work in a broader pragmatic tradition that critically analyses the intentions of the policy makers, the ethics of their enterprises, and the utility of the tools that they adopt or adapt. When the aims and intentions are undemocratic, or the solutions are essentially collectivist, there is a critical case to be made against them, as I have tried to do elsewhere, while recognizing that the tools themselves are potentially useful for other purposes. Unless such policies are challenged, what happens next is that no opposition is tolerated. As J.S. Mill also says, "All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility" (1859: 22). And once collectivist solutions are in place they tend to spread and become more powerful, because they provide options for large-scale control of educational systems by unaccountable elites.
[ p. 11 ]The ILTA Code of Practice was finally approved at the LTRC meeting in Barcelona in June 2007. The Draft Code was subject to a number of amendments, perhaps foremost that it is now referred to as 'Guidelines' for Practice, but has nevertheless taken its place alongside the Code of Ethics. These documents will be available from the ILTA Web Site shortly.
[ p. 12 ]The temptation to claim that your test can be used with any population, to test any construct, and make any decision, is very large. It's a growing problem in Europe too, where validity is often interpreted as a claimed link to the CEFR rather than relevance to clearly defined effects. It's similar to a belief that one drug will cure all illnesses. We know this is nonsense, but any one-solution-fits-all product is going to have higher sales for less investment. Until, of course, the customers realize that it isn't fit for purpose, and that there is no evidence that the scores are meaningful or can be depended upon for making fair decisions. What we need is a critical, open, questioning community of professionals, who are prepared to ask the difficult questions, and point out that the emperor has no clothes when it is necessary. Effect-driven testing, linking as it does use to design, provides a theoretical framework in which this can be done.
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[ p. 14 ]The political mandate always moves for collectivist solutions rather than valuing the genuine achievement, progress and growth of the individual. Dewey was absolutely right when he first proclaimed individual growth as the main criterion for the judgment of educational achievement, and we need to remind ourselves that despite the onslaught of the collectivists this hasn't changed.
[ p. 15 ]And finally, did you notice that the very last word in the text of our book is 'fun'? Perhaps it's the first time this particular lexical item has appeared in a book on language testing. It's important, both professionally and personally. Pragmatism implies a basically optimistic orientation to life. It holds that individuals do have the ability to make a difference, through their own work and their cooperation with colleagues. By working together and disagreeing together in an open, democratic community, we make progress as a community. So whatever else I do, I'll keep talking, disagreeing, challenging, and being optimistic that where we are now is better than where we were in the past, and that when I'm dead and buried (which I hope is a long, long, time away), things will be even better.
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