Theoretical frameworks of testing in SLA:
by Kayo Yoshida (Kansai Gaidai University)
This paper highlights some historical developments in language testing since the 1970's to the present and describes fundamental concepts and criteria which are thought to underpin good language testing. Discussing the importance of the interface and different perspectives between Language Testing (LT) and Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research, the author focuses on two studies by Skehan (1998) and Cohen (1998) which explore learners' test-taking process and strategies. This article suggests that it is essential to examine not only final linguistic products of tests but also the entire test taking process to make language tests more communicatively relevant.
Keywords: language testing, test-taking strategies, test-taking process, historical developments, theoretical frameworks, SLA
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Many language tests and assessments used nowadays often contain tasks which resemble the kinds of language-use situations that test takers would encounter in using the language for communicative purposes in everyday life.
the necessity of assessing the practical language skills of foreign students led to a demand for language tests which involved an integrated performance on the part of the language user. The discrete point tradition of testing was seen as focusing too exclusively on knowledge of the formal linguistic system for its own sake rather than the way such knowledge is used to achieve communication.
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It [a good test] must be reliable, that is, it must consistently give the same results under different conditions. It must also be valid, that is, it should really measure what it is supposed to measure. Testing experts also advise us to make sure a test is practical, that it is economical, easy to score, and easy to interpret.
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if the student were able to "cover" the problem with appropriate filler (just a moment . . . what I want to say is . .. how do you say . . . ?), he would not only not be penalized but would be graded up for having the ability to keep the conversation going and not lose the floor! Students would also be given credit for politeness and appropriateness, since a minimum amount of this knowledge is absolutely necessary for successful conversation.This example shows that the student mainly employs communication strategies by using fillers to gain time to think and appeal for aid from the interlocutor, so as to compensate for missing knowledge as native speakers often do in conversation. Furthermore, Cohen's study focuses on the process and variation of test-taking strategies. He examined 26 advanced English foreign language learners and gave them six speech act situations (2 apologies, 2 complaints, 2 requests) in which they role-played with a native speaker. The number of strategies they used for each task varied. For instance, one student said 'very sorry' in an expression of apology, but reported thinking to herself afterwards that she could have said 'terribly sorry' [- Afterthought -]. This illustrates the existence of a gap between knowledge and performance. Conventional test scores/grades do not always represent the ability of learners.
[ p. 5 ]Another student in Cohen's study said, "When I start speaking English after not speaking it for a long time, my vocabulary is weak and it is hard to retrieve words from memory" [- Retrieval process -]. In addition, some students planned their answers in their L1, then translated them into a L2. However, others both planned and responded in L2. This suggests that complicated processes are going on in learner's' brains, even when answers seem simple. It was also reported in Cohen's paper that, respondents devoted roughly twice as much attention to grammar than as they did to pronunciation.
if tests . . . encourage students to participate in conversation and develop the skills to manage conversations, they will contribute a great deal to the development of grammatical accuracy in the long run than any other kind of measure.
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