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Positive Assessment

Wayne Trotman looks at a solid title on EAP testing

Assessing EAP: Theory and Practice in Assessment Literacy
Anthony Manning, Garnet Education;

The past decade has quite rightly seen the teaching of English for academic purposes (EAP) come increasingly into the language teaching and learning spotlight. This movement has been a move away from an unhealthy over-emphasis on the design of courses and material aimed at getting students to pass English language proficiency exams which will hopefully enable them to cope when they move up to faculty classes. The title under review here goes to great lengths to extend this; it focuses on how to design tests that accurately assess the language ability of students on the many varieties of faculty-related language courses – an area that in my own experience is generally neglected.

Assessing EAP looks initially at the purpose and function of testing, in particular the complexities involved in doing so by using either formative or summative means. The several tasks, figures, diagrams and tables that appear in this and the other fourteen chapters help to highlight such matters. Of particular value and interest are the end-of-unit extension acivities and references to stakeholder support, such as identifying the correct type of EAP test for a particular situation. The following chapter looks at the background to construct validity, a feature of assessment which concerns the suitability of certain test items included for assessment in relation to the courses being taken by students. Just think how many times you’ve heard your students complain after the test, ‘We haven’t studied this yet!’ The scenarios provided here along with the many probing questions will certainly help flex the mental muscles of all concerned readers, and I would certainly recommend the inclusion of these and other such tasks on courses helping to train would-be designers of EAP testing.

Assessing EAP covers a lot of ground; further chapters look at using test specifications to build EAP tests, identifying and sampling the EAP that needs to be assessed, and preventing problems in EAP testing before they arise. The latter provides cases of students’ complaints that most of us will be familiar with. Marking and grading tests of EAP – not an issue that most teachers I know get excited about – again provides lengthy teacher quotes that illustrate their frustration over the use of a poorly prepared answer key and how they interpreted it to suit or support their own agendas. Other areas focused on are understanding statistics and using descriptive procedures to analyse test results. I felt at home with sections here on ‘the mean, mode and medium’ and even ‘standard deviation’, but felt I was entering seriously deep waters when confronted with explanations on symmetrical distribution curves described as ‘leptokurtic’, ‘platykurtic’ and ‘mesokurtic’.

Two chapters that I was also particularly interested in reading several times were those that should concern all involved in testing of any kind: ‘washback’ and ‘ethics’. Washback concerns the extent to which the tests provided affect what goes on in the classroom. For example, if there’s an element of oral assessment at the end of the course, then such matters need to be covered in class. The chapter also provides examples where the washback was less than beneficial, however. Concerning ethics, page 140 quotes an academic who feels language tests, especially poor ones that badly affect the candidates’ future, should come with a health warning – like dangerous drugs and chemicals.n

Wayne Trotman is a teacher educator at Izmir Katip Çelebi University, Izmir, Turkey