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Review: Put yourself to the test

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Wayne Trotman discovers how classroom assessment, when properly designed, can help improve teaching and learning

Language Assessment for Classroom Teachers,
Lyle Bachman and Barbara Damböck.
Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0-19-421839-9

This book may have quite a general-sounding title, but as it explains in its opening chapter, it is proposing ‘an entirely new approach to developing and using classroom-based language assessments’.

Instead of taking the traditional route of using assessment solely to make major decisions about large numbers of test-takers, it aims to provide useful information to help improve teaching and learning. As such, it has valuable lessons for those who are possibly only involved in an institution’s testing unit who wish to support colleagues whose role is more classroom-focused.

The second chapter of the book discusses the role of assessment in teaching, providing an overview of the process of using classroom-based assessment. The book then goes on to describe the framework underlying its new approach, introducing at first the idea of an ‘assessment use argument’.

This looks at issues such as the consequences of assessing learners, decisions on when and how to assess them, plus the means of recording their performance.

The authors then show how to adopt the new approach in the classroom. They outline a possible ‘template’ or model for producing assessment tasks, which involves selecting, describing and modifying test items. They also explain how to use the model to create multiple assessment tasks.

Chapter ten describes how to combine individual tasks to make a complete classroom-based assessment.

If you feel any, some, or all of the above seem to be entering deeper waters, you’re probably not completely wrong. However, the title also focuses well on major concerns for the general teacher involved in assessment.

Chapter eleven, which looks at administering tests, looks at how to prepare suitable physical conditions to provide an encouraging environment. Another valuable section here covers issuing instructions for test-takers.

This answers questions such as how extensive they need to be in order to make them understandable.

And a question for you: who among us when writing test items has not pondered how many points to award for each? This issue and many others appear in chapter twelve, which outlines how to score students’ test performance and reporting results.

This title is more likely to be appreciated by those with a good deal of experience in assessment.

At times it is perhaps over-technical for the average test-item writer or analyst, though thankfully a lengthy glossary explains tricky terminology such as a ‘non-compensatory composite score’.

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