The official website of educator & arts patron Jack C Richards

Assessment and Evaluation

Question:

Submitted by Ahmad Alruhban, Marmara University, Turkey

What is the difference between assessment and evaluation in language teaching?

Dr. Richards responds:

Assessment is a general term referring to procedures that can be used to measure students progress in a course. Tests are one form of assessment but many forms of assessment are not tests, such as observations, interviews, or questionnaires.

Evaluation refers to procedures used to determine the overall effectiveness of a language course, and may involve many different procedures such as interviews with teachers and students as well as classroom observation. Students’ performance on texts may also be used as one component of evaluation.

Difference Between Testing and Assessment

Question:

Submitted by Laleh Kohandel, Iran

What is the difference between Testing and Assessment?

Dr. Richards responds:

A test is one form of assessment and refers to procedures used to measure a learners’ learning at a specific point in time and often involves collecting information in numerical form. Common forms of tests are multiple choice questions and gap-fill or cloze tests. In English classes, teachers also need to assess their students’ learning to determine the effectiveness of their teaching and of the materials they use. Assessment refers to any of the procedures teachers use to do this, which may include interviews, observations, administering questionnaires and reviewing students’ work.

Assessment covers a broader range of procedures than testing and includes both formal and informal measures.

 

Qualifications

Question:

Submitted by L.K., Sri Lanka

Are qualifications such as CELTA and similar qualifications necessary to be an English teacher?

Dr. Richards responds:

Despite the fact that many people, whose only asset is their knowledge of English, still enter language teaching with no training or experience, English language teaching is not something that anyone who can speak English can do. It is a profession, which means that it is a career in a field of educational specialization. It requires a specialized knowledge base, obtained through both academic study and practical experience, and it is a field of work where membership is based on entry requirements and standards.

The professionalism of English teaching is seen in the growth industry devoted to providing language teachers with professional training and qualifications such as CELTA – a recognition of the fact that employers and institutions have come to realize that effective language-teaching programmes depend on teachers with specialized training, knowledge and skills. This professionalism is reflected in continuous attempts to develop standards for English language teaching and teachers and in the proliferation of professional journals and teacher magazines, conferences and professional organization. CELTA and similar qualifications are entry-level qualifications and are not equivalent to a university degree.

However not all university degrees are relevant to a career in teaching English. A degree in literature, for example, will not prepare a teacher to design and use teaching materials, prepare valid and reliable tests, use appropriate teaching methods, design curriculum and materials and so on, any more than a degree in history or geography would do so.

Constrastive Analysis

Question:

Submitted by Eliana Santos de Souza, Brazil

How do you do contrastive analysis of the written texts ( first draft, second draft or revising, and editing) produced by students in the process writing in EFL?

Professor Richards Responds:

Contrastive analysis has no role to play here.  If you wish to see how a student has modified a piece of wiritng during the different stages of the composition process, then you should look at the different aspects of writing that are involved. The different kinds of knowledge and skills learners need to acquire to become effective writers are summarised by Ken Hyland (Second Language Writing: Cambridge University Press 2003) as follows:

  • Content knowledge: How can topics for writing activities be chosen? Can students be involved in selecting topics to write about? And do students have the necessary background knowledge to write about topics they may choose or be asked to write about?
  • System knowledge: How will grammar be used to support their writing needs? What areas of grammar will be most useful to them?
  • Process knowledge: How will students get ideas and information to use in writing? Will they make use of the internet, group discussion, library research, etc.?
  • Genre and text knowledge: What kinds of texts will students learn to write? Do they need to improve their skill in composing particular kinds of texts, such as essays, business letters or reports? How will students become aware of the principle of organization underlying different types of writing, such as recounts, descriptions or business letters?
  • Context knowledge: How will students develop awareness of the influences on the writing context for the type of writing they engage in, as well as awareness of cultural factors that affect expectations about the nature of appropriate written texts?

Assessing Writing Skills

Question:

Submitted by Naima SAHLI from Algeria

How can a teacher assess learners’ writing skills?

Dr Richards responds:

Hughes (2003: 83) suggests that assessing writing involves three issues:
1. Writing tasks should be set that are properly representative of the range of tasks we would expect students to be able to perform.
2. The tasks should elicit writing that is truly representative of the students’ writing ability.
3. The samples of writing can be appropriately scored.

Many different writing tasks can be used to elicit examples of students’ writing ability. The length of text that students produce should be specified. For example:

• Writing a letter.
• Writing a description of something from a diagram or picture.
• Writing a summary of text.
• Writing on a topic to a specified length in words or paragraphs.
• Completing a partially written text.
• Writing a paragraph using a given topic sentence.
• Completing a paragraph.
• Writing a criticism or a response to a piece of writing.
• Writing a story, based on an outline provided.

Hughes emphasizes that a valid writing test should test only writing ability and not other skills, such as reading skills or creative ability. A test that contains a variety of writing tasks gives a more representative picture of a student’s writing ability than one that contains only one writing task. The most difficult part of producing a writing test, however, is developing the scoring procedures that will be used with the test. Many tests make use of an analytic scoring procedure; that is, a score is given for different aspects of a piece of writing, such as grammar, content and organization. Other tests make use of a holistic scoring method, where a single score is assigned to writing samples, based on an overall impressionistic assessment of the student’s performance on the test. Electronic support for scoring is also available with automated essay scoring (see https://criterion.ets.org and http://myaccess.com; last accessed 9 April 2013).

Portfolio assessment
Many writing teachers make use of portfolios for the assessment of student writing. A portfolio is a collection of students’ writing, assembled over time. It usually contains examples of the students’ best work and provides a collection of writing samples, rather than a single piece of work. It may also include a written reflection by the student on his or her progress in writing, as well as a self-assessment of his or her strengths and weaknesses in writing. The portfolio is used as the basis for a final grade.

Reference. Hughes. A. 2003. Testing for Language teachers.2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.