This chapter focuses on formal instructional assessments, particularly those to help you determine course grades. First, we would like to set the groundwork of this chapter by giving you some reflective points about testing. First and foremost, testing, while having advantages as a powerful teaching tool, can also be used in a somewhat destructive way for the students. Second, if you think that any kind of testing is objective (not subject to emotions or arbitrary judgment), then you are mistaken. Testing results can easily be manipulated to get desired results. If you are doubtful of this, then think of curving. We know of teachers who curve grades up and some who curve grades down. They < previous page page_159 next page >
Page 160 are, in short, manipulating test scores to achieve desired results. Another way that testing is less objective is when teachers teach to the test. Given the high stakes testing environment that education is experiencing, this is an understandable strategy that teachers use in an attempt to increase test scores. As initiatives continue for teacher accountability, such as linking merit pay to student performance on tests, we will likely see teaching to the test used as a necessary strategy for teachers. Third, some students are at a disadvantage coming into a testing situation. Research has shown that some groups of students, regardless of intelligence, do not score well on standardized tests. Arguments are that standardized testing is culturally and socially biased in favor of American middle class educational values (Mohan, 1992). Jacqueline, for example, had a colleague in graduate school who had difficulty scoring high enough on the Graduate Record Exam to be admitted into the doctoral program. Given that the colleague was very bright, capable, and an excellent student during her master’s work in language education, her major professor drafted a letter arguing a case for her admittance into the program. The colleague was a female from an ethnic group that has documented difficulties with this type of standardized testing. This notion of cultural bias becomes a serious area of concern for teachers who work in areas with large multicultural and immigrant populations new to the American school system, such as New York City and Los Angeles. That is why including alternative assessments as well as standardized and paper-and-pencil tests for your students may provide a more balanced look at how students are able to perform holistically in the language. Some students suffer from anxiety in testing situations. If we reflect on Krashen’s Affective Filter Hypothesis (Hadley, 2001) (students with anxiety may experience blocks in learning language), it makes sense that many students who walk into tests with high levels of anxiety may well perform at a lower level than if they were more relaxed. Therefore, it is important for you as a teacher to keep in mind that testing is a part of your job to do thoughtfully with the goal of helping your students achieve. Testing is not a way to punish your students for
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