There are numerous ways assessments can be used. In an ESL context these include assessments for administrative, instructional, and research purposes. Examples of assessment for administrative purposes include: (1) assessing for entrance into a program or institution, such as using “gate-keeping tests” like the TOEFL, IELTS, or CAEL to determine acceptance into academic programs in English speaking universities; (2) placement, such as deciding what level of English language instruction is appropriate for a student; (3) exemption, for instance, to determine if a student can waive required instruction; (4) certification or achievement, when a test is used to determine whether or not a learner has met the requirements for a given level or the completion of a program/course; (5) promotion, such as when test scores are used to determine whether an employee will advance in a given job setting; (6) accountability, for instance, in using assessments to ensure quality in teaching.
There is some overlap between evaluation used for administrative and instructional purposes, but the latter is typically smaller in scale. A common need in classroom settings is diagnosis of a student’s language ability. Diagnostic tests look at the strengths and weaknesses in learners to understand their specific language needs within a learning context (Knoch, 2009, p. 296). Instructional assessments are also used as measurements of progress. These include achievement and proficiency tests to direct teaching according to students’ needs. Similarly, tests can be used to provide feedback to test takers in order to increase their awareness of language elements and promote improvement of their comprehension and production skills. Assessments are also commonly used for the evaluation of instruction. Proficiency tests administered at the end of a course, for instance, can be used to determine the effectiveness of the teaching style and focus, curriculum, textbook, and among other components, method of instruction.
The final purpose for which ESL assessments are commonly used involves research. Scholars may create novel evaluations (or use existing tests) in order to better understand research questions. Sometimes these take the form of small-scale qualitative studies that take an in-depth look at assessments and their interactions, while other times these involve large-scale quantitative studies that aim at collecting a broader scope of data. Areas of inquiry for researchers have included questions surrounding an assessments’ societal, institutional, or educational impact; the usefulness of a given test; or test takers’ perceptions of assessment activities.
References and further reading
Bachman, Lyle & Palmer, Adrian. (2010). Language assessment in practice. New York: Oxford University Press.
Bachman, Lyle & Palmer, Adrian. (1996). Language testing in practice: Designing and developing useful language tests. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Knoch, Ute. (2009). Diagnostic assessment of writing: A comparison of two rating scales. Language Testing, 26(2), 275-304.
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