Types of assessment
The means of assessment can be viewed from a variety of perspectives. Assessments can be broadly categorized into program internal (e.g. teacher-based achievement tests for a specific course) and program external evaluations (e.g. widely used standardized tests such as the TOEFL, IELTS, and TOEIC). Most assessments fall into three main categories, diagnostic, formative, and summative.
As the name implies, diagnostic assessments help gauge a learners’ ability. For example, a diagnostic assessment could be used to determine what lexicogrammatical features a student may have not yet acquired.
Formative assessments are used for the purpose of learning (or forming). Some researchers and teachers have argued that all assessments should be formative, and thus, diagnostic and summative assessments are sometimes categorized as formative. Formative assessments can also include assessments that are neither for diagnostic or summative purposes (e.g. peer-evaluation).
Summative assessments are those used at the end of a unit, These can be further subdivided to include placement and proficiency tests, interviews, diagnostic tests, unit tests, final exams, questionnaires, dialogue journals, task worksheets, video recordings, and observations. If viewed at the level of task items, assessment can be divided into selected-response (true and false, matching, and multiple choice); constructed response (fill-in, short answer and performance assessments); and personal-response (conferences, portfolios, and self and peer-assessments) (Brown & Hudson, 1998). Tasks can be subdivided into sub-components. For instance, direct assessments of writing often involve an eliciting prompt, the student’s response (eg., an essay), and a rating scale used to determine the quality of the response (Weigle, 2002).
A Real World Example
To see some of these assessment types in practice let’s look at an assessment plan created for an advanced English for Academic purposes course. The class takes place at a Canadian private university. All of the students are enrolled with the goal of entering graduate studies. The students need to achieve writing skills for this level and high scores on a language test similar to the TOEFL. Test types will include one diagnostic assessment during the first class, peer-evaluations throughout the course, and one summative assessment (or final exam) administered on the second last class. While other means will be used such as grading students’ assignments and informal assessment methods (eg., eliciting feedback and classroom circulation), these will not be the focus of this section. All means will be program internal and developed by the teacher to prepare students for: (1) a program external test, the Canadian Academic English Language (CAEL) assessment, and (2) academic writing in a college or university context.
To reflect these purposes of the course, the diagnostic assessment will use a forty-five minute in-class writing assessment based on a short reading (1 page in length). Students will have ten minutes for the reading before the forty-five minute test time begins. They will have a single writing prompt (no choice will be given) and asked to support or refute a statement based on a single topic (eg., deforestation) discussed in the reading. These choices are as similar to the CAEL as practical (Malone, 2010) to ensure a high level of authenticity. The reading section for the diagnostic assessment will be shorter than the CAEL, because the diagnostic assessment will be focused solely on integrative writing, while the CAEL tests reading (1 hour), writing (45 minutes), listening (15 minutes) and speaking (25 minutes) (Malone, 2010, p. 632). Likewise, the in-class diagnostic test will not include a listening component. These decisions have been made to ensure the test is practical in its use of time and also that it maintains a focus on writing, in-line with the purpose of the course.
The second component of the diagnostic assessment will involve a take-home essay. The essay will be short (five hundred words) to increase the practicality of completion for students. It will be due the following class. The rationale for giving students a take-home diagnostic essay is related to the second goal of the course, to prepare students for academic writing. Most academic writing tasks do not require time limits. Thus an untimed essay is a more authentic means for most “real-world” academic writing tasks. Also, timed and untimed writing assessments if used together can give a more complete understanding of a student’s language ability. For instance, Weigle (2012) gives the following advantages of timed writing assessments: the ability to see that students work is their own, the ability to prepare students for high-stakes tests (like CAEL) and the ability to see elements of language knowledge that is automatized (2012, p.219). Untimed writing assessments, on the other hand, can skills in integrating source and reference material into the writing assignments, which is also a more authentic measurement of most academic writing (Shehadeh & Levis, 2009, p. 352).
Unlike take-home writing assignments, peer-evaluation is not as common in academic settings; however, this form of assessment offers several advantages to writers. These include: (1) feedback from multiple perspectives, (2) increasing responsibility for learning; (3) sensitizing students to evaluation criteria used by instructors; (4) creating a communal learning environment (Saito & Fujita, 2004, p. 33); (5) pushing students to explore, discover, and find the right words in negotiating meaning; and (6) providing a chance to test out L2 in a meaningful context (Mendonca & Johnson, 1994, p. 746). Saito and Fujita (2004, p. 46) stress that to achieve these benefits students need to be trained in the peer-evaluation process (Saito & Fujita, 2004, p. 48) while Mendonca and Johnson (1994) point out that peer-evaluation should be guided (p. 749) but not too strictly controlled. This is because strict control of the peer-evaluation process has been found to hamper interaction between peers (p. 747). To meet these requirements, the instructor will scaffold peer-evaluation training over the first few weeks. Scaffolding will occur in the following stages: (1) the class will evaluate a sample paper on PowerPoint; (2) the guidelines of peer-evaluation will be explained; (3) Peers will be divided into pairs (dyads) to rate a sample paper that the whole class will receive (and their findings will be discussed as a class); and (4) peer dyads will evaluate each other’s’ essays while the teacher circulates and directs students (Mendonca & Johnson, 1994). Students will also be given peer-evaluation assessment instructions and guidance questions that have proven effective in a qualitative study done on an upper-level ESL writing class (Mendonca & Johnson, 1994). The questions are taken from Mendonca and Johnson (1994, p. 749) and include the following: “Before starting the peer review, explain to your partner what your paper is about. What is the main idea of your partner’s paper? Is there any idea in his/her paper that is not clear?What suggestions could you give to your partner?” Students will also be told to read and underline any areas of the writing that seem unclear (1994, p. 749).
The summative assessment, will be administered during the second last day of class. This test will be structured identically to the in-class diagnostic assessment described above. The topic and reading will be different, but all other elements will remain the same. As well as remaining authentic to the CAEL, this approach will help students more directly compare their progress in the course with the diagnostic assessment. On top of this, the two assessments can be compared by the instructor to have some measure of the effectiveness of teaching. For the diagnostic and formative assessment an analytic rating rubric will, as help detail a more comprehensive understanding of students’ language knowledge strengths and weaknesses (Knoch, 2009, p. 275). This will be more in-line with the analytic rating scale used in the CAEL. On the other hand, holistic rating scales are a more typical way of scoring university writing (Bakaouri, 2007, p. 115) and will thus be used for the writing assignments within the class to promote more authentic EAP assessment. An additional benefit will be the higher level of practicality that holistic ratings allow for, as less time is required to create and operationalize these rubrics (Knoch, 2009, p. 275).
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.
Barkaoui, K. (2007). Participants, text, and processes in ESL/EFL essay tests: A narrative review of the literature. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 64(1), 99-134.
Brown, James D. & Hudson, Thom. (1998). The alternatives in language assessment. TESOL Quarterly, 32(4), 653-675.
Knoch, Ute. (2009). Diagnostic assessment of writing: A comparison of two rating scales. Language Testing, 26(2), 275-304.
Malone, Margaret E. (2010). Canadian academic English language (CAEL) assessment. Language Testing, 27(4), 631-636.
Mendonca, Cassia O. & Johnson, Karen E. (1994). Peer review negotiations: Revision activities in ESL writing instruction. TESOL Quarterly, 28(4), 745-769.
Weigle, Sara C. (2012). Assessing writing. In C. Coombe, P. Davidson, B. O’Sullivan, & S. Stoynoff (Eds.), The cambridge guide to second language assessment (pp. 218-223). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Weigle, Sara.C. (2002). Assessing writing. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Wu, Weiping M. & Stansfield, Charles W. (2001). Towards authenticity of task in Test development. Language Testing, 18(2), 187-206
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