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Making sense of assessment

Part Six Five ways that further study can benefit your teaching career
Amy Malloy
The final article in this series looks at five key benefits that studying more about language
assessment could hold for your ELT career. There are many options for learning more about
assessment, from conferences to short residential courses to a part-time online Masters degree, all
open to language teachers interested in expanding their professional skillset. Which you choose will
likely depend on the amount of time you want to commit, your level of interest and your budget,
however there is a core set of skills that most courses are designed to address at varying levels of
depth. Well have a look at these and see how they could be applied to benefit your teaching.
1. How to spot and write a good test and test questions
One of the fundamental areas you can learn about on a language testing course is what a good test
looks like, and also training in how to write good test questions (or items).
A good test is one which is valid and reliable. If a test is valid, it means there is evidence to
demonstrate that it measures the area of language ability that it is designed to measure.
If a test is reliable, it means it measures test takers in a consistent way: you can be confident the
scores would be consistent whenever the test was taken and by whomever.
By studying further you can understand more about how to demonstrate that tests you use with
your students or produce for your institution are valid and reliable measures of ability, and that the
inferences you make off the back of the scores can be relied upon for a particular purpose.
A good test relies on good test items. There are several language testing courses that train teachers
in the basic principles of test writing. For example, making sure you are sampling the appropriate
language point or skill, and are not actually asking the student to demonstrate non-linguistic skills; or
making sure that the question is fair: it doesnt have multiple possible answers or cover a topic with
which the learner is unfamiliar.
Both certain short courses and an MA course will teach you to interpret basic statistics to be able to
evaluate how well a question or test is working on real students, to check for errors and to further
improve it for the future. This can help with your own test writing, and with understanding validity
evidence about assessment products from external test providers and publishers.
By training yourself in good test writing, your institution will benefit from better and more reliable
tests (be these ones you have written, or simply selected to use), and your teaching will benefit from
more reliable information about your students from the tests you use or produce for your classes.
2. Responsible assessment: using the right test for the right purpose
As we learned in article 2 of this series, there are several different types of test designed to elicit
different types of information about a learners language ability, and different stages in their
learning. A good language course will cover the reasons for these different types of test, and in some

cases, how to design a test or write questions for a particular purpose. As a language teacher, there
is a certain responsibility attached to knowing the right type of test to use to get the most
appropriate information about your students. It will ensure you have reliable information for
planning and reporting on your teaching, as well as ensuring your students are best prepared for
their future language careers.
3. How to interpret results
In the last article, we touched on how many different scoring systems, frameworks and reporting
types there are across different language testing tools. Further study in language testing can teach
you more about how to understand scoring of tests and a working understanding of the statistics
involved in creating a scale or framework (you dont have to get into the detail of statistics if its not
of interest to you just enough to be able to understand). This can benefit your students because it
will help you interpret documents such as the Common European Framework of Reference
responsibly and appropriately, or apply writing and speaking criteria reliably and consistently when
assessing your students.
4. Writing and editing opportunities
Test providers and publishers are always looking for freelance test writers and editors. By
supplementing your CV with a language testing course or qualification, you will open yourself up to
opportunities to write test items on a freelance basis, to become an assessor or examiner, or even to
shift your career to working in-house for an external test provider or examination board.
5. Professional networking
The great thing about courses is that they attract people of a similar mind-set from across the
profession. Not only will you have the chance to meet like-minded teachers with a similar interest in
language assessment, but you will also meet tutors and course presenters, all of whom will have
academic and professional experience working in language assessment and plenty of words of
wisdom to share.
Suggestions for further study
Part-time Masters courses

Lancaster University offer a part-time distance learning Masters, with students from all over
the world: http://www.ling.lancs.ac.uk/study/masters/testingdistance.php

Short courses
Lancaster University offers several short courses on analysing tests and basic statistics:
http://www.ling.lancs.ac.uk/study/languagetesting/index.htm

The Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) offer a range of short courses on the
basics of language testing:
http://www.alte.org/events

The larger language testing conferences often offer pre-conference training workshops. Try
the following:

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EALTA (European Association for Language Testing & Assessment):


http://www.ealta.eu.org/events.htm
ILTA (International Language Testing Association):
http://www.iltaonline.com/index.php/enUS/
ALTE: http://www.alte.org/events

Amy Malloy is Assessment and Learning Outcomes Manager at Oxford University Press, working
with partner institutions on their assessment strategy and looking at evaluating the educational
impact of our teaching programmes.
Amy has over ten years experience in the ELT industry across a range of functions including market
research, course development and test development. She holds a Masters degree in Language
Testing from the University of Lancaster.