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Toward a Communicative Approach to ******** Testing

A Critical Study of Achievement Tests for Non-Specialist Students Learning English for Specific Purposes in the Faculty of Arabic and Social Sciences at King Khalid University

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قديم 12-17-2012, 03:14 PM
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تاريخ التسجيل: Jan 2012
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افتراضي Toward a Communicative Approach to ******** Testing

A Critical Study of Achievement Tests for Non-Specialist Students Learning English for Specific Purposes in the
Faculty of Arabic and Social Sciences at
King Khalid University

The aim of this paper is to develop a critical awareness of the tests administered to ESP students in the Faculty of Arabic and Social Sciences, King Khalid University, so that ******** teachers can better reflect on their tests and the way they should be constructed.
The first part of this paper introduces the problem, describing the population of this study and their curriculum.
The second part presents the key issues in ******** testing, particularly with regard to the criteria involved in carrying out Communicative ******** testing.
The third part is a detailed scrutiny for the 1418 & 1419 tests administered to ESP students from the different departments in the Faculty, shedding a critical light on each test, and pinpointing its positive and negative points.
The fourth part presents conclusions and recommendations, underpinning the findings that ******** teachers need to make their tests as direct as possible in terms of real-life operations if they are to measure anything of value.
نحو طريقة إتصاليه لاختبار اللغة
دراسة نقدية لاختبارات اللغة المقدمة للطلبة الذين يدرسون الإنجليزية لأغراض
خاصة في كلية اللغة العربية والعلوم الاجتماعية
جامعة الملك خالد


الهدف من هذا البحث تسليط ضوء نقدي على اختبارات اللغة الإنكليزية التي أُجريت على طلاب الكلية من أقسام مختلفة , لكي يستطيع أساتذة اللغة التفكير في جدوى اختباراتهم وفي الطريقة الصحيحة التي يجب أن تُنَفَّذ هذه الاختبارات على أساسها.
عرض الفصل الأول مشكلة البحث , ووصف الطريقة التقليدية السائدة في الامتحانات وعرض جانباً من ثغراتها.
وعرض الفصل الثاني مفاهيم أساسية عن اختبارات اللغة الإنكليزية وعُني بشكل خاص بالمعايير المنشودة في تنفيذ اختبار اللغة التواصلي.
وعرض الفصل الثالث تحليلاً مفصلاً لاختبارات اللغة عامي 1418 و 1419 , وسلَّط الضوء النقدي على اختبار كل قسم من أقسام الكلية , وأشار إلى الجوانب الإيجابية والسلبية التي تضمنها كل اختبار وبحث في أفضل الوسائل الهادفة إلى تحسين الاختبار.
وتضمن الفصل الرابع النتائج والتوصيات , حيث أوصى أساتذة اللغة بالاهتمام بطريقة الامتحانات التواصلية التي تُعنى بحاجات الطلبة اليومية وتبتعد عن الأسئلة غير الواقعية , ثم قدَّم الباحث نموذجاً لتصميم هذه الامتحانات مع هدفها وطرق تقويمها.

I- Introduction
Progressive strides have recently been made Toward establishing a Communicative atmosphere at the Faculty of Arabic and Social Sciences, King Khalid University. The goal is to motivate students to use the target ******** competently. In spite of this great accomplishment, we notice that quite a few students are probably unjustly evaluated due to the inappropriateness of the assessment procedures. Instructors teaching the courses could hardly ever determine the extent to which their teaching had been effective and efficient, because their students’ achievement tests could not be taken as an objective indication of the quality of the teaching received.
Analyzing classroom achievement tests, we find that they reflect the thinking of traditional approaches to testing. Most tests tend to be largely discrete-point in nature, reflecting an orientation Toward the behavioristic ********-learning theories. This conservative stance in classroom Testing has resulted in an ever-widening gap between the de******ion of the course goals and their Testing procedures.
The present workintends to answer questions such as the following:

1-Since Communicative ******** teaching has been implemented in the Faculty, is there any truly Testing Approach compatible with Testing procedures developed?
2-How communicative, valid, reliable, and appropriate are the tests administered to the students?

In fact, most ******** teachers in the Faculty of Arabic and Social Sciences have wrongly put the blame on the students by assuming that the latter do not do well on English tests merely because they do not study hard. If it is true that most practitioners have been fully prepared to teach well, it is also a fact that most of them have so far failed to realize that a logical explanation for their students’ poor test scores are essentially ascribable to wrong test items that have been administered. Their teaching has certainly aimed at improving not only the students’ linguistic competence, but also their Communicative competence. However, their tests provide us with a good account of the students’ ability to manipulate only the grammar of the target ******** and some comprehension questions to answer. Although instruction has been oriented Toward helping students use the ******** genuinely, Testing has remained static; it only measures whether or not the test takers have been linguistically accurate. A ******** test should be dynamic, reflecting students’ Communicative needs rather than being a **** of passive items. Thus, ******** tests in the Faculty sacrifice Communicative fluency in favor of grammatical accuracy. Such a mismatch should be eradicated to allow reliability, validity, and authenticity to take place in the process of assessment.
Therefore, this research will primarily focus on the identification of possible problems that exist in the tests administered to non-specialist students learning English for specific purposes. Test samples of the years 1418 and 1419 AH from several departments in the Faculty will be examined in order to determine whether or not they were constructed in accordance with the requirements of a Communicative Approach to ******** testing. Light will also be shed on negative and positive aspects of each section categorized in the 1418 and 1419 tests. Finally, the writer will conclude his research paper by presenting a summative ******** test together with its objectives and ratings to serve as a model for in-service ******** teachers to build upon it their classroom tests according to a Communicative Approach to ******** testing. The summative test is suggested as a possible starting point for revising classroom tests in the Faculty of Arabic and Social Sciences, King Khalid University to reflect ******** Communicative goals more directly.
1. De******ion of the Students and their English Syllabus

After receiving their high school diplomas, students are academically screened and then granted admission in one of the various departments in the Faculty. Throughout their studies at the Faculty, students usually acquire a fairly acceptable background knowledge due to the richness of their English syllabus and the extensive number of hours allocated to the study of English over four years. Upon completion of their studies, students graduate with a bachelor’s degree from their respective departments.
The syllabi of the Faculty of Arabic and Social Sciences at King Khalid University comply with the requirements of an Islamic society, keeping the students abreast in moral values and traditions. ****books are written by ******** specialists and revised by the professors of the English department at the Faculty. Each ****book is divided into several topics and each topic covers a variety of subjects, teaching students grammar, history, culture, and many exercises to work on.
In addition to their final tests rated at 70 points, students are given homework, quizzes, and a mid-term exam which are worth 30 points. If the students do not attend their classes regularly and miss the aforementioned evaluation procedures, their final test will be rated at 100 points. By the time they take their final test, the students will have successfully completed one whole semester of intensive advanced study. Thus, they have a fair exposure to English and plenty of time to practice before their finals.

II- Review of Related Literature

This section presents an overview of Testing in general, and Communicative Testing in particular. It addresses the following questions: What is Testing and why do we test? What is Communicative Testing and in what ways is it different from conventional Testing approaches?
1. Overview of Educational Testing
Tests are means of obtaining systematic evidence on which to **** instructional decision. Educators see tests as motivators that stimulate individuals to do their best. If they are well designed and properly used, tests can effectively enhance the educational process, (Richards, 1990). Educational Testing is in fact a world endeavor. In everyday life, there is a necessity to use some devices, determining people’s ability. It is difficult to imagine, for example, some organizations hiring interpreters without some knowledge of their proficiency. Therefore, tests will be needed in order to provide information about the achievement of the testees, without which we cannot make decisions.
The words testing, evaluation, and measurement are closely associated. However, they should be viewed as three different terms. In some instances, evaluation is used as a synonym for the term measurement. In other cases, it is used interchangeably with the term testing. Thus, when teachers administer achievement tests they might say we are “testing” achievement,“measuring”achievement, or “evaluating” achievement, with little regard for these terms’ specific meanings. Smith and Adams (1972) explain that measurement, the science of obtaining a numerical de******ion, should be objective and impersonal, whereas evaluation involves the use of information collected by the process of measurement. For example, if we use a ruler and ascertain that a table is five feet wide, that is measuring. But if we add that the same table is too large to go through a 20-inch door, this is evaluation. As Smith and Adams (1972) assert, tests given in school attempt to measure the achievement of students. Grades assigned on the basis of test results are evaluations of the students’ achievements.
The terms quiz, test, and exam also need some clarification. Hammerly (1985 - p. 539) states that the differences between a quiz, a test, and an exam are in duration and comprehensiveness. A quiz takes about five to ten minutes and covers the current materials. A test lasts from half an hour to one hour and covers one or more units. An exam is two hours or longer and covers at least half of the content of the course. Despite these distinctions, in this paper, test or Testing will be used as an umbrella term to refer to any type of measurement procedures.
In any consideration of educational testing, a distinction must be drawn between teacher-made tests of the classroom and those formal standardized tests which are usually prepared by professional Testing services to assist students’ admission to universities. Classroom tests are generally prepared and scored by one teacher. Test objectives can be ****d directly on course content; the students know what is expected of them and what is likely to be covered in the test questions. Standardized tests, on the other hand, are designed to be used with hundreds of thousands of subjects throughout the world. They are prepared by a team of Testing specialists without personal knowledge of the examinees. Such tests often take years to construct as opposed to a few days for a teacher-made test, (Weir, 1993).
Perhaps the most common use of educational tests is to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses in the learned abilities of the students. Linden et al (1974) consider evaluation of students’ progress to be a major aspect of the teacher’s job. It gives a sense of where the students are, relative to the curriculum and to other students, as well as how students are progressing Toward the attainment of specified objectives. A test is also a tool which teachers need in their evaluative repertoires.
2. Interpretation of Test Data

Within each category of the kinds of educational tests mentioned above, there are varieties of different techniques and procedures that can be classified according to how the results are interpreted. Two main types of techniques used to make educational decisions will be discussed along with the different types of information that each test yields.
One type of information helps us determine a student’s rank. This is accomplished by comparing the student’s performance to the performances of other students whose scores are given as the norm. A student’s score is therefore interpreted with reference to the scores of other students, rather than an agreed criterion score. We call this technique a norm-referenced test.
A second type of information provided by tests tells us about a student proficiency in a set of skills. This is accomplished by comparing a student’s performance to a certain criterion, which has been agreed upon. The students must reach this level of performance to pass the test, and a student’s score is therefore interpreted with reference to the criterion score, rather than the scores of other students. We call this technique a criterion-referenced test, (Bachman, 1991).

There has been a growth of interest in the Communicative Testing approach. It considers ******** to be interactive, purposive,authentic,con****ualized, and ****d and assessed in terms of behavioral outcomes. The tests analyzed in this paper do not follow these principles.
Madsen (1983) states that ******** Testing has evolved through three major stages, which reflect people’s attitudes towards the goals of ******** teaching and ******** learning. These stages are summarized as follows:

1.The Intuitive Stage focuses on subjective Testing and is dependent on personal impressions of the teachers.
2.The Scientific Stage stresses objective evaluation focusing on ******** usage.
3.The Communicative Stage emphasizes evaluation of ******** use rather than usage.
The Communicative Approach is ****d on the premise that ******** is first and foremost a tool for communication. From this perspective, tests designed to assess student proficiency can be tailored to include items which possibly measure the students’ Communicative ability in all levels of ********. Brown (1987) elaborates on the characteristics of a Communicative ******** test:
A Communicative test has to meet some rather stringent criteria. It has to test for grammatical, discourse, sociolinguistic, and illocutionary competence as well as strategic competence. It has to be pragmatic in that it requires the learner to use ******** naturally for genuine communication and to relate to thoughts and feelings, in short, to put authentic ******** to use within a con****. It should be direct (as opposed to indirect tests which may lose validity as they lose content validity). And it should test the learner in a variety of ******** functions. (p. 230)

An important observation in this quotation is that in Testing Communicative performance, test items should measure how well students are able to engage in meaningful, purposeful, and authentic Communicative tasks. Students must have a good performance linguistically and communicatively. That is, they must have a good command of the components involved in communication. The best exams in this Communicative era, Madson (1983) comments, are those that combine the various subskills necessary for the exchange of oral and written ideas. He asserts that Communicative tests need to measure more than isolated ******** skills, to omprehensively indicate how well a person can function in another ********.
4. The Requirements of Good ******** Tests

The common concepts needed in Communicative Testing include reliability, validity, practicality, and authenticity. They fall under the heading of desirable test characteristics. Marshall and Hales (1972) point out that any test that is to be used effectively as a measuring instrument should be reliable, valid, authentic, and practical. They warn that a drawback in any of these test attributes can render a test futile.
Reliability has to do with test consistency. Two tests should give evidence that they are likely to produce the same results when taken at different times by the same or similar students. That is, students who obtain high scores on one set of items also obtain high scores on other sets of *****alent items, and those who have a low score on one set of items also have a low score on other sets of items, (Scannel and Tracy, 1975).
Validity in Testing refers to whether the test measures what it claims to measure, and whether it measures what was taught. For example, a test which is designed to determine the extent to which a particular group of students have mastered specific algebraic concepts will not be valid when administered to a different group of students with the intent to determine their performance in Elizabethan literature. Similarly, a test of English as a Second ******** (ESL) is not valid for students learning translation theory, (Heaton, 1995).

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