Assessment is a hot topic and there is debate about “tradition” and “communicative” testing. I have come to find that this is really a questions of what a students knows about a language and what a student can do with a language. I am not of the mindset that all testing should be about what a student can do with a language because vocabulary and structure mastery are essential to using the language and this knowledge about a language is a first step in using the language to communicate. However, teachers should be aware of the two types of assessments and provide both opportunities to students. Too often assessment focuses on the about at the exclusion of the do with. Both are essential in my opinion and I am careful not to fully embrace the new wave of do with assessment because I have seen a lack of precision in speaking and writing as a result. Instead, I integrate both tools. Below are some guidelines to help distinguish these two practices that appeared in the Special Assessment Issue of the MaFLA Newsletter (Massachusetts Foreign Language Association) in 2010.
Assessment Characteristics That Demonstrate What Students Know About the Language:
- They assess discrete points.
- The answers are either right or wrong.
- They are easily and quickly scored.
- They test language content: vocabulary, grammar, and culture.
- They involve the lower-level thinking skills of knowledge and comprehension.
- They are usually given in formal testing periods.
Activities That Show What Students Know About the Language:
- Multiple choice
- Fill in the blanks
- Give the correct form of the noun, adjective, verb
- Change one word for another, e.g. noun for pronoun
- State the facts
- Follow the model
- Repeat, recite
- Answer the questions
Assessment Characteristics That Demonstrate What Students Can Do with the Language:
- They require that students create a product or do a demonstration.
- They are scored holistically.
- They are task-based.
- The tasks are situation-based or use real-world content.
- They involve higher-level thinking skills of application, integration, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
- They are given in both formal and informal testing situations.
Activities That Show What Students Can Do With the Language:
- Complete the sentence logically.
- State your opinion, thoughts, or comments.
- Give personal answers.
- Create a situation.
- Seek information.
- Develop a product, e.g. advertisement, brochure, collage, poem, song, essay, video, etc.
- Demonstrate your knowledge.
- Summarize, paraphrase.
- Change the ending.