Foundations in language testing and assessment

Date: 16 November, 2007
Location: Senate House, University of London
Event type: Workshop

Past event summary

University of Leicester

This was a one-day workshop organised by the School of Education, University of Leicester and the Subject Centre which introduces the main concepts in language testing and assessment.

The workshop focussed on a range of assessment issues including validity, reliability, the role of self and peer assessment, the assessment of speaking and practical ways of using external standards and frameworks.


Dr Glenn Fulcher

Dr Julie Norton

Mr Wasyl Cajkler

Programme for 16 November 2007
Time Session
9.30 - 10.00 Registration and coffee
10.00 - 11.30 Concepts
11.30 - 11.45 Coffee
11.45 - 13.00 Assessments
13.00 - 13.45 Lunch
13.45 - 15.15 Discourses
15.15 - 15.30 Coffee
15.30 - 17.00 Frameworks



An introduction to the main concepts in language testing and assessment in which participants will discuss validity, reliability, and the purposes for which we assess. Participants will develop an understanding of how key concepts might impact on their assessment work, particularly with reference to the definition of what is to be assessed, and how it is described.


Effective formative assessment helps students to develop sociolinguistic, discourse and strategic competences, and acquire cultural knowledge that enhances communication. This session explores the relationship between teaching and learning, including the role of self- and peer-assessment within the learning environment.


Speaking is often the most valued skill that a second language learner can develop, and evaluating this ability is frequently considered to be difficult because of the fleeting nature of spoken communication. This session considers communicative approaches to assessing speaking, focusing on task types, the learner discourse that they elicit, and cultural issues in topic selection.


Language professionals are increasingly being asked to align teaching and assessment practices with external standards or frameworks. Examples of these are the Common European Framework of Reference, and the Canadian Language Benchmarks. In this session we will look at the promises and pitfalls of alignment to frameworks, and practical ways of using statements in frameworks as ways of generating tasks for assessment purposes.

Event report: Foundations in language testing and assessment

by Jenny Kemp, EAP Tutor, English Language Teaching Unit, University of Leicester

This event was a rerun of a very successful workshop held in May of this year, and attracted about 30 participants from across the country. With sessions simply entitled Concepts, Assessments, Discourses and Frameworks, the presenters assumed no prior specialist knowledge of Language Testing and Assessment, but achieved considerable depth, examining the theory and linking it to practical ideas to help us all produce better tests.

Dr Glenn Fulcher, a specialist in the field, introduced the main Concepts underlying language testing and assessment, skilfully explaining jargon in a manner that would enable the audience to exploit the wealth of literature in the field at a later date. He highlighted the importance of validity, reliability and the consideration of test purpose and consequences in test design. Participants were encouraged to question issues relating to fairness, and the kinds of decisions that are to be made on the basis of a test. Participants were then shown how to go about making justifiable decisions at each stage of the test design process, and subsequently went about designing a test for lifeguards, this very different field having been chosen to simplify the decision process.

Mr Wasyl Cajkler, whose experience includes teaching in both secondary and tertiary education, then looked at Assessments from the perspective of the teacher educator, raising our awareness of issues and challenges in formative assessment in schools and higher education. With a balance of gravity and anecdotal humour, Wasyl led participants to think about the feedback we give students, and how students respond to and use that feedback, as well as the relationship between formative assessment and instruction. Self and peer assessment were discussed, and issues surrounding training for Assessment For Learning (AFL) were raised – both training for teachers, and for learners expected to assess themselves and others.

Dr Julie Norton focused on Discourses, with activities which looked at oral assessment from the perspective of a discourse analyst. Sharing her qualitative analysis of speaking test data from Cambridge ESOL examinations, Julie led participants to consider the differences between the oral interview and casual conversation, and the respective roles of the interlocutor and candidate. Discussion covered such factors as test rubric, task types and cultural issues, as well as context, power differentials and the co-construction of discourse; the perceptions of test takers, examiners and test designers were all considered.

In the final session, Glenn Fulcher looked at Frameworks, in particular the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). He discussed how the scales had come about and questioned the political use being made of frameworks with regard to issues of mobility, identity and recognition. In relating frameworks to test purpose and test design, Glenn encouraged participants to consider the real role of frameworks from a practical perspective. In order to experience how to go about item writing, participants engaged in the process of writing test specifications, taking one of the CEFR scales as a starting point. This activity seemed to be particularly enjoyed by all present, though the scales themselves were seen as ‘abstract’ and ‘limiting’.

All in all, the day was enjoyable, informative and constructive, enabling participants to experience the processes involved in test design, and equipping them with theoretical knowledge and practical ideas to go away and use. The presenters complemented one another exceptionally well in terms of teaching style as well as content and expertise.