I had always sworn that I would quit teaching before ever taking a position in a program that used standardized test results as the criteria for promoting students.
However, about half way through my teaching career, I found myself in just such a situation. Reflecting back on those three years in that program, I came to see that much of the anxiety caused by my assumptions to be baseless; in fact, I found that standardized proficiency tests* can have a liberating effect on teachers and can carry several positive aspects for programs and staff members.
(*In this discussion, I will be referring to standardized proficiency tests used to determine whether students have the skills necessary to be promoted to the next Reading-level class, Listening-level class, and Grammar-level class, but NOT Speaking or Writing classes. The tests can be commercially-made or in-house-made. Also here, I’m referring to discrete-skills programs as opposed to integrated ones. (See • Integrated vs Discrete Skills ESL Courses: Advantages of Discrete Skills)
My assumptions about standardized proficiency tests. I had always assumed that using standardized tests would interfere with the creativity of teaching and restrict how and what teachers taught. I had imagined students refusing to engage in any activity that did not appear to be directly related to their need to pass the test. And I visualized having to “teach for the test.”
Advantages of standardized proficiency tests.
- The teachers at the next level can feel confident that all their students have met the same standard and have the same general ability. The conflicts that can arise when some teachers are seen as “easy graders” and others as “hard graders” can be eliminated.
- The focus is on developing proficiency, not on the amount of homework papers a student submits or how much effort they seem to be making.
- The teachers need to seriously evaluate now effective each lesson is in developing the skill.
- There is no issue concerning cheating on homework or quizzes during the term as these have no impact on students’ promotion.
- Teachers don’t have to keep detailed records of scores on homework and quizzes in order to justify passing/failing a student.
- The personality factor is eliminated. We don’t have to deal with situations in which students complain that they failed because the teacher didn’t like them.
- Teacher do not have to involved in the emotional situations of students begging for a passing grade or arguing about a grade given.
- Students tend to take an active role in their education as they are doing work for their own benefit, not to impress the teacher.
- After passing the test, students have expressed a sense of accomplishment in that they have met a standard.
Making it work: four ways.