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Identifying The Students Language Strengths And Weaknesses English Language Essay

INTRODUCTION

1.1 Background and Rationale of the Study

Language assessment is an instrument for language teachers to identify the students’ strengths and weaknesses in language learning, to place the student into a program and to measure the use of English in four basic skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking). The assessment can be done by such methods as tests, interviews, or observations. For language teachers, the tests provide “evidence of the results of learning and instruction, and hence feedback on the effectiveness of the teaching program” (Bachman & Palmer, 1996, p. 8). The test results enable the students to develop their performance in language learning effectively. In addition, it is very important to select the most suitable language tests which respond to the specific goals of teaching. Language teachers should also understand the functions and the characteristics of the language tests thoroughly. Many practitioners and researchers in language testing (Bachman & Palmer, 1996; Brown, 1996; Hughes, 2003; McNamara, 2000) categorize four kinds of language tests based on the test purposes and functions as follows:

(1) Proficiency Tests are designed to measure general language skills, including speaking, listening, reading and writing. In addition, proficiency tests generally help teachers to “set up entrance and exit standards for a curriculum” (Brown, 1996, p. 9). For instance, the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and International English Language Testing System (IELTS) are currently used by many universities where English language proficiency is required.

(2) Achievement Tests are aimed at the degree of learning or how much progress the students have made (McNamara, 2000). So achievement tests are directly relevant to the goals of learning and instruction. These tests can be given in the middle or at the end

of the program (Hughes, 2003; McNamara, 2000).

(3) Diagnostic Tests are established to analyze the students’ strengths and weaknesses in the learning process (Brown, 1996; Hughes, 2003). These tests are conducted at the beginning of the program (Brown, 1996).

(4) Placement Tests are focused on screening the students to see whether they can study in a program and grouping the students in the same level of language proficiency (Hughes, 2003). Hence, the results of these tests will enable the teachers to accurately place the students entering any institution or program (Bachman & Palmer, 1996).

In addition to a clear understanding of the functions and the characteristics of language tests, language teachers have to understand the construction of those tests. There are two approaches which have an influence on test construction: the discrete-point approach and the integrative approach (Hughes, 2003). For the discrete-point approach, language teachers view each language component separately, measuring one language skill at a time, such as testing grammar or vocabulary (Brown, 1996; McNamara, 2000). In language testing, discrete-point tests emphasize language form rather than language use (McNamara, 2000). However, the discrete-point test results focusing on a single language component are inadequate to determine the student’s language proficiency (Jitendra & Rohena-Diaz, 1996). As a consequence, Oller (1979) suggests that teachers should construct language tests using the integrative approach instead.

In the integrative approach, the language teachers view language as a whole, emphasizing both productive and receptive skills (Brown, 1996; Hughes, 2003; McNamara, 2000). Integrative tests, such as cloze, dictation, writing an essay, and interview, can measure several skills simultaneously (Brown, 1996; Hughes, 2003). Moreover, integrative tests are suitable for assessing language proficiency and communicative skills (Brown, 1996; McNamara, 2000). McNamara (2000) contends that integrative tests take a lot of time to construct and score, as shown in Table 1. However, cloze tests are reported to be less time consuming, easier to score, and more reliable in measuring students’ English language proficiency (Oller, 1979).

Table 1: Discrete-point approach and integrative approach

(Based on Jitendra & Rohena-Diaz, 1996; McNamara, 2000)

Approach Focus Advantages Disadvantages

Discrete-point a single part of language - economical and quick to - overemphasizes

can be tested separately. score correctness and structures - suitable for assessing certain - cannot measure

language capabilities communicative language

skills

Integrative measures various skills - suitable to assess both - time-consuming and tends

at the same time and productive and receptive skills to be expensive views language as a whole. - difficult to score

The cloze test was initiated by Taylor (1953, cited in Oller & Conrad, 1971). Originally, there were two kinds of cloze tests: a rational cloze and a random cloze (see Example 1). The former refers to the deletion of specific types of words in a selected passage, such as prepositions or articles. The latter deals with a consistent deletion of every nth word, such as every fifth or seventh word. The student’s task is to fill in the deleted part in the cloze passage. Cloze tests can measure grammatical structure, written expression and vocabulary as well as reading comprehension (Steinman, 2002). In addition, some studies (Aitken, 1977; Oller & Conrad, 1971; Oller, 1979; Stubbs & Tucker, 1974) indicate that the cloze test is an effective instrument which is reliable and valid to measure English language proficiency. But the different deletion rates have an effect on the validity and the measurement of the cloze test (Alderson, 1979, 1980, 1983, 2000). Klein-Braley (1997) adds that the deletion rates used in cloze tests require long passages. If a cloze test with the deletion of every fifth word provides 50 items, the text length should be at least 250 words (Oller, 1979). This problem has led to the development a new form of the cloze test which is called the C-Test.

Example 1: Rational and random cloze procedures

RANDOM CLOZE

Fill in the missing words

People today are quite astonished by the rapid improvements in medicine. Doctors 1)_____ becoming more specialized, and 2)_____ drugs are appearing on the 3)______ daily. At the same time, 4)_____ are dismayed by the inaccessibility 5)_____ doctors when they are needed. 6)_____ doctors’ fees are constantly on 7)_____ rise, the quality of medical 8)_____ has reached an abysmal low.

(Adapted from Cohen, 1994, p. 234)

RATIONAL CLOZE

Choose a/an/the or no article at all. Then put /a/, /an/, or /the/ in each blank where necessary.

People today are quite astonished by 1)_____ rapid improvements in medicine. Doctors are becoming more specialized, and new drugs are appearing on 2)_____ market daily. At 3)_____ same time, 4)_____ people are dismayed by 5)_____ inaccessibility of doctors when they are needed. Whereas doctors’ fees are constantly on 6)_____ rise, 7)_____ quality of medical care has reached 8)_____ abysmal low.

(Adapted from Cohen, 1994, p. 234)

(Adapted from Cohen, 1994, p. 234)

“The C-Test”, one of the new cloze tests, was constructed by Raatz and Klein-Braley (1981) in order to see if it could be more effective than the original cloze tests in measuring the students’ English language proficiency. The construction of the C-Test is based on the same principle as that of the cloze test; however, only the second half of every second word is deleted as can be seen in Example 2. In the C-Test, if the deleted word contains an even number of letters, the second half of this word will be deleted, such as “exper i e n c e” (10 letters). For a word with an odd number of letters, its larger part must be deleted, such as “th e r e” (5 letters). Moreover, many research studies indicate that the C-Test is more effective and more reliable than the original cloze (Connelly, 1997; Dörnyei & Katona, 1992; Klein-Braley, 1985, 1997), and yet, Dörnyei and Katona (1992) report that the C-Test is too difficult for non-native students studying a target language such as English.

As a result, Thongsa-nga (1998) adopted the original C-Test to make it suitable for Thai students studying English as a foreign language. Imitating the C-Test construction, Thongsa-nga (1998) proposed “the New C-Test (the NC-Test)” by deleting the second half of every third word in order to provide more clues for the non-native test takers, as can be seen in Example 2. According to the investigation of Thongsa-nga (1998), the NC-Test is employed as a proficiency test for non-native students at a secondary school level. The findings reveal that the NC-Test is reliable to assess the English language proficiency of these Thai Mathayomsuksa Six students. As far as this researcher has been able to establish, there has been no research investigating the use of the NC-Test for non-native university students in Thailand. So the present study is designed to examine the similarities and the differences in using the C-Test and the NC-Test in measuring the English language proficiency of first-year Thai undergraduate students.

Example 2: The C-Test and the NC-Test

THE C-TEST

Many foreigners find that Thailand is a very pleasant place to have a holiday. They

disc _ _ _ _ that th _ _ _ are ma _ _ interesting thi _ _ _ to d _ and t _ see. Th _ _ say th _ _ the bea _ _ _ _ are cl _ _ _ and t _ _ scenery

i _ beautiful. Ma _ _ say th _ _ the hot _ _ _ are exce _ _ _ _ _ and n _ _ too expe _ _ _ _ _. They exper _ _ _ _ _ with diff _ _ _ _ _ kinds

o _ Thai fo _ _ that i _ tastes deli _ _ _ _ _.

(Boonsathorn, 1990, p. 48)

THE NC-TEST

There is a dark shadow over schools and colleges where students are now facing the enormous problem of drugs. There seems t _ be an incr _ _ _ _ in the u _ _ of alcohol,

tob _ _ _ _ and other dr _ _ _ by students.

Sch _ _ _ _ and colleges ha _ _ to try t _ deal with _ growing number o_ students victimized, eit _ _ _ directly or indir _ _ _ _ _ by drug

u _ _ or drug dea _ _ _ _.

(Thongsa-nga, 1998, p. 43)

Another form of the cloze test, “the Modified C-Test (the MC-Test)”, also known as “the X-Test”, was invented by Boonsathorn in 1987 (cited in Boonsathorn, 1990, p. 46). For the MC-Test, the first half of every second word is deleted (see Example 3). In the MC-Test, if the total number letters of the deleted word is an even number, the first half of this word will be deleted, such as “d i s a gree” (8 letters). For a word with an odd number of letters, its larger part will be deleted, such as “o t h er”. According to Boonsathorn (1987), the first half deletion in the MC-Test compares with the C-Test. His study reports that the MC-Test is more difficult and discriminates better than the C-Test. Some research findings show that the MC-Test has high reliability and validity and can be used with advanced students (Köberl & Sigott, 1996; Prapphal, 1994; Sigott & Köberl, 1993; Wonghiransombat, 1998). So the MC-Test should be further investigated to see its strengths and weaknesses in assessing English language skills. The MC-Test can be an alternative type for a better assessment of the English language proficiency of Thai undergraduate students, although the study of Sigott and Köberl (1993) claims that the MC-Test is more difficult for non-native speakers.

Wonghiransombat (1998) then proposed “the New Modified C-Test (the NMC-Test)” in order to make the original MC-Test appropriate for non-native students (p. 23). The construction of the NMC-Test is based on the same principle as the MC-Test; however, the first half of every third word is deleted to provide more clues as shown in Example 3. In addition, Wonghiransombat (1998) reports that the NMC-Test with the third starting point, or the third-word deletion, is easier and has better discrimination than the original MC-Test. Her study, the only research done in Thailand to examine the use of the MC-Test and the NMC-Test at the postgraduate level, also shows that the NMC-Test can be utilized to measure English language proficiency of Thai postgraduate students. Therefore, the present study is also aimed at examining the similarities and the differences in using the original MC-Test and the NMC-Test in measuring English language proficiency of the Thai undergraduate students.

Example 3: The MC-Test and the NMC-Test

THE NMC-TEST

One of the most vital aspects of an orientation program is training supervisors to conduct orientation properly. Human resource

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ ionals can provide _ _ e new hire _ _ th organizational information, _ _ t it is

_ _ e supervisor who _ _ st successfully integrate _ _ e employee into _ _ e work setting.

(Wonghiransombat, 1998, p. 56)

THE MC-TEST

Many foreigners find that Thailand is a very pleasant place to have a holiday. They

_ _ _ _ over that _ _ _ re are _ _ ny interesting _ _ _ ngs to _ o and _ o see. _ _ ey say _ _ at the _ _ _ _ hes are _ _ _ an and _ _ e scenery _ s beautiful. _ _ ny say _ _ at the _ _ _ els are _ _ _ _ _ lent and _ _ t too _ _ _ _ _ sive.

(Boonsathorn, 1990, p. 49)

In addition to the construction of new language tests, language teachers should further investigate the students’ test-taking strategies in order to validate the language test and to examine what language abilities the test can measure (Cohen, 1994, 1998). Test-taking strategies can be defined as “the processes that the test takers make use of in order to produce acceptable answers to questions and tasks, as well as the perceptions that they have about these questions and tasks before, during, and after responding to them” (Cohen, 1998, p. 216). For instance, some students read an entire cloze passage before filling in the missing parts (Cohen, 1998). Moreover, the perceptions of language tests and test-taking strategies of the students with high- or low-language-ability are different (Cohen, 1984; Sasaki, 2000; Yamashita, 2003). As far as the present researcher has been able to determine, there has been no investigation in Thailand on cloze test-taking strategies. Therefore, cloze completion processes are also included in this study to examine the strategies used in taking the C-Test, the MC-Test, the NC-Test, and the NMC-Test for non-native undergraduate students.

In conclusion, this research is aimed at comparing the new cloze formats (the NMC-Test and the NC-Test) with the older cloze formats (the MC-Test and the C-Test) and to examine the similarities and the differences in these four tests for Thai undergraduate students. Also, this study focuses on examining what test-taking strategies or procedures the students use while responding to the different types of cloze tests.

1.2 Purpose of the Study

The present study aims to investigate the differences in the four types of the cloze tests by comparing the use of the MC-Test with that of NMC-Test, and the use of the C-Test with that of the NC-Test. In order to understand the cloze test-taking strategies, the study is also designed to find out to what extent undergraduate students use seven test-taking strategies while answering the different types of cloze tests. The strategies are based on the latest categorization of Sasaki (2000). The new cloze tests including the C-Test, the NC-Test, the MC-Test, and the NMC-Test were taken by first-year science students at Mahidol University in the first semester of academic year 2003. Therefore, the research questions are posed as follows:

Does the NMC-Test yield different results from the original MC-Test in measuring students’ language proficiency?

Does the NC-Test yield different results from the original C-Test in measuring students’ language proficiency?

Does using every third-word deletion of the NMC-Test and the NC-Test affect the discrimination power of the test?

What test-taking strategies do the first-year undergraduate students in the Faculty of Science at Mahidol University use while taking the C-Test, the MC-Test, the NMC-Test, and the NC-Test?

1.3 Significance of the Study

This study is designed to compare the new cloze formats, including the original C-Test with the NC-Test, and the original MC-Test with the NMC-Test. The results of this study may provide an alternative way for language teachers to measure the English language proficiency of Thai undergraduate students learning EFL. Test-taking strategies are also studied to enable the language teachers to understand how effectively the students respond to the new types of cloze passage.

1.4 Scope and Limitation of the Study

(1) The study is limited to first year science students at Mahidol University in the first semester of the academic year 2003. The results cannot be generalized to other students, at other university levels, and in other areas.

(2) The study focuses on first-year science students with high- and low-language-ability based on the English Entrance Examination scores, which were reported by the coordinator of the science program.

(3) Only exact word scoring is employed in this study.

(4) It is assumed that all of the first-year science students have had some background knowledge of English up to Mathayomsuksa Six.

1.5 Definitions of Terms

Cloze test refers to a test in which the entire words are rationally or randomly deleted and the student is asked to fill in the missing words (Boonsathorn, 1990, 2000; Wonghiransombat, 1998).

C-Test is a test in which the second part or the second half of every second word is deleted and the student’s task is to fill in the deleted parts (Boonsathorn, 1990; Klein-Braley, 1985).

New C-Test (NC-Test) is a test in which the second part or the second half of every third word is deleted and the student is required to fill in the missing parts (Thongsa-nga, 1998).

New Modified C-Test (NMC-Test) is a test in which the first part or the first half of every third word is deleted and the student’s task is to fill in the missing parts (Wonghiransombat, 1998).

Modified C-Test (MC-Test) is a test in which the first part or the first half of every second word is deleted and the student is required to fill in the deleted parts (Boonsathorn, 1990, 2000; Wonghiransombat, 1998).

Readability refers to “how easily written materials can be read and understood. Readability depends on many factors, including (a) the average length of sentences in a passage, (b) the number of new words a passage contains, and (c) the grammatical complexity of the language used. Procedures used for measuring readability are known as readability formulae” (Richards, Platt, & Platt, 1993, p. 306).

Test-taking strategies are “the processes that the test takers make use of in order to produce acceptable answers to questions and tasks, as well as the perceptions that they have about these questions and tasks before, during, and after responding to the test” (Cohen, 1998, p. 216).


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