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Recently, the topic of how to improve student learning has been of considerable interest in the administrative and academic community. There is also considerable discussion about the importance of assignments, homework, quizzes, and tests as it relates to student learning (Smith, Zsidisin, & Adams 2005). This concern for assignments, quizzes, tests, and how to ensure students are maximizing their writing, is the foundation for this study. For many parents, educators, and instructors, frequent quizzes are an apparently infallible prescription for improving student performance (Finn & Achilles 2003).
As Hughes (2003) states that the effect of testing on teaching and learning is known as a wash back effect; and it can be harmful or beneficial. If a test is regarded as important and the stakes are high, preparation for it can dominate all teaching and learning activities. Moreover, he noted that wash back can be viewed as part of something more general- the impact of assessment. The impact in educational measurement is not limited to the effect of assessment on learning and teaching but extends to the way in which assessment affects society as a whole.
Celce-Murcia (2001) asserted that the ability to express ideas in writing in a second or foreign language and to do with reasonable coherence and accuracy is a major achievement. So this paper addresses the impact of constructed- response and selected- response quizzes as strategy for promoting student writing skills.
University instructors confine themselves mostly to multiple- choice or selected- response test as a final examination for the sake of objectivity (Brown 2001). That is, the role of frequent administration of constructed- response quizzes in which the student must provide the correct answer, whether in a word, sentence, or essay form and selected- response quizzes is somehow neglected in universities. It might be that preparing selected- response and constructed- response quizzes is more demanding on instructors, need rigorous scoring, and rating and administrating of these tests might as will be more difficult, time consuming, and problematic. But constructed- response quizzes in which students' responses consist of the production of language sample may be helpful to EFL productive performance.
As researchers such as Mirhassani & Rahimipour (2003) claim that almost all Iranian instructors confine themselves to mid-term and final examinations and all classroom- based tests in our country (Iran) are based mostly on discrete point items. Also the results of studies such as Gary (1972) and Arrasmith, Sheehan & Applebaum (1984) reinforce the need for further research in the role of testing in assessing and promoting students learning and thinking. So the main consideration in this research will be whether the repeated administration of quizzes affects the abilities of Iranian EFL learners' performance and especially their formal organization in general writing skills.
Review of Literature
Interest in how to improve student learning is not new. It is a universal concern among parents, educators, instructors, and administrators of educational institutions. It is generally assumed that quizzes and tests are a prerequisite for a successful completion of course works. In practice, colleague and university instructors list rules and guidelines related to quizzes and tests expectations for students (Felix 2005). He considers quizzes and tests to be the student's responsibility and he/she is expected to take all quizzes, tests, and complete all assignments.
Geist & Soehren (1997) also investigated the effects of frequent quizzes on dental student performance in a course on introductory radiology. Results indicated that the group with frequent quizzes performs significantly better on mid-term and final examinations than the control group. In relation to the studies of frequent quizzing and performance, they conclude that frequent quizzes had a beneficial and significant influence on student performance and claim that the positive effects on performance increased as quizzes increased. Thus, they further found that the positive matter for academic performance, and teaching had an influential autonomous effect on learning.
Freilich (1989) examined the impacts of frequent quizzing on student performance in a general chemistry course. He found that quizzes were a determinant of student performance. These studies clearly suggest there is added value to students who take quizzes. If students who take quizzes outperform those who experienced no quizzes, it seems reasonable to conclude that something is occurring as a result of students who were exposed to quizzes. Therefore, the investigators hypothesized that students with weekly quizzes, not only perform better on tests but also learn more.
Gary (1972) in relation to the effect of frequent quizzes administration on inferential thinking made a research with randomly selected groups. The first group took eight weekly quizzes requiring students to recall stated facts while the second group took weekly quizzes requiring students to draw inferences about political interests of several religious, economic, and geographic groups. Four tests were administered at the end of this treatment period. Result showed that frequent quizzes administration affect significantly the learners' performance.
Study of Tuckman (2008) shows that frequent testing provides incentive motivations. Frequently tested students outperform other students on examinations. He mentions that what it might be drove a student to get information into long- term memory are tests. Tests motivate students because they create the opportunity or necessity to achieve success or avoid failure. In that way, tests provide an incentive to learn and they are a source of incentive motivation. The overall results clearly showed that the frequent tests enhanced motivation for students who have typically performed poorly to get content into long- term memory rather than merely targeting for them what to study.
Weekly, in-class quizzes are based on some testing specialist such as Ruscio (2001) and Wilder, Flood & Stomsnes (2001) have been associated with positive learning outcomes including increased student achievement attendance, and confidence. Their study shows that frequent quizzes reportedly maintain student study effort and promote course engagement. The research literature, however, does not unanimously support the achievement benefits of quizzes. For example, Haberyan (2003) provided two sections of general biology students with weekly in- class quizzes; two equivalent sections did not access quizzes. Although students rated the quizzes favorably and believed that they were helpful in preparing for in- class examination, there were no significant achievement differences across sections. Kluger & Denisi (1997) conducted a meta- analysis on feedback interventions, including quizzes, and concluded that such feedback does not always enhance learner performance and may, in some cases, have detrimental effects.
Bryan (1998) conducted a research on factors contributing to a reduction in race based subgroup differences on a constructed- response paper and pencil test of achievement. Results showed that the constructed- response test format may be a viable alternative to the traditional multiple- choice format in predicators of job performance and simultaneously reduce subgroup differences and subsequent adverse impact on tests of knowledge, skill, ability, and achievement. However, additional research is needed to further demonstrate the appropriateness of the constructed- response format as an alternative to traditional testing methods.
Chowdhury, Al-share & Miller (2005) express that in an era characterized by accelerating technological change, increasing economic uncertainty, low student achievement, and growing demand for accountability, educational institutions are challenged to prepare students to function successfully in their chosen careers in the world. They believe weekly quizzes and their reviews, it is easier for an instructor to know earlier on how well the students understand each lecture or concept and that is best learning when the instructor actively engages or involves students to learn by doing the quizzes.
In measuring writing abilities Harris (1996) discussed that, tester may be sensitive to grammatical patterns appropriate to the written skill and we know that many students may fail to use such patterns. Therefore, if our test is to have relevance and validity it should contain the kinds of formal grammatical points by which the students will subsequently be judged in real- life situation. Such kind of formal organizational patterns that might include in our tests of writing skills are subject- verb agreement, structural parallelism, comparison of adjectives, formation of adverbs, formation of irregular verbs, and so forth.
Thus, with regard to learning benefits of quizzes, research findings have been contradictory and thus inconclusive. Brothen & Wambach (2001), describe a developmental psychology course in which students had access to computerized quizzes as tools to prepare for proctored examinations. Their results indicated that spending more time taking quizzes and taking them more times was related to poor exam performance. They state that a possible explanation for this result is that students used the textbook to answer quiz items and erroneously interpreted high quiz scores as indicative of content mastery.
Grabe & Sigler (2001), on the other hand, provided students with four online study tools; multiple- choice practice test items, short answer practice test items, lecture notes, and textbook notes. Students frequently accessed multiple- choice practice test items; no data was provided on the use of short answer questions because very few students made use of this resource. Students who made use of the tools academically outperformed those who did not.
Mirhassani and Rahimipour (2003) studied the relationship between quiz, frequency of administration, and Iranian EFL learners' performance on summative achievement tests. Their study showed that completion quizzes with ten times frequency of administration work better with the improvement of Iranian EFL learners' performance on summative achievement tests. They stated that the more students receive quizzes on the content of the book taught, the more they learn the materials taught in depth.
The study is conducted at Islamic Azad university of Dehloran. Sixty male and female students within the age range of 18 to 20 took part in this research. They were chosen among sophomore students based on non- random convenient sampling method. They all major in software computer engineering and were all native speakers of Persian. To ensure whether the participants were homogeneous, a language proficiency test (Fowler & Coe 1976) was administered as a pre- test. Then, the students were randomly divided into two groups, and each group included thirty students.
Three instruments were used in this study. Their reliability coefficients were estimated based on KR- 21 formula. The first instrument was a general language proficiency test (Fowler & Coe 1976) in order to find out linguistic abilities of participants. Its' reliability coefficient was calculated by KR-21 formula as (r= .79). The second one was ten quizzes of constructed- response items as treatment in the study. Last ones, was a parallel validated summative achievement test administered as a post- test in order to check out the effects of the research variable.
At the beginning, a general language proficiency test (Appendix A) was given to 115 software computer engineering students (i.e., 48 males and 67 females in Islamic Azad university of Dehloran) who were invited to take this test as a pre- test in this study. This test included 50 multiple-choice items which was adapted by the researcher in accordance with an authentic testing book written by Fowler and Coe (1976). After collecting data, the responses of participants were analyzed. Then sixty students whose performance ranged from one standard deviation above and one below the mean were chosen for this study.
Over a 12 week period, a fall semester in 2008, the first group received constructed- response quizzes, and the control group served as the control group to validate this study. Over all, experimental group received ten quizzes which lasted about 10-15 minutes, during ten weeks. The first week was spent on the explanation of procedure and also participants were asked to attend and take a language proficiency test (Fowler & Coe 1976). From the second week till the end of the term the participants took weekly quizzes. Following each section, students' quizzes were collected and graded by the researcher, and they were informed that the average of their grades on these quizzes of general English book would count toward their final grade as much as one of the major course examinations. At the end of the term, participants were given a parallel summative achievement test in order to measure the degree of the language learners' success in the formal organization in general writing skills.
At the beginning, the students' scores on pre- test were obtained then descriptive statistics, mean and standard deviation of each group, were calculated. Results indicated that the means for these groups were similar.
Table 1 is a report of pre- test which was administered as the homogeneity test. The mean scores showed that the groups did not much differ in relation to their background knowledge. The low standard deviation signifies that the students' performances were very close to each other. In other words, their mean scores showed no significant differences.
Table 1. Descriptive statistics of pre- test
At the end of the term, a parallel summative achievement test was administered to the students. Table 2 shows the post- test results descriptively.
Table 2. Descriptive statistics of post- test
Results showed that the students' performance in the final examinations were drastically different. Thus, their mean scores were significantly different comparing to each other. Table 3 compares the performance of the groups by T-test.
Table 3. T-test for the control and constructed groups
This table indicates that the difference is significant at .05 alpha levels. It can be claimed that frequent quizzes administration, as Ballard and Johnson (2004) claim, improve students' performance. On all measures of writing achievement students who received ten times constructed- response quizzes outperformed students who didn't receive this study tool.
The results of the study made it clear that taking constructed- response quiz leads to better learners' writing performance. This study provides evidence that faculty will likely aspire their students to take weekly constructed- response quizzes. Therefore, the researcher can claim that frequent constructed- response quizzes improve the formal organization in general writing skills. The result of this study confirmed our prediction that students who took weekly constructed- response quizzes would show better retention of grammatical patterns than would students who were not engaged in the weekly graded constructed- response quizzes.
The results of this study revealed that weekly quizzes can have a greater impact than previously found by Derouza & Fleming (2003) and Haberyan (2003). They studied science students while the sample in this study was drawn from software computer engineering students. They found that students' performance was not strongly impacted while the researcher found significantly better performance. More studies with different population majoring in other fields of study are needed to improve our understanding of how student's performance is impacted by weekly quizzes, for instance, courses in physical sciences.
These findings clearly suggest that weekly quizzing (constructed- response) is important in learning English writing skills. In pre- intermediate level, as Harris (1996) claims, writing exercises should generally be used simply to reinforce the learning of specific grammatical points or lexical items. Teachers' experiences showed that EFL learners generally have insufficient knowledge of English writing skills in pre- intermediate level. This has prompted us and other researchers like Baker (1989) and Werner (1993) to emphasize the importance of constructed- response quizzes instead of other study tools and to identify constructed- response quiz as the most effective instrument to use because tapped on writing skills of students. The improvement among the writing abilities of participants were striking where they took constructed- response quizzes.
Based on the statistics done, it can be concluded that repeated constructed- response quizzes receives the first priority. Therefore, there was a significant difference between the writings' performance of the group who received ten times constructed- response quizzes and the group who didn't receive any quizzes.
The findings indicated that constructed- response quizzes can be used for promoting different skills and component of language learning; therefore, test designers should take constructed- response quizzes. The findings of the present study gave empirical support to this view. This, as a principle of language use, is pedagogically central in the teaching and testing of language learning and needs to be taken in to account in the design of suitable instructional materials and in the methodology of classroom teaching.
Based on the research findings, this study gives the following implications and suggestions to EFL learners and instructors that may be helpful in developing EFL language learning, teaching, and testing. Teachers have got to provide students with appropriate feedback. Repeated administration of quizzes may pave the way for better learning, motivate the students to learn, provide enough feedback for the students, and determine the weak and strong points of students. All these can end in long- term retention of the materials taught and prevent the students from wondering for their examination.
Though many of the studies should be regarded as works in progress rather than final studies, this study does effectively highlight some of the complexities involved in current quiz research. By then we should be seeing new generation of wash back studies which are increasingly sophisticated and refined.