The Effect Of High Stake Tests On Teachers Education Essay

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The main purpose of this paper is to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of some articles ideas and contents. It provides description, analysis and interpretation in order to assess the articles' values. In this paper, a critical review of washback studies is done. Therefore, the purpose of this review is three-fold. First, it gets the readers familiar with the notion of washback. Second, it reviews some articles regarding washback studies. Thirds, it restates the overall goals and presents the conclusion.

Assessment is usually an integral part of every learning process since tests are mostly conducted to enforce learning and to find out the extent of learners' achievement. "A phenomenon in educational settings that attracted the attention of language testers in 1990s is called 'washback'." (Sometimes also known as 'backwash') "Washback studies focus on practices or behavior that would not be present if it were not for the test." (Fulcher and Davidson, 2007, p. 337)

Testing is a process that can helps learners to identify their skills and knowledge and to plan their future learning. When it comes to high stake tests (such as TOEFL that intends to measure proficiency in English), teachers usually adjust their teaching strategies according to the demands of examinations. A test can affect teaching and learning strategies of teachers. Teaching strategies are teachers' approach to teaching and transferring the materials to students, and they may vary from one situation to another to fit the requirements of the language task and goals. Teachers' strategies are important issues to study since they play crucial roles in promoting learning and learners' success.

The process that teachers adjust their teaching strategies can be considered as a way of coping with the assessment system of educational settings. The notion that testing influences teaching is commonplace in the educational and applied linguistics literature (Alderson and Wall, 1993, p. 115), even though the term washback cannot be found in dictionaries. For such reasons, the significance of washback study is widely acknowledged.

Washback by itself is a neutral concept how to be manipulated in the educational environment counts (Wall and Alderson, 1993). Teachers and curriculum designers believe that tests developed by the teachers or even the standardized tests should seek all and only positive washback effect (Messick, 1996). This positive washback or synonymous with that washback validity seems to be difficult to achieve. On the other hand it should be kept in mind that the concept of washback is a qualitative one and it requires to be transmitted to quantitative factors to be measured and surely there are different ways of obtaining so (see Davis, 1995; Lazaraton1995).

There has always been a strong perception among teachers and learners that tests exert a powerful influence on educational processes and on society more generally (Taylor, 2004, p. 143). Nowadays test scores and applicants' knowledge can have crucial consequences for both individual and programmers, since these results are used for a number of educational and social purposes (e.g. graduation and job employment), so washback effect is worth investigating as a potential strategy for promoting teaching and learning processes. Many research studies have been conducted in this area to investigate the relationship between testing, teaching and learning (e.g. Khaniya, 1990; Alderson and Hamp-Lyons, 1996; Wall, 2000; Shohamy, Donitsa-Schmidt and Ferman, 1996; Wall and Alderson, 1993; Cheng, 1997; Chen, 2002; Green, 2007).

Reviews of Some Studies

The desired goal of any teaching activity in language classes, the curriculum developers or syllabus designers, policy makers at any level especially at a very broad and vast environment such as nationwide or among some or many countries is to have classes with high level of learning outcomes. The outcomes would only be gauged by administrating tests. Therefore, having applicable and authentic tests would not only be profitable to the students and the teachers or parents on one level, but also would benefit the administrators or authorities responsible for the educational communities of countries on the other level (Bachman & Palmer, 2010; Bachman, 1990; Fulcher, 2000, Farhady et. al., 1994).

In 1996, Alderson and Hamp-Lyons, investigated the washback effect of TOEFL preparation courses. They used observational component in non-EFL classrooms, and they also interviewed teachers and students. The researchers observed teachers who had two classes simultaneously, one TOEFL preparation and the other non-TOEFL preparation. The good point of this study is that they paid attention to classroom observation since the participants are observed, and their answers could be verified by the researchers' observation.

The study of washback includes the effect of testing on both teaching and learning however in this study, they paid attention to washback from teachers' perspectives, and they rarely addressed students' points of views. Alderson and Hamp-Lyons point out that the TOEFL affects both 'what' and 'how' teachers teach, but the effect differs considerably from teacher to teacher (Pan, 2008, p. 8). Alderson and Hamp-Lyons found that most teachers had a negative attitude to TOEFL since they considered it non-communicative and inauthentic. Results showed that the changes of teachers' methodologies in TOEFL classes are due to the influence of 'teaching to the test'. As a conclusion, Alderson and Hamp-Lyons (1996) stated, "Test will have different amounts and types of washback on some teachers and learners than on other teachers and learners" (p. 296).

Shohamy, et al. (1996) examined the impact of two national tests: one Arabic as a Second Language (ASL) and the other English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in Israel. The good point regarding this study is that they investigated the washback effect in many different variables. They explored different washback patterns among teachers, students, and inspectors regarding how these tests influenced classroom activities, time, teaching materials, perceptions of prestige, and the overall enhancement of learning.

They gathered data by using questionnaires, structured interviews and analysis of the Director General Bulletins, but the important factor of actual classroom observation were not included in this study. Classroom observation plays a crucial role since the participants could have been dishonest about their answers, however classroom observation could verify the validity of the responses. Their main question was whether washback effect changes over time. Shohamy et al (1996) concluded, "While the washback effect of the ASL test has significantly decreased over the years the impact of EFL test has decreased." (p. 314)

The purpose of Chen's (2002) study was to investigate the impact of reformed public examinations on English teaching in Taiwan's junior high schools. She randomly selected 151 high school English teachers, and she conducted a survey and interviews to collect data. Like Shohamy, et al. (1996), the important factor of actual classroom observation were not included in this study. Classroom observation plays a crucial role since the participants could have been dishonest about their answers, however classroom observation could verify the validity of the responses.

Chen found a mismatch between curricular objectives and the test format; because the test is multiple-choice, and it focuses on reading skill rather than other skills however the purpose is to promote students' communicative innovations. The results showed that the reformed public examinations influence the content of what teachers teach rather than the way they teach. The intention to bring in positive washback simply by a change of the examination formats or contents will not necessarily bring out an expected outcome (Chen, 2002, p. 16).

In a study, Green (2007) analyzed the potential effect of test preparation classes for the improvement of learners' writing test score. He used three types of courses offered to international students who were making themselves ready to study in the UK. These three types included test preparation programmes, pre-sessional courses in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and courses that combine the two. He compared the success of these three courses in improving students' IELTS writing score. All the participants took IELTS test at the beginning and at the end of their courses.

The good point regarding this study is that, he used many moderate variables in order to make sure about the validity of his study. Questionnaires were administered to examine moderate variables such as background, age, nationality, motivation, learning strategies and test strategy use. The results indicated that a significant gain in writing scores had indeed occurred on all three course types (Green, 2007, p. 87). Therefore, test preparation classes gave learners no advantage for the improvement of their writing test score.

Cheng (2007) carried out a survey on the influence of washback on teaching. By employing both qualitative and quantitative methods, he presents useful research findings on the washback effect of the revised Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination in Hong Kong secondary school. Two questionnaires were administered to teachers and students. The first part of the teachers' questionnaire intended to obtain data on their perceptions and reactions toward the exam, and the second part was related to their teaching strategies. The students' questionnaire was issued with the aim of investigating students' attitude toward public exams and their learning activities.

He also interviewed both teachers and students. Like some above mentioned studies, he didn't observe the classrooms; therefore the validity of the participants' responses could come under question. The results showed that teachers had positive attitude toward the exam. There was not enough evidence for changes in teaching strategies, but most of the teachers suggested that students should change their learning strategies. Almost all students mentioned that their attitudes and learning activities were influenced by the exam.

As Corbett and Wilson (1992, p. 46) mentioned:

Depending on which school a child attends and to which classrooms the child is

assigned, the student will encounter a varied array of programs and activities…. From

the students' perspective, then, the quality of their educational experiences rests on

the 'luck of the draw.' The central office instructional role is to remove this luck

factor from the instructional program, i.e., to ensure that idiosyncratic variations in

programs, people, and policies do not result in systematic differences in the quality of

education for children.

In the study of the effects of two state testing programs on curriculum and instruction, Wilson and Corbett(1992) showed that district variation or community demographics, including the size and location of the community(urban, suburban, or rural) where the schools were located, plays an important role for the testing effects. The good point is that they used good instruments, including classroom observation and interview, to investigate the impact of washback on teachers' teaching. The result showed that the teachers reported a narrowing of the curriculum, the school districts focused more directly on improving test scores, changed the curriculum to a greater extent, reported more improvement in the curriculum, and felt the curriculum had narrowed.

Watanabe (1996) in his study tried to investigate whether the university entrance exam in Japan, which involves translation, influences the way (method) teachers adopt (teach) at high school. The assumption was that QTM is the dominant method in high schools because the questions on a high-stake test take university entrance exam or translation oriented. After interviewing and observing some teachers he concluded that the research was a study of the washback effect of grammar translation questions on teaching strategies.

The title asked whether the use of grammar translation in classrooms was a result of grammar translation being used in university entrance examinations. It has not been proved totally true in the courses they looked at. Rather, the teacher factors, such as personal belief, educational background and past learning experience, also seem to have an important influence on their teaching methods.

It could be concluded that even if the types of questions are changed, this will not automatically produce a particular type of washback on all teachers. What is needed to help teachers to teach in the way intended is guidance on teaching for exams using various methods; therefore, it shows the importance of teacher education. Watanabe concludes that translation-oriented entrance exams cause washback on some teachers but not others, and the personal beliefs about pedagogy are significant and may be more important than the influence of the exams.


This paper aimed at explaining the notion of washback and reviewing some studies regarding washback and teachers' teaching. Based on the studies, it can be suggested that teachers almost change and modify their teaching strategies in classes that are aimed to be assessed by a high stake test. As mentioned earlier, the goal of this paper is three- fold. First, to some extent the notion of washback has been described to make the readers familiar with it. Second, some relevant studies regarding washback have been mentioned in order to be reviewed. As mentioned in this section, these studies have some strong points and weak points that can provide good opportunities for further studies. Third, the paper gets results from the studies. In sum, these studies are good resources for other researchers who want to conduct a similar research and even practical resources for teachers and test designers who want to improve their assessment system.