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Testing English language learners' proficiency and level is a well-researched field by academic experts in the field of language testing. In fact, curriculum developers as well as teachers have struggled to establish relevant testing styles that assess students' knowledge and abilities. These difficulties arose from the fact that the purposes of assessment with language students are so varied and complex. Changing theories and methods of assessment have been the focus of significant attention for some years now. Curriculum developers have realized that real change will not take place in schools if traditional paper-and-pencil tests whether essays or multiple choice, remain unchanged to exert a restricted influence on how teachers and students approach new curricula. Similarly, examiners have been concerned to develop more valid and authentic ways of assessing the changes which have been introduced into school syllabuses over recent years such as practical work, oral work, problem solving and so forth.
As the learning experience interface change dynamically, those experts are in need for relatively new and more authentic testing techniques that ensure students are being taught and tested in ways that prepare them for career life later. In fact, the issue of authenticity in instruction and testing is highly controversial since students often learn things that are not relative to their real life experiences. Therefore, experimental studies have been carried out to come up with better testing methods that assist to prepare students for real life experience. In this paper, I will explain the concept of authentic assessment, the significance of authentic assessment, the developments that led to authentic assessment and the aspects that need to be taken into consideration if an institution intends to introduce authentic testing for language courses.
Authentic assessment as Mueller (2005) says is "a form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills." The keyword that Mueller used is "real-world" which gives us an idea of what is authentic testing is all about and why curriculum developers as well as teachers are interested to adopt authentic testing especially in English language courses. Defawu (2010) indicated that unlike standardized assessments, authentic assessments encourage the use of skills and knowledge necessary in real-life situations. Along with other experts, Defawu argued that authentic assessments expect students to organize their understanding of a complex issue. Actually, in order to connect new understanding to their prior knowledge, students need to interpret, synthesize, evaluate, and clarify new and complex information. The problem must have alternative solutions that reflect real-life disciplinary situations to challenge students' thinking processes at a deeper level. In addition, students should present their thinking through extended writing for an audience in outside-of-school contexts. Thus we can say that authentic testing might be a new haven that educators seek to get rid of 'old-fashioned' testing styles that separate students' learning experience from the outside world. Authentic assessment, however, gives a wider range of options for language testing because accurate and effective assessment of language students is essential to ensure that English language learners gain access to instructional programs that meet their needs.
According to Vu & Dall'Alba (2008), authentic assessment seeks to both assess and enhance processes by which students call things into question, take a stand on who they are and act accordingly. Its purpose is to enable students to respond to the call to be authentic, while also assessing their efforts in striving toward this end. Assessment that is authentic can contribute to extending students' possibilities for becoming who they try to be, although this is never achieved once and for all. Authentic assessment should not be misunderstood by teachers to be extensive assignments that invest long time and effort by both teachers and students because adults often face many simple and brief tasks in their work and life for which teachers can prepare their students. Authentic tasks established in language classroom in which students are assessed should replicate real-world challenges.
Actually, authentic assessment requires a teacher to judge students' responses and work which need support of to make these judgements accurate and reliable. A rubric which is a scoring scale must be used in which numerical values are associated with performance levels (e.g. 1=Basic, 2=Proficient, etc). Defawu (2010) concurred that authentic or performance assessments should be "engaging, motivating, and stimulating to students and teachers alike. Although authentic assessment has promising benefits in the field of language testing, yet it places greater demands on teachers than the use of standardized testing. Time and management skills are needed to design and use authentic assessment and judgement is required to reach conclusions about students' performance. Also, because authentic assessment is relatively new, teachers need to learn how to link assessment to instruction and so forth.
Validity in fact is also a common concern when applying authentic testing in schools and particularly in language classes. Defawu (2010) pointed out that authentic assessments could be made to be more valid through standardization to a lesser extent than is currently practiced. For example, authentic writing assessments entail writing for real purposes to real audiences to communicate a message. They also allow for multiple drafts, revision and allow a writer to receive feedback from a reader to facilitate rewriting and to achieve greater communicative power. Unlike standardized writing assessments that require students to write for approximately an hour to a single prompt, authentic writing assessments value the process and end product of a writing experience in which revision and social interaction are not only encouraged, but also expected.
Essentially, it is necessary to highlight the fact that capturing a more authentic performance does not insure validity. Mueller (2005) indicated that a measure cannot be valid if it does not effectively address the learning goals it was designed to assess. Thus, the development of good assessments of any type begins with the development of meaningful goals and standards. Although the definitions of these terms vary in use, learning goals are often written as rather broad statements to define what students should know and be able to do at some point in time (e.g. the end of 12th grade or the end of a course on English grammar). Goals are subdivided into standards which are thus written more narrowly and typically in language that is more agreeable with assessment to decide what students should know and be able to do at the end of a unit, chapter or a course. Standards can be further specified into objectives which are written even more narrowly to describe the outcomes students should achieve at the end of a particular lesson. So, a key procedure that teachers and administrators should consider is the agreement of course standards and objectives with assessment tools to ensure valid and reliable results that help teachers amend their teaching methodology for better benefits to their students.
Some might question why we should adopt authentic testing styles in our language courses and that is a valid question. In fact, Mueller (2005) explained that authentic assessments are direct measures whereby teachers do not just want students to know the content of the disciplines when they graduate. Teachers of course want their students to be able to use the acquired knowledge and skills in the real world. So, the assessments established in class have to also tell if students can apply what they have learned in authentic situations. . If a student does well on a test of knowledge teachers might infer that the student could also apply that knowledge in real-world situations, but that is rather indirect evidence. Therefore, a teacher might ask students to utilize what they have learned in meaningful ways to check their readiness to do so. Also, Mueller (2005) argued that assessments cannot just ask students to repeat back information they have received. Students must also be asked to demonstrate that they have accurately constructed meaning about what they have been taught. Furthermore, students must be given the opportunity to engage in the construction of meaning. Authentic tasks not only serve as assessments but also as vehicles for such learning. Authentic assessments provide multiple paths to demonstration of learning we all have different strengths and weaknesses in how we learn. Similarly, we are different in how we can best demonstrate what we have learned. Mueller (2005) said "regarding the traditional assessment model, answering multiple-choice questions does not allow for much variability in how students demonstrate the knowledge and skills they have acquired. On the one hand, that is strength of tests because it makes sure everyone is being compared on the same domains in the same manner which increases the consistency and comparability of the measure. On the other hand, testing favours those who are better test-takers and does not give students any choice in how they believe they can best demonstrate what they have learned." For example, writing a good persuasive essay requires a common set of skills from students, but there is still room for variation in how that essay is constructed.
In general, authentic testing involves students in choosing their tasks as well as in participating in the assessment process since teachers are required to provide a rubric before the assessment takes place. Authentic assessment is beneficial for both teachers and students as long as teachers apply good time and management techniques that ensure they meet objectives of the course through authentic assessment to ensure validity. They also should incorporate every possible mean to ease the application of these tasks in class by acquiring awareness on language testing and its challenges. Thus, authentic assessment is not the magic solution for language testing challenges but can be a promising method if applied carefully and with awareness.
Reasons for the Emergence of Authentic Testing:
In fact, the major reason for the emerging need for authentic assessment is the broaden gap between what is taught, learned and assessed in school and what is needed at work. This gap came up as a result of dramatic changes in the job market that resulted in the rise of new kinds of jobs with different requirements for employees. Consequently, education began to change because students needed to learn different things in different ways to keep up with the changes in the job market. However, changing student's learning requires new methods of assessment as assessment is possibly the most prominent variable that influence student's learning. The Emergence of authentic assessment resulted from changing societal structure, changing education, and changing testing perspectives.
According to Gullikers (2008), these changes "typify three major developments that led to the need and emergence of authentic testing." The first development is the development of society and economy from a bureaucratic, industrial mode to a creative information mode, which is reflected in changes in jobs and job requirements. In the industrial age, knowledge was rather constant and could be transmitted from one person to the other because employees required specific knowledge and skills that allowed them perform routineâ€based tasks. However, that is not the case for today's information age which is characterized by rapidly increasing information, technological developments, and globalization of economies. Knowledge is no longer seen as an objective or constant but rather subjective and changing construct that has to be created by every individual. Furthermore, knowledge and learning are seen as contextâ€dependent which entails meaningful education. Meaningful learning requires teachers to teach students to apply knowledge and skills in a realistic context. Thus, they can merge into the new information society which requires knowledgeable and competent employees who are independent and creative. They should also be flexible problem solvers who can use, apply and develop knowledge and who can acquire the skills needed to deal with new problems within their work. Accordingly and in reaction to these dramatic social changes, education began to change.
The second development that led to the emergence of authentic testing as Gulikers (2008) highlighted reflects the development of education from atomized knowledge and skills acquisition, to education for the development of competencies. Traditional practices that aimed at conveying knowledge and training of simple skills were characterized by instruction for knowledge transmission, learning by memorization and drillâ€andâ€practice, and assessment that is standardized. Frankly said, subject content was transmitted to passive students who had to memorize information and cough it out in multipleâ€choice tests or through carrying out simple skills in a wellâ€defined setting. Moreover, instruction, learning and assessment were treated as separate activities with assessment considered as an afterthought. On the other hand, today knowledge is still important, but as a prerequisite for achieving competence. Educational practices aiming at the development of competencies can be summarized as follows: instruction that focuses on deep learning and competency development, learning based on reflectiveâ€active knowledge construction, and assessment that is contextualized, interpretative and performanceâ€based. Education for competence stimulates students to actively construct their own knowledge, integrate knowledge, skills and attitudes into realistic performances, and detect gaps in their competencies to stimulate future learning. Assessment requires student to show their level of competency development. Moreover, more emphasis is now being placed on integrating these three components, instead of viewing them as separate activities.
This leads to the third development which is the shift from a culture of testing to a culture of assessment. Gulikers (2008) further discussed that changing assessment practices is expected when perspectives on learning and instruction are changing, especially when we consider both the need for constructive alignment and the strong influence of assessment on learning and instruction. Standardized testing methods representative of the testing culture, such as multipleâ€choice tests, true/false items or shortâ€answer tests were increasingly criticized for not being suitable for the changed educational goals aiming at competency development. Actually, standardized tests were considered inadequate for measuring higherâ€order thinking skills and professional competence and were seen as stimulating students to adopt surface study strategies such as memorization and reproduction at the expense of deep study activities. On the other hand, Assessments representative of the assessment culture are expected to fit with the new educational goals as they aim at promoting learning and evaluating competency development. They stimulate students to integrate knowledge, skills and attitudes and use them to solve realistic professional tasks. Whereas standardized tests were decontextualized and focused on summative assessment of learning, new authentic assessments are integrated, contextualized, and more focused on formative assessment of learning. These characteristics of the assessment culture are more likely to fit with the new educational goal of stimulating students to become competent employees. The answer then to the questions of why and how authenticity, the main theme of this paper, fits in with all of these developments is that authenticity aims at decreasing the gap between the world of the school and the world of work.
Actually, the move towards authentic assessment, according to Wiggins (1993) is designed to, (1) make students successful learners with acquired knowledge, (2) provide students with a full range of skills (e.g., research, writing, revising, oral skills, debating, and
other critical thinking skills), (3) demonstrate whether the student can generate full and valid answers in relation to the task or challenge at hand, (4) provide reliability by offering suitable and standardized criteria for scoring such tasks and challenges, (5) give students the chance to 'rehearse' critical thinking in achieving success in their future adult and professional lives and (6) allow for assessment that meets the needs of the learners by giving authenticity and usefulness to results while allowing students greater potential for improving their learning and teachers more flexibility in instruction.
The Importance of Authentic Testing:
Authentic assessment is a learning experience used in the context of students working on projects that authentically engage and motivate them to perform well. In fact, if students are not fully engaged in the assessment, it is less likely that any resulting conclusion will be valid. Standardized assessments are creating lots of constraints due to many factors such as their inflexibility especially in regard to content and instruction. Also, results of such assessments are open to possible misuse and misunderstanding because they isolate those who are good test-takers from those who are not. Authentic assessment, on the other hand, allows for direct measures of student's achievement on suitable tasks through active and flexible learning methods. Authentic assessments can be constructed as group or individual projects that include a variety of methods such as oral presentations, exhibitions, performances, portfolios, journals, reports, discussion groups, self and peer assessment, and cooperative learning. Authentic assessment provides teacher with the ability to specifically evaluate their students through projects such as the one mentioned previously.
Actually, traditional assessment has been criticized for focusing on the limited range of skills taught in the classroom which are significantly different from what the student will face in the real world. Actually there are many types of authentic assessment tools that are intended to increase students' engagement and make learning more relevant such as group work in which team members engage in collaborative learning. Authentic assessment provides a measure by which student's academic growth can be gauged over time to know the true depth of student learning and understanding which allows for a greater demonstration of students' skills and performance. Authentic assessment is designed to compare students' performance against learning task standards which is necessary to maintain authenticity.
The importance of authentic assessment can also be highlighted through what I have mentioned previously in the section of developments that led to the emergence of authentic testing. Authentic assessment is significant because it suits the changing interface of society, job-market, testing culture as well as education. Thus, we can conclude that authentic assessment's significance comes from the fact that it emerged due to the need for its establishment as an alternative to traditional methods that are questionable and inadequate as many critics suggested. Authentic assessment can be visualized as an answer to many problems faced by teachers who want to prepare their students for real life challenges and not to stick to the old-fashioned ways of teaching that broaden the gap between what is taught in classroom and what they will encounter in reality.
Aspects to consider when applying authentic testing in language courses:
In fact, when institutions opt to apply authentic testing in language courses, weaknesses of authentic assessment must be recognized and addressed. Several factors that must be taken into consideration include the fact that authentic assessment may not be appropriate in all cases. In authentic assessment expectations may be too high while generalizing from authentic assessments may become unrealistic as the number of tasks required can become impractical. Administrators in these institutions must be aware that authentic assessments do not have to replace traditional assessment methods but that there is a future for such methods with consideration that conditions are met and problems with developing such methods are addressed.
I believe that a well-developed authentic assessment should include reading, writing, speaking and listening in the target language whereby the activities should also be based on standards of learning in the educational institution where the authentic testing technique is applied. In fact, using an authentic assessment in the language classroom requires an authentic task, a scoring rubric, and plenty of feedback. The authentic tasks mirror real life situations that appeal to all types of learning styles. With a rubric in hand, students know what they need to do to achieve success. Along the path to success, the teacher provides essential feedback. Authentic tasks are performance based, integrative and interactive such as essay writing, narrations, oral interviews and role playing.
Actually, Teachers should keep in mind that all assessments in English are also assessments of English. Because English language learners are in the process of acquiring language as they acquire content, teachers need to ensure that their assessment addresses the linguistic component of the learning continuum. Therefore, teachers should provide English language learners with opportunities to demonstrate knowledge in non-traditional ways. According to Lenski (2006), as teachers consider the purposes for assessment, they should ask, "Does my assessment connect to the language and content standards and goals?" Teachers should also think about whether their assessment practices are consistent with their own instructional objectives and goals. When teachers think about the purposes for assessment beforehand, they can make better decisions about what information they should gather about their students. Teachers can use language and content standards as the basis for what English language learners have to know, and these standards then provide the purposes for assessment. For example, one of the TESOL standards as Lenski indicated is "Students will use learning strategies to extend their communicative competence". Teachers can use this statement to develop an instrument to assess how well students are satisfying the standard. In a language classroom, authentic assessment tools will provide direct insights on the students' literacy development and showcase students' progress and accomplishments. Assessments also serve as mechanisms that reveal what parts of instruction need to be modified to help students reach standards and goals. For instance, reading is a complex interactive process whereas the assessment of reading ability does not end with the measurement of comprehension. Strategic ways to full understanding are often important factors to include in assessing students, especially in the case of most classroom assessments that are formative in nature. For this reason, it is important that teachers consider authentic assessments to document English language learners' performance and growth in reading. Actually, alternative assessments or authentic assessments provide teachers with a more complete picture of what students can or cannot do as they encounter reading materials.
Hendrickson (2010) argued that many issues surround the implementation of authentic assessment into the classroom. Examining authentic assessment, its features, formats, advantages, and limitations should be performed by institutions interested to implement authentic assessment into classroom. As teachers attempt to put into practice authentic testing, they should approach this task gradually and consider some practical suggestions. Lenski (2006) suggested some practical steps that teachers might take during the process of implementing authentic assessment into language classes. First, teachers should learn what constitutes authentic assessment of English language learners and develop a philosophy of second-language acquisition that will assist in the evaluation of English language learners. For instance, teachers should be aware of the curriculum of the program before planning assessments. Also, the curriculum in any given school program must be sensitive to the students' needs, the institutional expectations, and the availability of resources. Because these will vary from setting to setting, it is nearly impossible to attempt to prescribe any guidelines or universal curriculum for all instructional settings; thus, teachers must know the reality of their own localities. Assessments that are planned should allow teachers to use them for evaluative and instructional purposes. For instance, teachers will be able to use the results of assessments to modify instruction.
In fact, assessment content should be adjusted to the student's English proficiency level because a text that is not intelligible will only measure the vocabulary that a student does not know. Although instruction is the key to student learning, authentic assessment can help teachers understand the needs of their struggling readers who are English-language learners. Teachers can use assessment results to evaluate student progress and plan the direction classroom instruction and learning will take. Only when measurement, assessment, evaluation, and excellent teaching are present in classrooms will English Language learners make real progress toward literacy.
In a language classroom, the teacher must acknowledge different levels of students; consider course objectives and content when designing an authentic testing task. Authentic assessment complements traditional assessment, but a teacher does not have to choose between authentic or traditional assessment. It is likely that some mix of the two will best meet both teachers and students' needs. Therefore, there are many aspects to consider when an institution opts for application of authentic testing in language courses. Some are mentioned above with details but more to be researched by future studies in the area of language testing because education is changing and students' needs also are changing.
Moreover, two types of validity are of most concern with authentic assessments which are content validity or the correspondence between curriculum objectives and the objectives being assessed and consequential validity which is the way in which the assessment is used to benefit teaching and learning processes and to benefit students. Therefore, institutions should consider content or curriculum validity before they apply authentic testing in language courses to ensure correspondence between curriculum objectives and the content of the assessment. Because authentic assessments provide in-depth assessment of students' knowledge and skills, content validity is more important. Also, one of the main considerations in the design of assessments is authenticity with respect to classroom activities which lead us to consequential assessment. Assessments have consequential validity if they lead teachers to focus on classroom activities which support student needs. (O'Malley & Pierce, 1996)
In my point of view, institutions that are interested to apply authentic testing for language courses should consider fairness and grading of the assessment as important aspects of the application. First, all students performing authentic tasks should have reasonable opportunities to demonstrate their abilities without facing barriers. Administrators must acknowledge the fact that the performance called for in authentic assessment is usually highly language-dependent whether written or oral which poses a barrier for lower-level English language learners. They might be in disadvantage trying to answer these task questions as expected by teachers. In addition, I believe that authentic tasks involve high critical thinking skills which not all English language students are able to demonstrate the ability to express complex thinking skills in English language. Moreover, teachers must be aware of the culturally unfamiliar content for English language learners that they might face in language courses which hinder them from being able to show their level of proficiency and understanding. Teachers must provide alternative ways to allow students to answer such tasks including drawing pictures, diagrams or even giving shorter answers because their language abilities might be limited due to cultural unfamiliarity with the content of the task.
Additionally, awareness about grading is an essential part of the application of authentic assessment in language courses. Generally, grades have two basic purposes which are to reflect student's performance and to motivate students. Therefore, since most of the authentic tasks involve group projects, teachers then are required to do group grading which might undermine motivation because it doesn't reward individual work. Also, the poor performance of one member of the group will lower the final grade of the group which is not 'fair' to others who did well. Here, we come back to the importance of an agreed-upon rubric that reflects classroom objectives. In fact, teachers should find alternative ways of grading that best suit their classroom objectives.
Reliability is another important aspect that should be considered in the application of authentic testing. In fact, I believe that reliability is also questionable in authentic testing since it requires teacher's judgment to score students which introduces the possibility of subjectivity and lack of consensus with other teachers. Therefore, scoring should be based on a scoring rubric whether holistic or analytic. Professional development is also an issue that should be considered by institutions whereby rater training is essential to ensure the reliability and validity of authentic assessment. Generally, as with all assessments, the major challenges are to ensure that the assessments help improve instruction and benefit students.
Authentic language assessment as Nunan (2004) suggested refers to "the procedures for evaluating learner performance using activities and tasks that represent classroom goals, curricula and instruction in as realistic conditions of language use as possible." Generally, authentic assessment includes communicative performance assessment, language portfolios and various forms of self-assessment by learners. For example, basic types of authentic assessment in language learning can be oral interviews of learners by the teacher, story or text retelling with listening or reading inputs, writing samples with a variety of topics, projects and exhibitions, teacher observation of students' work in class and portfolios focusing on learner's progress over time.
Institutions that opt for application of authentic testing should focus on important curriculum goals, aim at enhancing individual competence and make sure that tests are carried out as an integral part of instruction. The importance of language authentic assessment is that learners are treated individually, multiple sources of data can be used for decisions, allow teachers more space for developing curricula, emphasis on higher-order learning outcomes and thinking skills and last but not least encourages collaborative learning by comparing learners to their own past performances and aims. In fact, authentic assessment entails a movement towards a culture of evaluation in the service of learning, in the first place for classroom purposes. Authentic assessment provides promising possibilities for enhancing learning and instruction such as assessment is ongoing and builds on learners' strengths, initiative and capacity.
However, while authentic assessment provides new possibilities for language evaluation, it also poses problems. For instance, students may resist the new practices, being accustomed to more traditional language tests. Therefore, careful and in-depth examination of different testing methods should be involved to maximize the benefits of language assessment. In general, authentic testing is interchangeable with performance-based assessment, alternative assessment, portfolio assessment, self-assessment and other relatively new assessment styles. The changing nature of educational atmosphere and the social structure pose lots of challenges in the field of testing learners. However, studies have shown that educational institutions should aim for an integrative assessment into the instruction process to create a collaborative and enriching learning environment. Finally, this paper highlighted an introduction to authentic assessment, the importance of authentic assessment, the emergence of authentic assessment and aspects that institutions need to consider when applying language authentic assessment.