Teach English in Tiefu Zhen - Xuzhou Shi

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Unit 15 of this course has really given me an opportunity to reflect on some of my past experiences with assessing language learning in public Junior High Schools in Japan. I would like to discuss the three major problems I have encountered while working in Japan: overvaluation of external examinations, lack of variety in assessments, and evaluation of learning being heavily based on test scores. It is important to know while this is written with the experiences I had in Japan, I believe these problems are common in other South-Eastern Asian countries. As with many South-Eastern Asian countries, there seems to be an obsession with external exams, or standardized tests. It is important to note that standardized exams are not without their benefits such as eliminating variance between different educational institutions and provide a leveled playing field. It should be noted that these tests are also easy to administer to a large audience. In that sense, it is very cost-effective. However compelling these advantages are, they rest on the assumption that the standardized tests actually does a good job at assessing learning and not general academic factors such as test-taking, memorization, test-preparation schools... Since the standardized testing takes the form of a written test in most cases, it is often impossible to evaluate all aspects of language learning. For English, these standardized testing often focus on listening and reading, the two receptive skills. This provides a harmful message to teachers and students about language learning, that only the receptive skills are valued. This message becomes embedded in the language lessons and become a compass for the types of assessments teachers create, ones that place a premium on listening and reading. What the result of the overvaluation of standardized testing is the creating of an assembly line of people who are only able to interact with the language receptively and lack the foundation and structure to perform any productive tasks. The lack of variety in the assessments is a direct consequence of the overvaluation of external examinations. Once language teachers set their goal on honing students’ ability to read and listen, they begin to limit the types of assessment they used to elicit evidence of learning from students. In the end, teachers end up with tests formatted to resemble external exams in order to prime students for external exams. Why is the limitation of the types of assessment a problem? We can all agree that people are good at different things. This is true for language learning. By exclusively employing a single type of assessment, students who are good at more productive skills are not given the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned. This could lead to many unwelcome effects like students losing self-confidence and interest in language learning, slowly losing their productive abilities, gain a false perception that language learning is based only on receptive skills, etc. For these reasons, it is not only important to increase the variety of language learning assessments, teachers also have to place emphasis on the equal importance of receptive and productive language skills. It would not be right to discuss the assessments without talking about the evaluation process. There are many teachers who are not aware of the difference between assessment and evaluation. The assessment is the tools used to elicit evidence of learning from students. The evaluation is the process in which teachers make inferences about what students have learned based on the evidence elicit from the assessment. The problem I have encountered is when teachers use the assessment process to evaluate. What I mean is, when the evaluation process is built into the assessment (in this case, the written tests would be the assessment, and the scores would be the evaluation). I am not making the claim that test scores do no adequately reflect learning, but rather the scoring of the test should not replace the process of evaluation. When evaluating, teachers should take into consideration more informal evidence such as observations in class, past performances, personal growth along with students’ performance of the test. The written test should not be the assessment, but rather an assessment among many to provide teachers with a clear picture of the language learning outcomes of students. Only by examining learning on a multi-faceted way can teachers have a clear picture on how students are doing. Only by creating assessment opportunities for both receptive and productive skills, can teachers provide useful and effective feedback that can help students to continue to grow. While I am not optimistic about these problems changing any time soon, I would like to play an active role in making changes to how the assessments and evaluation are done. This course has provided a foundation of knowledge and ways to open doors. I plan on fully taking advantage of what I have learned and apply it to not only the way I teach, but also those around me who are not aware of the potential impacts of what they are doing in their classes.