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by Ovidiu Leonte

Colegiul National "Mihai Eminescu", Iasi

EFL teachers are not merely tasked with presenting language content and orchestrating its practice, but also with testing students’ progress. But what exactly should they test and who should design those written quizzes?
A no-brainer to safely start with is the old adage that we should test what we teach and vice-versa. For one thing, it would only be fair, but it would also ensure positive backwash effect in that students would be motivated to focus in class and revise thoroughly before the actual test, knowing that this effort would actually matter towards their grade, once the tests are returned marked by the teacher. They problem here is that, all too often, teachers are not fully aware of the full aims of their coursebooks, of all the skills their classes target and involve, but also that they ignore all the learning occurring outside classrooms. The unfortunate result is that we end up with quizzes focusing excessively on grammar and vocabulary, leaving out natural but essential collocation, as well as skills such as reading, listening or even writing.
An even safer point of reference is the set of guidelines in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, which clearly outlines what language learning and testing ought to involve and achieve. The cogent illustration of progress from level A1 to C2 as ability development from survival skills and basic handling of immediate environment tasks to communicating in more and more unfamiliar situations and environments all the way to mastery of academic tasks and contexts, all of that trumps the more unfortunately popular idea that advanced means complicated or unnaturally pompous. The latter approach is to blame for the cohorts of school leavers wielding big words and irrelevant discourse in a world that seems unimpressed or even repelled by such use of language, which only has the effect of compromising the idea of formal education.
What, then, is to be done? Should teachers even attempt to write their own tests? The answer is not as clear-cut as one might expect. While EFL teachers do need training and knowledge of test design, so as to recognize and appreciate test merits and goals, it may often be safer to resort to professionals such as coursebook writers themselves and high stakes test designers as long as test security is not compromised through use of publicly available material. Otherwise, as with other areas of education and even life itself, balance and richness always provide a safer outcome, which, in this case, means focus on all four skills when testing student progress and using contextualised material rather than discrete out-of-context sentences or theoretical items.