- The essay-translation approach
b. The structuralist approach
c. The integrative approach
d. The communicative approach
A useful test will generally incorporate features of several of these approaches. Indeed, a test may have certain inherent weaknesses simply because it is limited to one approaches, however, attractive that approach may appear.
a. The essay-translation approach
This approach is commonly referred to as the pre-scientific stage of language testing. No special skill or expertise in testing is required; the subjective judgment of the teacher is considered to be of paramount importance. Tests usually consist of essay writing, translation and grammatical analysis (often in the form of comments about the language being learnt). Resulting from the essay translation approach sometimes have an aural/oral component at the upper intermediate and advanced levels – though this has sometimes been regarded in the past as something additional and in no way.
This approach is characterized by the view that language learning is chiefly concerned with the systematic acquisition of a set of habits. It draws on the work of structural linguistics, in particular the importance of contrastive analysis and the need to identify and measure the learner’s mastery of the separate elements of the target language ; phonology, vocabulary and grammar. These skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing are also separated from one another as much as possible because it is considered essential to test one thing at a time.
b. The structuralist approach
Such features of the structuralist approach are, of course still valid for certain types of test and for certain purposes. For example, the desire to concentrate on the tastes ability to write by attempting to separate a composition test from reading (i.e. by making it wholly independent of the ability to read long and complicated instructions or verbal stimuli) is commendable in certain respects.
The psychometric approach to measurement with its emphasis on reliability and objectivity forms an integral part of structuralist testing. At this point, however, the danger of confusing methods of testing with approaches to testing should be stressed. The issue is not basically a question of multiple – choice testing versus communicative testing. There still a limited use for multiple-choice items in many communicative tests especially for reading and listening comprehension purposes. Exactly the same argument can be applied to the use of several other item types.
c. The integrative approach
This approach involves the testing of language in context and is thus concerned primarily with meaning and total communicative effect of discourse. Consequently, integrative test do not seek to separate language skills into neat divisions in order to improve test reliability; instead, they are often designed to assess the learner’s ability to use two or more skills simultaneously. Thus integrative tests are concerned with a global view proficiency – an underlying language competence or grammar of expectancy, which it is argued every leaner possesses regardless of the purpose for which the language is being learnt. Integrative testing involves functional language but not the use of functional language. Integrative tests are best characterized by the use of cloze testing and of dictation. Oral interviews, translation and essay writing are also included in many integrative tests – a point frequently overlooked by those who take too narrow a view of integrative testing.
There are two methods of scoring a cloze test: one mark may be awarded for each acceptable answer or else one mark may be awarded for each exact answer. Both methods have been found reliable: some argue that the former method is very little better than the latter and doesn’t really justify the additional work entailed in defining what constitutes an acceptable answer for each item. Nevertheless, it appears a fairer test for the students if any reasonable equivalent is accepted. In addition, no student should be penalized for misspellings unless a word is so badly spelt that it cannot be understood. Grammatical errors, however, should be penalized in those cloze tests which are designed to measure familiarity with the grammar of the language rather than reading.
Cloze procedure as a measure of reading difficulty and reading comprehension will be treated briefly in the relevant section of the chapter on testing reading comprehension. Research studies, however, have shown that performance on cloze tests correlates highly with the listening, writing and speaking abilities. In other words, cloze testing is a good indicator of general linguistic ability, including the ability to use language appropriately according to particular linguistic and situational contexts. It is argued that three types of knowledge are required in order to perform successfully on a cloze test: linguistic knowledge, textual knowledge and knowledge of the world.
The following is an extract from an advance level cloze passage in which every fifth word has been deleted.
Dictation, another major type of integrative test, was previously regarded solely as means of measuring students’ skills of listening comprehension. The integrated skills involved in tests of dictation include auditory discrimination, the auditory memory span, spelling, the recognition of sounds segments, a familiarity with the grammatical and lexical patterning of the language and overall textual comprehension. Dictation tests can prove good predictors of global language ability even though some recent research has found that dictation tends to measure lower-order language skills such as straightforward comprehension rather than the higher – order skills such as inference. The dictation of longer pieces of discourse (i.e. 7 to 10 words at a time) is recommended as being preferable to the dictation of shorter word of groups (i.e. three to five words at a time) as in traditional dictations of the past.
The following is an example of part of dictation passage, suitable for use at an intermediate or fairly advanced level. The oblique strokes denote the units which the examiner must observe when dictating.
d. The communicative approach
The communicative approach to language testing is sometimes linked to the integrative approach. However, although both approaches emphasize the importance of the meaning of utterances rather than their form and structure, there are nevertheless fundamental differences between the two approaches. Communicative test are concerned primarily with how language used in communication. Consequently, most aim to incorporate task, which approximate as closely as possible to those facing the students in real life. Success is judged in terms of the effectiveness of the communication which takes place rather than formal linguistic accuracy. Language ‘use’ is often emphasized to the exclusion of language ‘usage’. ‘Use’ is concerned with how people actually use language for a multitude of different purposes while ‘usage’ concerns the formal patterns of language. The communicative approach would argue that communicative competence could ever be archived without a considerable mastery of the grammar of a language.
The attempt to measure different language skills in communicative test is based on a view of language referred to as the divisibility hypothesis. Communicative testing results in an attempt to obtain different profiles of a learner’s performance in the language. Communicative testing draws heavily on the recent work on aptitude testing. The score obtained on a communicative test will thus result in several measures of proficiency rather than simply one overall measure. The degrre of detail in the various profiles listed will depend largely on the type of test and the purpose for which it is being constructed.
Unlike the separate testing of skills in the structuralist approach, moreover, it is felt in communicative testing that sometimes the assessment of language skills in isolation may have only a very limited relevant to real life. Since language is decontextualised in psychometric-structural tests, it is often a simple matter for the same test to be used globally for any country in the world. Communicative test on the other hand, must of necessity reflect the culture of a particular country because of their emphasis on context and the use of the authentic materials. It is not only should test content be totally relevant for a particular group testees but the tasks set should relate to real life situations, usually specific to a particular country or culture.
The most criterion for communicative test is that they should be based on precise and detailed specification