A Personal and Profound Approach to Building ESL Teachers' Assessment Literacy in the “Transitional Space”

A Personal and Profound Approach to Building ESL Teachers' Assessment Literacy in the “Transitional Space”

Brie Willoughby-Knox (Central Queensland University, Australia & King's Own Institute, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6986-2.ch001

Abstract

In an effort to improve assessment literacy learning in a Master of TESOL program, a progressive course—“Technology and New Literacies in TESOL”—has been developed. It runs concurrently with a traditional “Testing and Assessment” course, so that the student teachers' assessment literacy is grounded in fundamental concepts and then elevated by an exploration of technology-infused approaches to assessment. The structure of the course was inspired by Xu and Brown's teacher assessment literacy in practice (TALiP) framework, building the student teachers' assessment literacy through the levels set out. The chapter explains how the student teachers explored the possibilities of assessment through real-world examples, an array of technologies, and reflective practices. The result were a tangible set of tools and a broadened understanding of how assessment could and should be done in ESL classrooms.
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Finding An Aligned Approach To Assessment Education

This chapter addresses the widespread concern that many teachers embarking on an English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching career have low assessment literacy. Most Master of Teaching English as a Second or Other Language (MA TESOL) programs include a course on ‘Testing and Assessment’, but they typically only cover fundamental concepts (validity, reliability, authenticity, practicality, and washback), in a theory-laden way, disconnected from practice (Xu & Brown, 2016, p. 157). Although that knowledge base is essential, it is insufficient (Deluca, 2012; Lam, 2015; Popham, 2009), leading to Stiggins’ (2010, p. 233) observation that “assessment illiteracy abounds”.

Without the opportunity or guidance to explore the possibilities of emerging types of assessment, new ESL teachers often default to assess the same way that they have been assessed, since those concepts are born from their own personal experiences (Gunn & Gilmore, 2014; Hill, Cowie, Gilmore, & Smith, 2010; Smith, Hill, Cowie, & Gilmore, 2014). This is in line with the literature on teacher socialisation, which holds that teacher beliefs are often deep-seated and institutionally-derived, unless intentionally upset (Farrell, 2001). Deluca and Lam (2014) argue that assessment education needs to be both grounded in theoretical knowledge and elevated by components that push teachers past those deeply-rooted concepts. The approach outlined in this chapter capitalizes on that ‘transitional space’, where students are becoming teachers, to elevate their assessment literacy by providing opportunities to explore and connect with the processes of assessment in personal and profound ways.

Assessment literacy is widely recognized as an essential teaching competence (Abell & Siegel, 2011; Brookhart, 2002; Engelsen & Smith, 2014; Xu & Brown, 2016) and, as such, a number of studies are concerned with the assessment education of student teachers and the mediating factors that influence its effectiveness (Brown & Bailey, 2008; Greenberg & Walsh, 2012; Popham, 2011). Xu and Brown’s (2016) survey of 100 recent publications on the assessment literacy of teachers and the subsequent framework that arose from that survey were instrumental in informing the development of the course described in this chapter. Xu and Brown (2016) found that, typically, the goal of assessment education is to establish a ‘knowledge base’ through standards. Those standards, including choosing assessment methods, scoring the results, and recognizing unethical practices, are generally covered in traditional MA TESOL programs. They argue that teachers’ assessment literacy skills are measured by knowledge of those standards, however, the transfer of that knowledge to the “practical realm is not guaranteed” (Xu & Brown, 2016, p. 153). In fact, Gullickson (1993) reports a mismatch between what student teachers wanted to learn about testing and assessing – formative and summative uses in practice – and what their professors wanted to teach them – test statistics and analysis. Therefore, the mission is to find an aligned approach to assessment education that fulfils both the student teachers’ wants and needs, their knowledge base, and practical abilities. To accomplish this, it is necessary to challenge student teachers’ “(mis)conceptions of assessment so that legitimacy of tradition is questioned” (Xu & Brown, 2016, p. 157), leading to stronger assessment literacy practices.

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