Beyond the Achievement-Proficiency Divide: a New Perspective on Language Assessment
The field of language teaching (represented by ELT as we know it) has one rather unusual feature which sets it apart from other formally taught school subjects. In the specific domain of assessing the progress of learners or pupils receiving instruction, a clear sharp distinction is made between testing, which is achievement oriented and testing which is proficiency oriented. It is widely accepted that the central aim of teaching English language is the development of the ability to use the language for communication or proficiency, though the value of different means (techniques) is a matter of vigorous debate. School board and university syllabi and examinations are known to be heavily weighed down by the ideational content of the ‘passages’ in the readers and lists of grammatical elements demonstrating form delinked from meaning. It is a long-standing complaint that these achievement tests favouring memorization and reproduction do not measure language proficiency. Mathew (2006) in the pages of Fortell highlighted this issue, asking whether the move from achievement to proficiency is being realized. It is taken for granted that this is an appropriate direction of change or reform. I do not dispute this basic argument in the specific setting of the unhappy history of ELT in India. However, the proposal to address proficiency directly and ‘bypass’ achievement needs more analysis. I propose in this essay to revisit this achievement-proficiency tension in language education from the wider perspective of educational measurement. I go on to address the basic issue of articulating a framework for assessing the progressively developing language ability in English over several years.
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