In 2001 the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) was first published, raising awareness of the crucial role standardization plays in making assessment transparent, meaningful and fair; this is especially important with the growing phenomenon of internationalisation in higher education. In Italy, as in other European countries, the independence of the teacher and institution in assessment has traditionally been regarded as sacrosanct; consequently, what Alderson (2011) appropriately labels the transition from “innocence to professionalism”, may have to be an evolutionary rather than revolutionary process. Nevertheless, the transition is undoubtedly beginning to take place. Standard setting (Alderson, Banerjee 2001:218) is variously seen as the process of ensuring shared ‘codes of practice’ at different stages in the assessment procedure, as the identification of ‘norms’ for specific levels of difficulty in standardized tests, which are typically norm-referenced tests, or as the identification, delimitation and description of specific ‘levels of proficiency’. The ideal of standardization in testing is, however, widely acknowledged to be fraught with constraints, and the gap between sound testing principles and good enough testing practice can at times seem almost unbridgeable. The critical path of defining a test construct and developing and validating a test which yields reliable results and accurately predicts future achievement is time-consuming, labour-intensive, and costly. Constructs need to be linked to the reference framework to be valid. Tests need to be field-tested, results analysed and cutpoints set in a principled way. Ongoing familiarisation is essential if standards are to be meaningful and reliable. All this means that some tension is almost inevitable when balancing validity and reliability with practical and financial imperatives. Stakeholders may have differing priorities, and the great challenge is to produce a rigorous and cost-effective test that meets expectations of test developers, test-takers, funding institutions, and certification boards, among others. In particular, the constraints of the Italian university context – the tradition of the one-to-one oral exam, the unquestioned authority of the teacher, the right of the student to re-sit exams ad infinitum, all create a testing environment at odds with the ideal of standardized and cost-effective assessment. All of the chapters in this collection have addressed one or more of these considerations. This paper is intended as an introduction to the volume. It gives a picture of the multitudinous concerns facing professionals involved in this most complex of enterprises, also referring to recent trends and projects taking place in Italian institutions.

Introduction [Standardized Language Testing in Teaching and Research] / Cacchiani, Silvia; Morgan, Sian; Silver, Marc Seth. - In: RASSEGNA ITALIANA DI LINGUISTICA APPLICATA. - ISSN 0033-9725. - STAMPA. - 2012(2-3):(2013), pp. 11-21.

Introduction [Standardized Language Testing in Teaching and Research]

CACCHIANI, Silvia;SILVER, Marc Seth
2013

Abstract

In 2001 the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) was first published, raising awareness of the crucial role standardization plays in making assessment transparent, meaningful and fair; this is especially important with the growing phenomenon of internationalisation in higher education. In Italy, as in other European countries, the independence of the teacher and institution in assessment has traditionally been regarded as sacrosanct; consequently, what Alderson (2011) appropriately labels the transition from “innocence to professionalism”, may have to be an evolutionary rather than revolutionary process. Nevertheless, the transition is undoubtedly beginning to take place. Standard setting (Alderson, Banerjee 2001:218) is variously seen as the process of ensuring shared ‘codes of practice’ at different stages in the assessment procedure, as the identification of ‘norms’ for specific levels of difficulty in standardized tests, which are typically norm-referenced tests, or as the identification, delimitation and description of specific ‘levels of proficiency’. The ideal of standardization in testing is, however, widely acknowledged to be fraught with constraints, and the gap between sound testing principles and good enough testing practice can at times seem almost unbridgeable. The critical path of defining a test construct and developing and validating a test which yields reliable results and accurately predicts future achievement is time-consuming, labour-intensive, and costly. Constructs need to be linked to the reference framework to be valid. Tests need to be field-tested, results analysed and cutpoints set in a principled way. Ongoing familiarisation is essential if standards are to be meaningful and reliable. All this means that some tension is almost inevitable when balancing validity and reliability with practical and financial imperatives. Stakeholders may have differing priorities, and the great challenge is to produce a rigorous and cost-effective test that meets expectations of test developers, test-takers, funding institutions, and certification boards, among others. In particular, the constraints of the Italian university context – the tradition of the one-to-one oral exam, the unquestioned authority of the teacher, the right of the student to re-sit exams ad infinitum, all create a testing environment at odds with the ideal of standardized and cost-effective assessment. All of the chapters in this collection have addressed one or more of these considerations. This paper is intended as an introduction to the volume. It gives a picture of the multitudinous concerns facing professionals involved in this most complex of enterprises, also referring to recent trends and projects taking place in Italian institutions.
2012(2-3)
11
21
Introduction [Standardized Language Testing in Teaching and Research] / Cacchiani, Silvia; Morgan, Sian; Silver, Marc Seth. - In: RASSEGNA ITALIANA DI LINGUISTICA APPLICATA. - ISSN 0033-9725. - STAMPA. - 2012(2-3):(2013), pp. 11-21.
Cacchiani, Silvia; Morgan, Sian; Silver, Marc Seth
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