Language testing and language management

Authored by: Bernard Spolsky

The Routledge Handbook of Language Testing

Print publication date:  March  2012
Online publication date:  October  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415570633
eBook ISBN: 9780203181287
Adobe ISBN: 9781136590863


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I have been puzzling about a title for this chapter, and it will become clear in the course of the chapter that I remain uncertain—confused, even—about the relationship between language testing and language policy, which is why I have chosen the neutral connector “and”. My first thought was to consider language testing as a method of language management (Spolsky, 2009), that is to say, a way in which some participants in a speech community attempt to modify the language beliefs and language practices of others. Let us take a simple example: a school class in language, in which the teacher sets and marks tests that require pupils to use a version of the school language (or other language being taught) that he or she hopes that pupils will use. In essence, this assumes a belief, unfortunately widespread among those responsible for education, that testing is a good way to teach, rather than a way to gather data that needs further interpretation. Rather than take on the difficult problems of dealing with circumstances such as poverty which interfere with school success, a politician can simply propose that students who fail to pass a test (whatever that means) should be punished or even that their teachers who fail to bring them to some arbitrary standard should be fired. The general level of ignorance about testing displayed by politicians, the press, and the public is sometimes hard to believe (Taylor, 2009). How, for example, is a “pass” determined? I even recall a newspaper headline that complained half the students had failed to reach the average.

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