Major Issues in Assesment of English Learning in Turkey

However, when Turkey’s context of assessment, especially the evaluation of English learning of young learners, it is seen that those aspects of assessment are often ignored, and review creates more negative washback effects for students than its positive ones.

With the advent of learner-centered and communicative teaching methodologies, in many settings, control over the collection and interpretation of assessment information has shifted from centralized authority towards the classrooms where assessment occurs regularly’ (Fradd and Hudelson 1995:5). Communicative teaching methodology brings with it a considerable emphasis on formative evaluation “with more use of descriptive records of learner development in language and learning which (track) language development along with other curricular abilities” (Rea-Dickins and Rixon 1997:151) So, assessment can be defined as a diagnostic tool providing feedback to learners and teachers about the compatibility of the curricula and instructional materials, the effectiveness of teaching methods and the learning profile- strengths and weaknesses- of the students.

Assessment is also applied to demonstrate to young learners that they progress in their linguistic development, increasing their motivation. So it can be said that evaluation encourages students to do more and the teacher to work on refining the learning process instead of its product. However, when Turkey’s context of assessment, especially the evaluation of English learning of young learners, it is seen that those aspects of assessment are often ignored, and review creates more negative washback effects for students than its positive ones.

Most English teachers assess children, but there is a clash, as I experienced for circa ten years, between the curricular aims of English teaching and pedagogy and test content. Most of the assessment is conducted in traditional sentence-level paper and pencil tests. The focus of the evaluation is mainly on the quantifiable scores and achievement of children rather than their language learning progress, which creates a mismatch between the curricular aims, such as developing increased language, social and intercultural awareness, as well as linguistic skills. So children, inevitably, are exposed to this discrepancy between how they are tested, which is conducted through non-interactive and decontextualized paper-pencil tests, and myriads of language learning activities they experienced in classrooms which causes a reduction in children’s motivation and self-confidence in learning English.

In addition, in Turkey, children are subject to mostly grammar-based multiple-choice tests or other forms of paper-pencil tests, which are filling blanks and matching vocabulary items which all fail to assess different aspects of language learning like oral skills and also are not compatible with the psychomotor skills of children, causing them to be tired. Furthermore, these tests often underestimate the language learning developments of children by promoting them to choose what is true and what is wrong rather than encouraging them to build their meanings and develop strategies for learning English as well as being autonomous. They mainly trigger students to read and write, circle, match, etc., which is iunsuitable for students’ age and cognitive development because they are just developing receptive language learning skills at those ages.

As well, the form of assessments is norm-referenced chiefly in Turkey, which also creates competition among students and ignores the progress of the children’s learning by assigning them points, marks, or grades to pass or fail the exams as a principle of summative assessment and teachers often ignores the adverse psychological effects of these types of evaluation in relatively young learners for the sake of the easiness and practicality of the tests. Alternative and formative modes of checks applied in the classrooms are often restricted to observations, and interactive and communicative skills of children are not exploited in their assessment of language learning which causes children to be influenced negatively by being tested explicitly, an issue Katz(1997:1) also mentions about: “Young learners are notoriously poor test taker.

The younger the child is evaluated, assessed, or tested, the more errors are made… The greater the risk of assigning false labels to them.” Smith (1996) also states that “traditional classroom testing procedures can cause children a great deal of anxiety that affects their language learning as well as their self-image.” (see table 1 for a comparison of traditional and alternative assessment techniques). Therefore, children need to learn and be evaluated in an anxiety-reduced environment. This can be achieved if they perceive assessment as an integral part of the learning or teaching process rather than an independent procedure whose purpose is to judge their abilities compared to their classmates. In order to abstain from those negative effects of traditional ways of assessment, some recommendations for English teachers in Turkey are necessary.

First of all, formative assessment techniques must be used to decrease the level of anxiety generated by concentrating on linguistic accuracy and to increase children’s comfort zone and feeling of achievement by highlighting communicative fluency. Children can also have a say on their assessment by deciding on the format of the test and its content as well as the way it is administered, resulting in autonomous learning of the children and taking responsibility for their language learning.

Mayerhof (1992) supportingly suggests allowing students to discuss the subjective questions during the tests quietly as long as each writes his own answers. Friel (1989) likewise recommends also involving students in offering topics or generating some questions for the test they would go in for. As a third point, the tasks prepared for assessment of young language learners should be interesting to the age group, appealing and captivating, preferably with elements of game and fun.

On the other hand, many types of assessment including oral interviews, nonverbal performances, role-plays, presentations, peer-group assessments and portfolios must be used with the perspectives of pupils, teachers, and parents. Pupil’ strengths, that is what they can do and achieve must be emphasized via criterion-referenced assessments and by the tasks and feedback provided from the teacher, instead of creating competition and comparison among students by grading and ordering them according to their marks.

Finally, they must be supported and encouraged while conducting their tests and tasks and the activities must reflect different aspects of children’s language learning and curricular aims rather than assessing only grammar and vocabulary knowledge. This kind of “scaffolded assessment” must be empowered by non-invasive methods of assessment as well as informing parents and children to understand the purposes of activities and to play a role in them by functioning as a kind of ‘stakeholders’ in the educational process. Thus assessment can be turned into a learning-centred issue and both learning and teaching can be supported by the opportunities resulting from children’s participation and engagement.

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