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  • http://ltj.sagepub.comLanguage Testing

    DOI: 10.1177/0265532208090156 2008; 25; 327 Language Testing

    Alan Davies Textbook trends in teaching language testing

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  • Language Testing 2008 25 (3) 327347

    2008 SAGE Publications (Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singapore) DOI:10.1177/0265532208090156

    Textbook trends in teaching language testingAlan Davies University of Edinburgh, UK

    The article examines changes in language testing textbooks in English sinceLado (1961) and proposes that two trends may be discerned. The first showshow the growing professionalism of the field has required an expansion inteaching materials to meet the need for new training programmes. What theexpansion also shows is the desire, again a mark of increasing professional-ism, to provide all teaching resources from within the profession so that forneeded skills (e.g. statistics and measurement) it is now less necessary toappeal to outsiders such as statisticians and psychometricians. The secondtrend explains the need for the profession to expand its view of the skillsneeded by its members. From Lado onwards, skills were always conjoinedwith knowledge about language and about testing. More recently, the profes-sion has explicitly declared a concern for principles with regard, for example,to validity and to ethics. The increasing professionalism comes at a cost: thatcost is twofold: in-housing all resources means that language testers areincreasingly insulated from other potentially rewarding disciplines. And thecomplete resource offerings in the later teaching materials means that studentsmay be denied empirical encounters with real language learners, spendingall (or much of) their training within the resource material. The article alsoquestions how far research has informed the changes in training materials.

    Keywords: informed by research, knowledge, language testing textbooks,practical manuals, principles, professionalism, skills, teachers resources

    In writing about the teaching of language testing, we can make useof any of the materials (printed, audio, video, DVD, etc.) that havebeen developed. But it will not be very helpful to do so, first becauseour critique becomes an indiscriminate survey of the literature, and,second, because teaching ceases to be a deliberate proactive presen-tation and becomes an exposure to the whole field. It is more useful,both for our understanding of teaching and in order to put limits on

    Address for correspondence: Alan Davies, Linguistics and English Language, School ofPhilosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Adam FergusonBuilding, George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9LL, UK; email: [email protected]

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  • 328 Textbook trends in teaching language testing

    the material discussed in this paper, to consider teaching as deliber-ate pedagogy.

    By deliberate pedagogy, I mean the work that teachers do intheir professional pursuit of teaching: they plan and organize theirarea of expertise, which may be a language, a science or, in our case,language testing, in order to facilitate learning.

    When I look back over the last 50 years two trends may be dis-cerned. The first trend charts the growing professionalism and expan-sion of the field alongside the attempt to develop all-in material,thereby relieving the student of the need in the teaching context to drawon material outside the textbook. As we shall see, psychometric issuesare still very important today but see Fulcher and Davidson (2007).

    The second trend reveals the move from the skills knowledgeapproach to the current attempt to take account also of principles.Skills provide the training in necessary and appropriate methodology,including item writing, statistics, test analysis and increasingly software programmes for test delivery, analysis and reportage.Knowledge offers relevant background in measurement and languagedescription, as well as in context setting, and may involve an exam-ination of different models of language learning, of language teach-ing and of language testing such as communicative language testing,performance testing and nowadays, socio-cultural theory. Principlesconcern the proper use of language tests, their fairness and impact,including questions of ethics and professionalism, thus a consider-ation of the growing professionalism of language testing, of theresponsibilities of language testers and of the impact of their work ona range of stakeholders and of the ethical choices they must make. Inwhat follows, I reflect on key publications over the period and laterreturn to a consideration of a selection from those key publications ofrepresentative texts in terms of the two trends I have adumbrated.These representative texts are British, American and Australian andthey span the whole period under discussion. They are not intendedto be any more celebrated than any of the others referred to but areselected as representative largely because they illustrate my argumentof the move over these 40 years from skills knowledge to aknowledge-informed skills and then to a principles-informed skills.

    I First trend: ExpansionA three-way distinction can be made of materials produced for teach-ers. At the most discursive end we have (1) teachers resources,

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  • Alan Davies 329

    including books, videos, DVD and computer software. These providea library for teachers, there to inform them and be made available,where appropriate, to their students. Next are (2) textbooks whichprovide a deliberately pedagogic approach, again aimed largely atteachers and intended to help them professionally. Then at the how-toend we have (3) practical manuals. Sometimes two of these elementsmay be combined. Robert Lado, whom Wood calls luminary (Wood,1991, p. 238) gave language testing early credibility. It is instructiveto consult the list of references in Language Testing (Lado, 1961). Heis even-handed: he cites such influential psychometric texts asAnastasi (1954/1961), Cronbach (1949/1961) and Buros (1959), aswell as significant linguistic texts (Bloomfield, 1933; Gleason, 1955;Hockett, 1958; Sapir, 1921; Fries, 1945). There are no references toany other language testing authors and Lados linguistics referencesare all to theoretical and descriptive linguists, not to applied linguists.It is as though Lado is making his contribution to establishing thefield by maintaining that applied linguistics needs language and thatlanguage testing needs applied linguistics measurement.

    Lados book is thus firmly in the middle of my three-way distri-bution, among the textbooks. Lado introduces his book thus: a comprehensive introduction to the construction and use of foreignlanguage tests. It incorporates modern linguistic knowledge into lan-guage testing as one of its chief contributions. The material is pri-marily intended for teachers of foreign languages and of English asa foreign language (Lado, 1961, p. vii). While the book may be atextbook, in my use of the term here, there are some parts of the bookwhich approximate a practical manual, notably Part 2: Testing theelements of language.

    There are those who do not value Lados contribution to languagetesting. But that is unjust. The book is a triumph of combining issues.McNamara, 40 years later, writes his recommendations about testingdominated practice for nearly twenty years and are still influential inpowerful tests such as TOEFL (McNamara, 2000, p. 89). BernardSpolsky calls Lados 1961 volume a pioneering book (Spolsky,1995, p. 353). He praises Lados work thus: Lados explicit appeal totheory was a crucial step to the professionalization of the field. WithLado, and with the students and colleagues he gathered (in the 1950s)at Michigan, like Harris and Palmer the language testing professionhad taken a major first step (Spolsky, 1995, p. 150). And he urgesus to remember our pioneers, such as Lado: Our field has beenremarkably ahistorical: we have too often satisfied ourselves withpatricidal fury on a named or unnamed predecessor before launching

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  • 330 Textbook trends in teaching language testing

    ourselves into our own rediscovery of a slightly circular wheel of ourown (Spolsky, 1995, p. 352). No later publication comes near thebreadth of Lado (1961), until perhaps Fulcher and Davidson (2007).What Lado was keenly aware of was that language teachers needto know about language as well as about language testing. Ladossuccessors have been less concerned with providing knowledge aboutlanguage, perhaps because in the last half century applied linguisticshas been more widely available. Here is part of Lados commentary:As language yields its secrets to linguistic analysis, lexicographicstudy, and quantitative research, it is more and more feasible to definespecifically the task of learning a foreign language. As we identifymore precisely the elements and patterns to be acquired by the speak-ers of a language in learning another, we will be able to test more pre-cisely the progress made b