This study investigates KFL (Korean as a Foreign Language) students’ perceptions of language assessment in three aspects: importance of assessment; importance of feedback; and assessment categories. Assessment is an integral part of formal language instruction and yet there is often a gap between teachers’ and students’ perceptions on assessment in the context of second language learning and teaching, with the former concerning aspects that support students’ learning while the latter addresses more immediate functions such as grades. Such a gap or mismatch in perceptions results in unfavourable feedback from both students and the teacher, such as students’ unsatisfactory course evaluation and difficulties teachers may encounter when planning assessment. In general, teachers plan and implement teaching programs and then use various strategies to assess learners according to their requirements such as students' achievement, instructional needs and curriculum goals. The teacher and the class then move on, leaving unsuccessful students to achieve at a lower level in terms of formal assessment outcomes. However, given recent emerging trends in assessment practices that facilitate learner autonomy, it is worth identifying and understanding some basic views on assessment held by language students in a tertiary context to improve teaching and assessment practices. An investigation of this nature is valuable for both program and course convenors who are responsible for the curriculum, program evaluation and for making informed decisions based on results.
Typically there are two factors which justify the assessment of students’ language learning (Frank, 2012). The first reason is for the improvement in students’ knowledge and skills and their learning, as well as the relevant language programs. The other reason is to provide evidence of student achievement to internal and external authorities. Typical types of L2 assessment include tests, open-ended questions, written compositions, oral presentations, projects, portfolios, performance tasks and essays. The question that guides the present study is how KFL students perceive the function of assessment, teachers’ feedback and categories or aspects to include in their language assessment. When it comes to assessment, teachers usually know what they want their students to learn, and subsequently about when, how often and how to assess. However, the question of ‘why’ rarely arises in the minds of teachers, who rarely seem to consider the question of what students may have in mind and why they perceive it that way. Investigating why, what and how students see themselves in relation to assessment is worthwhile. It can help ensure that the skills and knowledge of students are assessed for meaningful reasons and purposes as intended, and it could provide insights into new possibilities for different ways and aspects to assess students. To that end, this study reports on a small scale survey which set out to investigate opinions on the importance of assessment, feedback and preferences of assessment categories. The study then discusses the implications of the results in detail, focusing on emerging trends of individualised assessment1) and how such new types of assessment can be utilised in Korean as a foreign or second language classrooms.
1)It is termed as ‘personal-response assessments’ in Brown and Hudson (1998) who discuss personal and individualised assessments such as portfolio, research project and self-assessments. These assessments allow each student’s responses to be different.
There are a number of studies which have examined L2 assessment issues(Brown and Hudson, 1998; Chappuis and Stiggins, 2002; Bachman, 2004;Ingram, 2005; Cummins and Davesne, 2009; Phakiti and Roever, 2011; Lynch, 2012; Stoynoff, 2012; Brown, 2013; Ketabi and Ketabi, 2014, to name a few). Throughout these studies, it is generally accepted that assessment provides diagnostic feedback on student’s knowledge and performance on language tasks, evaluates the student’s progress and needs and contributes to their L2 learning. Bachman (2004: 6-7) broadly defines assessment as “a process of collecting information about something that we are interested in, according to procedures that are systematic and substantially grounded”, and further notes that the result of such an assessment procedure can be a score, written or verbal description.
In language education, assessment and its associated feedback are essential not just as a means to provide a measure of their marks and progress but more importantly as a means to engage them with their active language learning. Chappuis and Stiggins (2002: 40-42) argues for an underlying approach in which “assessment for learning” is valued rather than an “assessment of learning” approach, suggesting that involving students in the process of classroom assessment and focusing on increasing their learning can motivate students rather than merely measuring them. As three key components of assessment for learning, they discuss ‘student-involved assessment’, ‘effective teacher feedback’, and ‘the skills of self-assessment'. By assessing students’ knowledge of the language and their ability to use it they have been taught, teachers or assessors assume that the results will give them information about whether the goals and standards of the language course are being met. Yet we as teachers and as assessors know that there is often a gap between the goals and standards of education set for them, and their understanding of the subject matter and their ability demonstrated or performed in the assessment tasks.
Ingram (2005), pointing out the problem of the gap between language tests and real-life language experience, argues that language testing needs more authenticity and suggests ways to develop tests to measure the learners’ ability to use the language in real-life situations. One such way advocated by Ingram is to utilise ‘performance-based’ assessments where students are required to carry out real-life and authentic tasks in real-life situations using authentic language in a face-to-face conversation or online.
Through the assessment and evaluation process, teachers are led to ask themselves whether they have taught what they think they have taught, whether students have learnt what they are supposed to have learnt and whether there is any way to assess more appropriately in a way which promotes more effective learning. Stoynoff (2012: 529), reviewing the developments of classroom-based assessment over the last decade, evaluates that a new perspective towards learning and assessment has emerged and further emphasises the role of teachers in changing professional practice.
In the meantime, Brown and Hudson (1998: 658-667) explore the advantages and disadvantages of three different categories of language assessment: (a) selected-response assessments (eg. true-false, matching, and multiple-choice); (b) constructed-response assessments (eg. fill-in, short-answer, and performance); and (c) personal-response assessments (eg. conference, portfolio, and self- or peer assessments). Among these it is worth noting personal-response assessments, which provide personal or individualized assessment where each student’s responses are allowed to be different.
Ketabi and Ketabi (2014), who classify assessments according to their outcomes as formal vs informal, summative vs formative and explicit vs implicit, discuss positive effects of classroom and formative assessment. They argue that classroom-based assessment is used by teachers not only to obtain information about students’ L2 learning and progress but also to contribute to their students’ L2 learning.
Cummins and Davesne (2009), who explore ways and effectiveness of using electronic portfolios’ qualitative assessment as a complementary tool, suggest ways of connecting electronic portfolios to language teaching and learning. They explain that in e-portfolios language learners collect, select and reflect a variety of media files as evidence to demonstrate how well they have met a goal and highlights its advantage as digital portfolios such as interactivity, a wide variety of artifacts and easiness of organisation. In the meantime, Brown (2013), pointing out that current assessment practices are based on monolingual native speaker benchmarks, argues that a multi-competence benchmark is required for language assessment in contexts where individual learners speak multiple languages.
In reality, however, these ideal thoughts of assessment are often tempered by various internal and external factors such as perceptions of assessment, time constraints, rigid curriculum, workload, institutional assessment policy or societal/ecological factors. Worldwide trends and local contexts have also shaped language assessment practices and are reflected in them, as pointed out by Phakiti & Roever (2011), where they suggest that globalisation in the form of, for example, migration of skilled workforces and the increased mobility of tertiary students, has had impact on the language testing tradition in Australia and New Zealand. As argued by Lynch (2012: 603), a great deal of research in language testing has developed the technical aspects of measuring language ability but researchers still need to determine which aspects of individual language ability can and should be measured. There are many ways to help students learn more effectively and if assessment is to be the engine which drives student learning, one aspect that researchers should not underestimate or disregard is the investigation of students’ views on assessment.
Data was gathered economically by using questionnaires which contain five questions on assessment: the importance of assessment, where the students were asked to indicate how important assessment is to them and why; the importance of feedback, where they were asked to indicate how important teachers’ feedback is to them and why; and assessment categories, where they were asked to indicate what aspects of language study should be assessed. The questions used were a combination of both multiple-choice answers with a five-point scale and open-ended answers in which the respondents should write their reasons or could offer an alternative.
The survey questionnaire was distributed to and collected (April - May 2014) from students who have been studying Korean as a Foreign Language for three to five semesters at an Australian university in Sydney. Completed questionnaires were collected from 71 students, of whom 51 were second year students and 20 were third year students. All of them were in their twenties and come from various ethnic backgrounds, with Chinese background forming a relatively larger proportion. The answers have been analysed using both quantitative and qualitative methods.
The first investigation was to examine the importance of assessment in students’ L2 (ie. Korean) learning as perceived by the students themselves. The students were asked to rate the importance of assessment by using the five-point scale (very important, important, not so important, not important at all, and don’t know). As shown in the Table 1 below, most of the students (95.8%) agreed that assessment is very important (38.0%) or important (57.8%) in their language learning. Those who were negative about assessment were very minimal and ignorable.