2-5 June, University of Cyprus, Nicosia
The Departments of English Studies and Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies of the University of Cyprus and the Language Centre of the Cyprus University of Technology jointly organised their 1st International Conference on Language Testing and Assessment.
The Conference was dedicated to the memory of Pavlos Pavlou, who was Associate Professor at the Department of English Studies and who passed away, a year ago, at the age of 45.
The theme of the Conference was: Language Testing and Assessment round the Globe: Achievements and Experiences and was addressed to scholars, teacher trainers, teachers, postgraduate students, examination providers, employers and policy-makers and anyone else seeking a better understanding of international and national language testing and assessment practices.
The Conference was officially opened on Friday evening with welcome speeches from the Vice Rector Prof. Athanasios Gagatsis, Assistant Professor Salomi Papadima-Sophocleous, the Dean of the School of Humanities Prof. Andreas Papapavlou, the Chair of the Department of English Studies Associate Professor Kleanthes Grohman, Associate Professor Marilena Karyolemou from the Department of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies and Lecturer Dr Dina Tsagari from the Department of English Studies.
Features of the Conference
The Conference featured:
• Four pre-conference workshops
• Five Plenary sessions
• Concurrent presentations
• A special ceremony dedicated to the memory of Pavlos Pavlou, in the presence of the whole Pavlou family
• A Book and Resource exhibition
• A poster presentation
• The Conference dinner, where delegates indulged in traditional Cypriot food
• Coffee and lunch breaks
• A tour of Nicosia
Five keynote speakers attracted the attention of the audience and namely:
1. Prof. John de Jong (Vrei University of Amsterdam, Pearson Assessment)
2. Prof. Barry O’ Sullivan (Roehampton University, UK)
3. Prof. Bessie Dendrinos (University of Athens, Greece)
4. Prof. Elana Shohamy (Tel Aviv University, Israel)
5. Dr Salomi Papadima-Sophocleous (Cyprus University of Technology)
John de Jong discussed the misunderstandings, misinterpretations and misuses of the Common European Framework which thwart the potential beneficial effects of the CEF on language learning, teaching and assessment. “Language testing requires a structural model and a measurement model.
The structural model deals with the definition of the construct, i.e., what language ability is.
As all people use language, many think they know what language is and underestimate the difficulty of defining the construct.
A measurement model, on the other hand, defines how differences in language ability relate to differences in performing language tasks.
It comes with formulas and coefficients which will put many people off and make them throw up their hands in despair when they hear about probability, reliability, validity and statistics.
Yet they deal quite comfortably – because unknowingly – with these principles in their daily private lives.”
Barry O’ Sullivan dealt with the assessment of spoken English. He reviewed the history of speaking assessment from the original Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) which was launched in 1913 to current practices of direct and indirect testing.
O’ Sullivan presented an alternative approach to the testing of speaking based on a model of validation proposed by him and Prof. Weir (2011) which takes into consideration the central elements of any test: the test taker, the test task and the scoring system.
The tests that result from this approach are more likely to reflect the true underlying speaking ability than the more traditional formats currently in use.
Bessie Dendrinos argued in favour of locally-controlled or ‘glocal’ exam systems for the certification of foreign language proficiency.
She said that international exam systems are monolingual-monocultural enterprises, interested in symbolic and material profit, and that they are unavoidably focused on testing linguistic competence rather than literacy levels using the target language.
She referred to the KPG exams, which is the only exam system for the certification of language proficiency that is concerned with test-takers’ interlingual and intercultural performance.
The development of the KPG, has facilitated the birth of a Greek language testing metalanguage, it has turned the attention of the exam development team away from the language as a structural system and has required them to concentrate on the use and the users of language –on their experiences, literacies and needs.
Moreover, it has instigated extensive research into various testing practices and critical analysis into the worlds represented in test texts and into their ideological underpinnings.
Elana Shohamy advocates the expansion of the construct in language testing to include bi/multi dialects, bi/multilingualism, bi/multiliteracy and bi/multi modality.
“Some language varieties and dialects are considered to be less prestigious in education and society than others.
This trend has in fact been expanding to many contexts: oral vs. written, home varieties vs. school and academia, standard vs. non-standard.
Some are manifested within the same languages and others among different languages. The situation, as demonstrated in current research, points to students’ failures when they are forced to function in different varieties than those which they are more familiar with.
It is within this reality that tests play central roles in perpetuating the prestigious varieties and fighting against the bottom up trends of broader recognition of dialects and language varieties.
Thus, while the view of a standard language has been widely critiqued bringing about more open possibilities of language borders which are more loose and fluid, language tests have been lagging behind, being the last bastion that is still using these old views of language.
Language tests support the exclusive use of the prestigious, standardized, correct language and highly valued varieties, those of the elites.”
Shohamy proposes alternative ways for making tests more inclusive, more just and with higher level of fairness which better reflect language realities in a variety of contexts.
Salomi Papadima-Sophocleous gave an overview of the development of language assessment and testing in government schools in Cyprus, dating back to the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960, in relation to the development of language assessment and testing in general in the last 50 years, and identified important issues and challenges.
The overview inevitably took into consideration the British Colonial Era (1878-1960) and the marks it had left in the education system of the island.
Sophocleous presented the Pancyprian examinations and other examinations offered by the Ministry of Education and Culture of Cyprus for various government and non-government services, along with suggestions for improving testing and assessment methods and practices.