Exploring standards in language assessment at AALA

by Guest Blogger, 07 February 2019
Group of Cambridge English staff at the Asian Association of Language Assessment

Iris Bi of Cambridge Assessment English presents insights from the Asian Association of Language Assessment conference in China, which featured several Cambridge English representatives.

With its hub office in Beijing, Cambridge Assessment English’s East Asia team is led by Min Qu and comprised of 17 dedicated professionals striving to make the Cambridge Approach more accessible by continuing to flourish in this ever-competitive industry.

In order to achieve that objective, we – as representatives of Cambridge Assessment English – have sponsored and attended numerous prestigious academic conferences across the region. On October 18th, the 5th Asian Association of Language Assessment (AALA) was held in Shanghai, the theme of which is, “Standards in Language Assessment”. More than 300 researchers, scholars and doctoral students from 19 countries gathered to share their expertise and insights. Among them, five distinguished guests from Cambridge Assessment English: Dr. Hanan Khalifa, our Director of Education Transformation and Alliances, Ms. Qu Min, our Director of East Asia, Mr. Mark Johnston, our Chief Operating Officer, Dr. Nick Saville, our Director of Research and Thought Leadership, and Mr. Ning, our Regional Operations Head, were invited.

On the first day afternoon, Dr. Hanan Khalifa delivered a workshop entitled “Assessing Reading: Frameworks, Models, Checklists & Top Tips” where Dr. Khalifa guided more than 40 scholars, teachers and doctoral students through in-depth discussions on how to design fair and effective reading tests from three dimensions: learners, test design and test feedback. By analysing her own cognitive reading processing model – which she developed alongside her supervisor Cyril Weir – Dr. Khalifa helped participants deepen their understanding of the physical and mental characteristics of different types of test takers. This informative and intriguing workshop was well received among participants. Many students who read Dr. Khalifa before came to take photos with her at the end of the session.

The next morning Dr. Nick Saville delivered his keynote speech, entitled "Setting Standards for Language Learning and Assessment - A Multilingual Perspective". Standard setting is a far from easy task to tackle, and Dr. Saville believes that in the field of language education, “standards and standardisation” carries various meanings. Only by fully understanding the different meanings of standards in certain contexts can key stakeholders continue along the right track towards their educational objectives so as to meet the social needs.

In this presentation Dr. Saville analysed a variety of challenges that possible key stakeholders (policy makers, test designers, test implementers etc.) might face by perceiving standards from three perspectives: standard language, standards of education, and professional standards. Meanwhile, he emphasised the importance of sustaining diversity in standards setting. How to strike a balance between multilingualism and assessment will be an issue that every key stakeholder will need to ponder over when making key decisions.

Dr. Saville concluded that these three kinds of standards are interrelated and inseparable. When setting these standards it is vital to fully consider the specific context in which language learning and assessment takes place, to guarantee that the standards and assessments put forward will achieve a positive impact. An incredibly thought-provoking speech indeed. In this modern world of diverse language contexts, where so many of us will often use more than one language throughout our day, we should always reflect on what has been done, consider what has been taken for granted in our field, and update our assessments and standards to meet changing needs.

On October 20th, AALA came to a close with a special tribute to Cyril Weir, one of the most respected linguists in the assessment industry, who had been blazing a trail in the research field of language assessment, and had countless works to his credit. The conference as a whole was infused with incredible passion, and innovative ideas. It not only provided an excellent opportunity for scholars to showcase the latest research in the field, but also laid the foundation for a valuable platform upon which exchanges and cooperation among experts around the world can continue to thrive, which will certainly promote the continuous development and progress of the Asian language testing industry.

Having undergone exceptional economic growth and social development in recent decades, Asia is catching up rapidly on their education reformation and evolvement which makes the continent full of aspirations and possibilities. Admittedly challenges still remain, but the people here are pressing hard to make every step along the journey a positive one. As an empathetic and inspiring expert, Cambridge Assessment English will continue to strive to reach every learner, to help them expand their horizons, and pursue their dreams with language and education.


Iris Bi
Assessment Services Manager for East Asia

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