The Washback Effect of the English National Examination (ENE) on English Teachers' Classroom Teaching and Students' Learning

By Sukyadi, Didi; Mardiani, Ridha | K@ta, June 2011 | Go to article overview

The Washback Effect of the English National Examination (ENE) on English Teachers' Classroom Teaching and Students' Learning


Sukyadi, Didi, Mardiani, Ridha, K@ta


Abstract: Since 2005, Indonesia has administered the National Examination (NE), from which the result is used as a basis to decide the students' exit from secondary schools. As a high stake testing, the NE has caused various washback effects, both positive and negative. Consequently, the existence of the NE has been accompanied by heated debates and controversies. The pros believe that the NE may improve secondary education standards, while the cons argue that the NE will create injustice and unnecessary anxiety among the students. However, both the pros and cons base their arguments on common sense not supported by a sound reasoning. The present study tries to explore the washback effects of the English National Examination (ENE) in Indonesian secondary education context, involving three Secondary Schools categorized based on their NE achievement. The results of the study indicate that English teachers and students from the schools involved have different perceptions on the ENE. The English National Examination has an influential impact on teachers' teaching in the aspect of: activity/time arrangement, teaching materials, teaching contents, teaching methods, teaching strategies, ways of assessing, and on the feelings and attitudes of the students. The ENE also affects the students' learning in the classroom in which teachers mainly teach to test, practice the test and develop test-taking strategies. The dimensions of the washback effect of the ENE on both English teachers and students are negative and positive, strong, specific and for a short period time.

Key words: washback, English National Examination, curriculum, teaching materials, teaching methods, classroom teaching, practice the test, teaching to test, test taking strategies

Based on experiences, the implementation of the National Examination (NE) in one country will cause some impacts on its participants. In testing terminology, the impacts are recognized as washback effects. Washback is seen as the influence of testing on teaching and learning (e.g. Hughes, 1989; Alderson & Wall, 1993; McNamara, 2000; Brown, 2004; Gates, 1995; Cheng & Curtis, 2004; Cheng, 2005; Fulcher & Davidson, 2007). In addition, it can be defined as the effects of language tests on micro-level of language teaching and learning, i.e. inside the classroom (Bachman & Palmer, 1996; Bailey, 1996; Hamp-Lyons as cited in Hawkey, 2006; McNamara, 2000). Brown (2005) highlights that "washback is the degree to which a test affects the curriculum that is related to it" (p. 242). Shohamy (as cited in Bailey, 1999) summarizes four key definitions that are useful in understanding the washback concept: 1) Washback effect refers to the impact that tests have on teaching and learning; 2) Measurement driven instruction refers to the notion that tests should drive learning; 3) Curriculum alignment focuses on the connection between testing and the teaching syllabus; and 4) Systemic validity implies the integration of tests into the educational system and the need to demonstrate that the introduction of test can improve learning. Tests can also have effect beyond the classroom. The wider effects of tests on the community as a whole, including the school, is referred to as test impact (McNamara, 2000).

Watanabe as cited in Cheng & Watanabe (2004) conceptualizes washback as having the following dimensions:

a) Specificity: washback may be general or specific. General washback means a type of effect that may be produced by any test; specific washback refers to a type of washback that relates to only specific aspect of a test or one specific test type.

b) Intensity: washback may be strong or weak. If the test has a strong effect, then it will determine everything that happens in the classroom, and will lead all teachers in the same way toward exams. On the other hand, if a test has a weak effect, then it will affect only a part of the classroom events, or only some teachers and students, but not others. …

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