Using Standardized Test Unconventionally: An Adapted Reading Assessment

By Liu, Ping; Parker, Richerd et al. | Reading Improvement, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Using Standardized Test Unconventionally: An Adapted Reading Assessment


Liu, Ping, Parker, Richerd, Lara, Rafael, Reading Improvement


The appropriateness of standardized, selection-type reading tests have been challenged, especially for students learning English as a Second Language (ESL). This study investigated the use of a multi-step Test Item Post-Conference (TIPC) procedure with thirty ESL students. The procedure results in an "adjustment" of standardized multiple choice test scores. Acceptable interrater reliability of the TIPC procedure was obtained. Strong alternate form reliability of the TIPC scores was also obtained, compared to low alternate form scores obtained for the original (pre-adjustment) test scores. The procedure proved relatively efficient and the results were we l-received by the participating ESL teachers. Detailed advantages and disadvantages of the TICP are discussed.

Despite widespread criticism of its use (Cohen, 1988; Cummins, 1984, 1989; Freeman & Freeman, 1992; Neill 8,: Medina, 1989; Rothman, 1990; Scarcella, 1990; Valencia & Pearson, 1987), standardized testing is seen by some constituencies as both useful and necessary (Allerson & Grabe, 1986; Fart & Beck, 1991). In fact, the use of standardized tests is increasing (Pikulski, 1990). Standardized testing intersects the field of ESL/Bilingual education at two points. First, ESL professional, need to prepare students for standardized testing; for many it is a truly foreign experience (Deyhle, 1987). Second, ESL professionals need to ensure that ESL students' standardized testing provides reliable and valid information on students' abilities (Crawford, 1993; Scarcella, 1990). This entails scrutinizing the reliability and validity of test scores, and the appropriateness of the testing format for culturally and linguistically distinct populations (Cohen, 1988). This second need is the focus of the present study.

Standardized test scores are end products of a complex process. Educators assume that the scores are good indicators about a common process across students. But the processes of text understanding and test-taking may not be common to all students. These processes may differ greatly because of large cultural and linguistic differences (Crawford, 1993; Scarcella, 1990). Where these differences are great, the test score alone is an inadequate indicator of the underlying process of reading with understanding. For these students, educators need additional information to meaningfully interpret test scores (Cohen, 1988). This additional information may come from a variety of other classroom tasks and observations (e.g. portfolio assessment), or it may be derived directly from a closer scrutiny of performance on the standardized test (Langer, 1987; Farr & Beck, 1991; Valencia & Pearson, 1987). Our study takes the latter approach.

One missing element in interpreting standardized reading test scores for ESL students is the role which English language fluency may play. Reading performance cannot be isolated from language competency; particular receptive and expressive language capabilities are relied both on in reading and in responding to the test task. Although listening/speaking and reading/writing are separately observable tasks, they are also windows into a more diffuse language competency (Widdowson, 1978). For ESL students with limited English proficiency, it is especially important that reading assessment permits educators to interpret reading competency in light of English language competencies.

The most popular standardized testing format is multiple-choice selection, wherein students read and select best responses from distractors (Hill & Parry, 1992). Among the assumptions made by this format are: that students have read and are responding to the text, that students can read and understand all options, that students have a common cognitive schema for all options (a common cultural experience which indicates their relative relevance), and that students have common strategies or facilities for coping with this testing format. …

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