Designing Indicators for a Placement Test: Drawbacks and Affordances

Gabriel Brito Amorim


One of the greatest challenges when it comes to assessment is the lack of clarity in the objectives or, to make it worse, the absence of objectives whatsoever for what results the curriculum, course, or the test instrument wishes to achieve. According to Raupp and Reichle (2003), this kind of information usually exists as expectations pushing the examiner to transform expectations, general goals or poorly stated objectives into measurable objectives. Raupp and Reichle (2003) emphasize that very precise indicators need to be written or selected to measure whether or not the course/curriculum objectives proposed were achieved. However, this job becomes rather challenging when objectives are not clearly stated or are too vague. Indicators, then, ideally, resonate curricular goals, teaching methodologies, and testing. If one of these components is not well calibrated or is dissonant with the others, the whole assessment process is jeopardized (CEFRL, 2007). Indicators for placement testing, then, need to be carefully written or selected so that they can reflect an intended proficiency level as well as the school’s curricular goals, teaching methodologies, and testing procedures (Brown, 2004; Richards, 2009). At the Federal University of Espírito Santo’s Language Center (CL), the discontentment of instructors and coordination staff with the lack of reliability, validity and practicality with the CL’s placement test motivated debates and work on the refinement of the indicators used for the referred exam. Through a literature review and with a practical example from a language center in Brazil, this paper addresses how teachers/practitioners can make informed decisions to write or select their own indicators for placement testing and, therefore, monitor the progress of their students and/or the success or pitfalls of their classes/programs/curricula and plan for possible welcome changes.

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