The Harm of (English) Language Testing

Richard Smith ELT

This is a written version of my argument for the motion ‘Language Testing Does More Harm Than Good’ at this year’s IATEFL Conference ELTJ debate (April 2015). Lizzie Pinard’s blog has a good summary of the debate as it actually transpired. Naturally, the following post is quite one-sided and – hopefully – provocative … 

You only need to look through the copy of EL Gazette included in the conference bag, and compare this with copies of the newspaper five years ago, to get a vivid impression of how dominant large-scale English language testing is becoming in many contexts worldwide — the newspaper is full of advertisements for tests, and materials and courses preparing for them. Whereas there’s been a lot of critique in ELT of inappropriately exported methods and published materials, and the ‘critical turn’ has resulted in some change, there’s been little or no such targeting of large-scale, standardized language tests. There seems to be, though, an increasing sense of frustration about such tests which has…

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