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ISBN: 9780776606576-09

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Tests as Power Tools: Looking Back, Looking Forward

From: Language Testing Reconsidered

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In this chapter I discuss current uses of language tests in education and society, arguing that tests have become primary tools used by policy makers to resolve and reform educational, political, and social problems. Specifically, I address two areas where this is happening: (1) in the realm of education, through the introduction of the No Child Left Behind tests in the USA, intended to reform education and resolve low school achievements; and (2) in the realm of society, through the increasing use of language tests for granting citizenship and thus, using tests to settle the complex set of issues related to migration. Relying on empirical research, I point to the length of time it takes immigrants to achieve academic language proficiency in schools and the continued role of L1; I argue that the use of such tests is unjust, unethical, and discriminatory and leads to marginalization and expulsion of people, suppression of diversity, and forced monolingualism. Further, these tests do not accurately represent current understanding of the language constructs of immigrants, who continue to negotiate and make meaning multilingually. I end the chapter with a call for the creation of language tests that are both in line with broader and more realistic language constructs, incorporate multilingualism, and multimodal realities, and also address the misuses of tests in order to lead to inclusion, participation, and recognition, especially given the ramifications of tests in creating de facto language policies.

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Elana Shohamy

Elana Shohamy is Professor of Language Education, School of Education, Tel-Aviv University. Her research focus on political and educational dimensions of language tests and topics related to language policy in multilingual societies. Among her published books are: The Power of Tests: Critical Perspective of the Use of Language Tests (Longman, 2001), and Language Policy: Hidden Agendas and New Approaches (Taylor & Francis Group, 2006).