According to Brown, there are five essential principles for assessment: practicality, authenticity, validity, reliability, and washback. (Brown, 2010, p.p. 25-51).
First and foremost, practicality refers to the logistical, down-to-earth, administrative issues involved in making, giving and scoring an assessment instrument. (Brown, 2010, p.26) In regard to practicality, at least we should think about time, place, people, equipment, cost, scoring and giving feedback. We need to ask ourselves a series of questions, like how long the test will last, where the test will be held, how many human recourses is needed, whether the test needs extra equipment (OHP, sound system, etc.), how much it will cost, how to evaluate students’ performance, how long and how much students can get feedback.
Second, Brown maintained an authentic test should contain language that is as natural as possible and have items that are contextualized rather than isolated (Brown, 2010, p.36). To make a test authentic, first, we can use a story line, situation or episode as the thematic organization and the knowledge that we assess is contextualized in such a meaningful context, enabling students to find the topic and content engaging and interesting. Moreover, the language in the test should be natural and close to the real life. Last but not least, the skills or the situations that students need to solve the problems should be practical. In other words, they will experience the same circumstance in the real world, either academically or professionally.
Thirdly, Brown stated that a valid test should measure what it proposes to measure (Brown, 2004, p.30). A test is criterion-related validity if it has demonstrated its effectiveness in predicting criterion or indicators of a construct. For example, doing well in the Listening section in the TOEFL test can predict that the test taker are ready for listening to academic lectures as university students encounter in everyday academic life. Moreover, the construct validity is to examine whether a test can reflect the true theoretical meaning of a concept. Language tests should be correlated to the theories in the SLA domain. Furthermore, the test should relate to the teaching objectives or the teaching content. Last but not least, the face validity requires clear direction, logical organization and appropriate time management, enabling students to find the test familiar with.
Fourth, a reliable test should ensure students could conduct consistent performance among several testing administrations. On the one hand, the internal factors, like the physical or psychological condition of the student, can decide whether s/he can perform normally. On the other hand, the external factors, like the time we choose, the place where the test is held, and the quality of the test paper and equipment should be under control.
Last but not least, the impact of a test should be a stimulating factor in teaching and learning. Through feedback, students can know what their strengths and shortcomings are and how to make improvement. Teachers can give students guidance and assistance to make sure students are on the right track, hence making it possible for teachers to know students’ needs better and get the focus for the future teaching.
Brown, H. D. (2010). Language assessment: Principles and classroom practices. New York: Pearson Education.