Issues in assessing ESL students
Wednesday, April 09, 2014
Testing styles in the students' home countries are different than those in the U.S. Often the curriculum overseas will focus on many different subjects; material is usually learned by rote memorization. Students may not be familiar with multiple-choice tests or essay tests that include analysis and synthesis.
Oral exams — common in some courses — may present a challenge to both students and instructors. Wait time after the question may be longer than expected for Asian students, who are showing respect, while Saudi students may give a quick answer, which is a sign of strength.
Another problem is "helping" or "sharing." In countless countries — Saudi Arabia,
All material is culturally loaded. For example, what are the biases in the following sample test question?
Write a three-paragraph essay using the following prompt: If you were going out west in a Conestoga wagon, what would your life be like?
Obviously, the a priori knowledge here is an understanding of the westward expansion in American history.
Current research into "schema theory" shows that students interact positively with material whose content is familiar even though the language may not be. A familiar frame of reference is vital to comprehension.
The following passage is from a textbook and is used to illustrate a "scornful" tone. What are the cultural considerations? Would this be a good passage to use for a reading test?
Spam — that slimy canned pork product — is surprisingly still around after more than 50 years. Despite its high fat content (more than three-and-a-half teaspoons per two-ounce serving) and high calorie count (171 calories per serving), more than 4 billion cans have been sold since 1937.
Spam's greasy, rubbery consistency and salty flavor have made it the butt of many jokes — such as David Letterman's suggestion of Spam-on-a-rope for people who want to eat and shower at the same time.
International students may not be familiar with the Spam product, especially those from Islamic countries, and the reference to David Letterman may not be clear.
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