Test Design

Testing proficiency in the English language involves serious consideration of the summative and formative processes with aims of realizing positive gains and encouraging individual improvement in the English language. Language is one of the greatest pillars of communication since it integrates reading skills and listening. Through language, people can engage in communication and sharing of information. In Saudi Arabia, English is considered a second language. However, its popularity in the academic environment makes it vital in acquiring greater academic and technical knowledge, engaging in international relations and expanding communication throughout the country. English language has become important among scholars. Proficiency of English is deemed as proficient after six years of English study and use. According to Carroll (1991), testing proficiency in the English language requires significant emphasis on the language`s functionality, accuracy and applicability in a practical environment. One of the popular proficiency tests is in reading capability. Students have to take reading tests within different levels of difficulty. Reading skills are affected by accent and interaction between the teacher and the student (Carroll, 1991).
The following test focuses on developing a reading test in English to evaluate reading proficiencies among Saudi students. This test aims at identifying some reading challenges among Saudi`s high school students in order to generate designs usable in transforming proficiency among students. The test design takes two different approaches with the first being aimed at evaluating students` proficiency in language and the second part evaluating the students` ability to differentiate between different vowels and consonants and help in determining each student`s reading expertise. In addition, the test is meant to evaluate students` comprehension based on the specific words and names included in the test. The test seeks to identify some of the strengths and weaknesses among high schools students enrolled in English language lessons.
Test Preparation
Poor assessment criteria can affect test credibility (Lancaster, 2004). To enhance consistency and authenticity, the test aims at selecting random students to participate in the study. One of the benefits of using random techniques is eliminating biasness and ensuring that the data is inclusive and valid. Based on the test population, the students will be categorized under high and low achievers. Sampling will be based on past performances and from each group five students will be randomly selected to participate in the test. Application of the English language in a practical setting is one of the main goals with the test. The exam is therefore meant to assess students` proficiency and application of the language in a practical setting. The design process was quite challenging due to the fact the students are ESL learners and it required great evaluation of test questions that fit their level of competence and those within the students` level of education. Contrary to tests meant for English speakers, ESL students require simplified, but tactfully designed questions to assess level of proficiency. In addition, maintaining credibility, communicativeness, innovation, or creativity required the use of direct-testing techniques. Credibility is the aspect of being believed as true, while communicativeness is the aspect of imparting the intended message to the students. Innovation is the aspect of generating a new approach to testing reading and writing skills, while creativity is the process of generating new and imaginative ideas.
Rationale of Study
The test is meant to assess students` knowledge and proficiency in the English language. Through the tests, the students are expected to be creative, innovative and critical thinkers in order to demonstrate their English language and communications skills. High schools students are expected to be proficient and critical thinkers in the English language and the test aims at ensuring that students demonstrate their reading and comprehension skills in order to be help the teacher understand their weaknesses and help them improve (North, 2000). Through the comprehension questions, the test aims at measuring students` writing skills. The test is therefore very important since it evaluates a students` level of proficiency and offers the instructor an opportunity to assess the skills of the students. In addition, the study is meant to illustrate how constructiveness can be identified in a study and the practicality of engaging students in regular tests to determine their competence levels.
The study questions are meant to measure students` proficiency and competence in the English language. Similarly, the test is meant to test literary skills and determine whether the students are improving their skills, or if there are other hindrances involved. The questions are meant to test students` comprehension capacity and the ability to identify specific words to be used in a sentence. This means that not only is the test meant to evaluate a student`s ability to answer questions, but also to engage in effective communication. Similarly, the test will measure students` ability to understand and adhere to test instructions.
Test results are essential in evaluating the proficiency of specific learning groups from Saudi Arabia. Upon completion of the study, the tests can be reproduced and modified to test other students . In addition, the test results are meant to measure the students` abilities and the competence of the English language. The results of students` performance can therefore be used to determine future outcomes and are therefore reflective. Teachers will use the proficiency levels demonstrated by the students after the test to enhance the students` reading and writing skills.
The study has to be practical in order to utilize the available resources against the required resources. According to Brown (2010), practicality in any test is defined as the most logical administrative issue involved in issuing and scoring an assessment instrument. In addition to the practicality of the test, it is meant to make an impact on the students and teachers. The teachers will evaluate students` performance and the students will have an opportunity of assessing their proficiency in the reading skills. Similarly, the test will evaluate and assess the students` levels of awareness and competence in reading and writing, hence identifying the students` weaknesses and strengths. The test is also authentic in that its questions have not been used in other tests. Unlike other studies where the test subjects are required to participate in issues beyond their scope, the study aims at assessing students` performance within their scope. In addition to the authenticity of the test, the study is also interactive. The comprehension test is meant to evaluate the students` ability to learn how to record and process information learned in the English syllabus.
One of the objectives was evaluate students` ability to read, comprehend and answer questions as expected. The students were expected to give accurate and correct answers to secure the relevant scores which required the .the students to read and comprehend information sufficiently well to provide correct responses. In addition, the students were meant to demonstrate their writing skills. The other test objective was adherence to test instructions. For example, if the test instructions required students to select one word from a list and the student gave two words, the students would be denied marks irrespective of whether one of the selected words was the correct answer.
There were significant variations in the students` performances based on the students` competence and proficiency levels. Despite the fact that there was moderation of the marking criteria to avoid biasness and undue allocation of marks to the students, the top achievers performed very well compared to the low achievers. There were some problems identified in the test study and this helped in identifying strengths, challenges and weaknesses of the test design.
Challenges and strengths
Most of the students followed the test instructions except one examinee who selected more than one answer in four different questions. The other strength was in the consistency of the test results. Most students were conversant with grammar rules and abided by the functional writing concepts. In addition, the test demonstrated a higher level of competence with prolonged teaching durations. The more the students were taught, the better they mastered the English language. This means that at the end of the English lessons, most students will have attained proficiency and acquire the capability of applying the language in a practical setting. Based on the test results and compliance level with test instructions, the test instructions were clear and coherent. In addition to the coherence, the test instructions were within the understanding of the students. When test instructions are clear and coherent, students tend to be consistent and coherent. Despite the variations in test results according to proficiency levels of the students, the questions were fair and moderate. The testing procedure was very efficient, making the entire process successful and viable for other testing operations.
Despite the test`s success, some weaknesses were observed. One of the weaknesses was in assessing the reading proficiency of students. Although the test used comprehension to test reading capacities of students, there was limited time to test the actual reading capability of the students. The students required a different test approach to test their reading skills and evaluate whether there were effects of Saudi`s accents in the English language. In addition, the time was limited. This was demonstrated by the fact that only one student attempted all the questions. In most answer sheets, students were either leaving blank spaces, or failing to attempt the last questions due to time constraint. A discussion held after the test affirmed to this weakness. Most students performed well in the first questions but fared poorly towards the end. According to the students, they lost focus when they realized they were running out of time, leading to inaccurate answers. Despite the time limits, the test was fair and unbiased. There was concern over the length of the comprehension essay. Most students claimed that the essay consumed most of their time and was supposed to be shorter. However, since the main objective of the test was to evaluate the student`s reading capability, the length of the essay was not considered as a weakness.
The test duration should be extended to one hour thirty minutes to give the students more time to answer the questions. In addition, the test should include more students to expand the validity of the results. The comprehension should not be shortened. This is meant to improve reading skills and make students better and faster readers. In addition, the marking criteria should be altered to include actual reading assessment at which students are asked to read out the passage. Reading out loud would give the examiner an opportunity to detect variations in the words.
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