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Classroom Testing

J.B. Heaton
Longman, 1990
pp. 127


Reviewed by :

Robert J. Dickey
Kyongju University, Korea

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Never out of date
The issue of student assessment, often termed "testing", has been a concern of teachers from the earliest days of teaching and learning. Though not all teachers are required to present formal "grades", all of us are obliged to consider how our students are progressing, and how we can best assess progress. Heaton's Classroom Testing continues to be a popular introduction to assessment because of it's obvious strengths; and the fact that the issues and answers in testing haven't changed all that much in the dozen years since it was first published keeps it timely.

Convenience
This is a book to be carried. Though the pages are in larger format than your favorite paperback novel, it is thin (127 pages), flexible, and light in both weight and tone. You can roll it up and slide it in your back pocket (I have!), or fold it into a jacket pocket. It has bounced around in my backpack for weeks at a time. Part of the "Longman Keys to Language Teaching" series, series editor Neville Grant notes in the preface that these books, oriented to "ordinary teachers," offer "realistic, practical, down-to-earth advice" (p. 5). The book is easy to read, avoiding technical jargon or academic prose in favor of straightforward language any high school graduate can easily understand. It's filled with bite-sized ideas -- you can continue your reading during 5 minute spots of free time, or while standing on the subway.

Covering the issues
Unlike some more voluminous texts, Heaton considers nearly all the issues of assessment in a language classroom. The title Classroom Testing is something of a misnomer, as many scholars would place student portfolios and self-assessment within the wider scope of "assessment" rather than in classroom testing. But they are here. Only peer assessment seems to be missing.

Orientation
Heaton admits his bias right up front: "The most useful tests for use in the classroom are those tests which you write yourself" (p. 6). While there is some discussion of commercial exams, the focus of the book is on writing tests for your students. As he notes in various areas of the book, tests should be appropriate to your teaching style and your students, and as a teacher, you know your students best. However, he seems to suggest that while quizzes have their place, mid-term exams are not an appropriate testing methodology.

Theoretical Overview
There are no scholarly references in this book, it won't help you write your next term paper. What it will do, however, is put some of the theoretical concepts you've heard about into tangible, comprehensible form. Heaton's definition of validity is a good example: "A test should measure what it is supposed to measure, and nothing else" (p. 7, italics original). Similarly, the issues of different testing scopes are clearly set out: progress tests and the concern to avoid rote learning; motivational tests (encouraging students to see their own growth); diagnostic tests (to analyze what needs taught/re-taught); achievement tests; placement tests; selection tests; proficiency tests; task-based tests, and subjective versus objective test scoring.

Presentation
Following the "table-setting stage" of the introduction plus chapters one and two, individual types of assessment are presented along with brief samples. The "four skills of English" -- Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing -- each get their own testing chapter. These cover broad competencies, from listening for discrete sounds for true beginners, to free writing for more advanced learners. The final chapter discusses continuous assessment. Each chapter closes with "Discussion" questions that may be attempted by individual readers, or might be shared by a group. As always, this reviewer recommends that readers attempt to encourage several peers to form self-study discussion groups as they read through their professional development materials, or at least to talk about what they are reading in teachers' workrooms or with their "more capable peers."

The lack of in-text or end-of-chapter references, along with the very brief and quite dated "Suggestions for further reading" at the end of the book, could be improved without detracting from the casual-reader style that makes the book what it is. While there are dozens of contemporary titles in the general field of language testing - Alderson, Bachman, Genesee, Hughes, Madsen, McNamara, and Upshur, to name a few authors - Classroom Testing is by far the most comfortable introduction to the field.



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