Universidad Católica de la Santísima Concepción
Facultad de Educación
Departamento de Lenguas
Dannae Del Campo & Gabriela Quezada
The acquisition of a second language is the subconscious acceptance of knowledge
stored in the brain through communication. Learning, on the other hand, is the conscious
acceptance of language knowledge. According to Krashen (1982) the optimal way to teach
a language is through natural communication and creating situations that fulfill authentic
purposes. Therefore, teaching and learning a second/foreign language requires evaluating
the process of learning not only to demonstrate students’ progress but also to confirm if the
teachers’ methodology is the adequate. In order to that several authors provide theories for
the improvement of the assessment process. According to Coombe et al. (2007) the term
assessment is often misunderstood by people as they associate the term of assessment with
a paper and pencil test designed to tell teachers and students how much material the student
does not know. Nevertheless, assessment includes a wide range of activities and tasks to
evaluate students’ progress and growth on a daily basis. In the following pages, the theories
carried out by Bachman and Palmer (2007), Coombe et al. (2007) and Brown (2004) will
Principles of language assessment
Both Coombe, et al (2007) and Bachman & Palmer (2007) have studied the concept
of usefulness. However, Bachman and Palmer (2007) considered usefulness as the final
product of six different qualities which are reliability, construct validity, authenticity,
interactiveness, impact and practicality. On the other hand, Coombe et al. (2007)
considered usefulness as part of nine qualities. Coombe et al. (2007) proposed that to obtain
a good test design there are nine qualities that must be followed. These qualities are
usefulness, validity, reliability, practicality, washback, authenticity, transparency and
security. In contrast to the authors named above, Brown (2004) did not make reference to
the concept of usefulness.
The first quality which is considered by the three authors is validity. Bachman and
Palmer (2007) referred to this quality as construct validity. It is explained that construct
validity is the interpretation of test scores. Moreover, Bachman and Palmer (2007)
emphasized that a valid test needs to reflect the area of the ability that the teacher wants to
measure and very little else. Supporting this idea, Coombe (2007) explained that the
concept of validity is to test what you teach and how you previously teach it in class.
Moreover, Coombe et al. (2007) name three types of validity which are content, construct
and face validity. The first type is content validity which is related to how the course
content and outcomes are used in a familiar format to the students. The second type is
construct validity which is the way of how the methodology of language learning fits with
the type of assessment. Finally, the third one is called face validity which is how teachers
measure the language abilities that are supposed to measure. According to Brown (2004)
validity is the most relevant quality of an effective test and he agrees with Coombe et al.
(2007) and Bachman and Palmer (2007) when it was stated that validity is effective when
the test measures the language abilities the teacher wanted to measure. Furthermore, Brown
(2004) explained that there are five types of evidence that support validity. The first type is
content-related evidence, in this concept it is explained that the teacher clearly states the
aim of the evaluation. The second type is called criterion-related evidence, in this concept it
is explained the importance of the evidence to support the criterion the teacher wants to use
at the moment of assessing. The third type is construct-related evidence, in this concept it is
explained that the test must be consistent with the theoretical constructs previously
established by the teacher. The fourth type is consequential validity, in this concept it is
explained that all the consequences of a test will impact the instrument or the design of the
test. Finally, the fifth type is face validity which refers to the degree to which a test looks
right. In this concept it is explained that teachers should design test with tasks that students
are familiar and give clear instructions. Consequently, the test takers will feel confident.
The three authors Brown (2004), Bachman and Palmer (2007) and Coombe et al.
(2007) agreed that reliability is the consistency of measurement which means that a test
would have similar results if it is given at any other time. However, Brown (2004)
mentioned four factors that contribute to reliability. These factors are student-related
reliability, rater reliability, test administration reliability and test reliability. The first one is
student-related reliability which has an influence on the test results due to students’
physical or psychological factors. The second one is rater reliability and it is related to
human error and subjectivity which may affect the test results. This one is subdivided in
inter-rater reliability in which two or more raters have differences at the moment of scoring
the same test. The third one is test administration reliability which is related to the
conditions in which the test is administered. Finally, the fourth factor is called test
reliability which consists in the nature of the test itself which may possess errors.
Regarding practicality, Bachman and Palmer (2007) stated that it should be take in
consideration the resources that will be required to develop a test and the allocation and
management of the resources that are available. Brown (2004) also mentioned that it is
important to considerate the resources in terms of the economical perspective, time and
administration. Moreover, Coombe et al. (2007) agreed with the other two authors by
explaining that a teacher should develop, administer and mark within the available time and
Another quality mentioned by the three authors is washback. According to Coombe
et al (2007) ,washback refers to the effect of teaching and learning and it can be positive or
negative for the teacher and the test takers. Brown (2004) stated that washback is related to
the consequences that the tests have on instruction and how the students prepare for the test.
Another form of washback is given to the students through feedback or diagnoses (their
weaknesses and strengths). According to Bachman and Palmer (2007) washback is a
subcategory of the quality named impact which is the main quality. Bachman and Palmer
(2007) defined impact as the effect that the test has on society and educational systems.
Regarding to authenticity, Bachman and Palmer (2007) defined this quality as the
degree of correspondence of the characteristics of a test task to the features of a target
language task. This means that, the tests should be created with a certain degree of elements
that students can find in real life so they can be exposed to items which are meaningful for
them. Thus, test takers will react to the test in terms of the perceived relevance. Coombe, et
al (2007) agreed with the author above adding the importance of creating language tasks
that reflect real-word situations so the test takers can be motivated to perform properly.
Brown (2004) added to the previous ideas that authenticity will be present when the
language in the test is as natural as possible and the items are contextualized.
Coombe, et al (2007) is the only author that made reference to transparency and
security as qualities to provide a good test design, development and analysis. Regarding
transparency, Coombe, et al (2007) emphasized how important is for test takers to have an
accurate information about testing which should include outcomes to be evaluated, formats
used, time allow to complete the test, etc…
Regarding security, Coombe, et al (2007) stated that teachers invest time and energy
developing good tests that accurately reflect the course outcomes. Therefore, the solution
proposed by Coombe, et al (2007) is recycling which is especially important if the test is
reliable, valid and secure to reapply on a new occasion.
The concept of interactiveness is only mentioned by Bachman and Palmer (2007).
Interactiveness is defined as the test taker’s involvement in a test. The characteristic most
relevant for language testing is the test taker’s language ability.
As a conclusion, it can be mentioned that the authors’ opinion are quite similar
regarding some of the principles of language assessing. However, it can be said that
Coombe et.al (2007) presented a more complete theory due to it was explained nine
qualities or cornerstones, were usefulness was included, for developing an effective
assessment process. Coombe et.al (2007) presented the information in a clear and
understandable way, giving good examples which help us as future teachers to be. Coombe
et.al (2007) added concepts that are not consider by the other two authors and that we
consider are important. These concepts are transparency which helps test takers to
understand clearly the instructions of the tasks which leads to a better performance. And
security which would help us as pre-service teachers and in-service teachers to save time by
recycling the test materials which are previously consider valid and reliable.
Another important aspect to mention is that we consider that the most important qualities
are validity, reliability and authenticity. The quality of validity was subdivided by the three
authors so it was explained in a more detailed and prominent way. We could noticed that
the concept of reliability was highlighted by the authors because as Bachman and Palmer
(2007) mentioned reliability is a necessary condition for construct validity, and hence for
usefulness. Reliability has the purpose of deliver trustful results regarding to the test takers’
performance. Finally, as Krashen (1982) mentioned an effective learning of a second
language depends directly on a natural communication that corresponds to the features of
the target language use.
Bachman, L. and Palmer, A. (1996). Language Testing in Practice: Designing and Developing
Useful Language Tests. Oxford Applied Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Brown, D. (2004). Language Assessment: Principles and Classroom. New York: Longman.
Coombe, Ch., et. al. (2007). A Practical Guide to Assessing English Language Learners.
Michigan: University of Michigan Press.
Krashen, S. (1982). Principles and practice in second language acquisition (pp. 65-78).