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Academic Paper

Title: Test Use and Political Philosophy
Author: Glenn Fulcher
Linguistic Field: Applied Linguistics
Abstract: Since Messick (1989) included test use in his validity matrix, there has been extensive debate about professional responsibility for test use. To theorize test use, some researchers have relied upon Foucault's social criticism, thereby stressing the negative role of tests in the surveillance of the marginalized. From a wider perspective, Shohamy (2001a) sees negative test impact as stemming from centralizing agencies, which still leaves open the possibility of positive test use. In this article I argue that how tests are used is a reflection of the wider political philosophy of a society. Political philosophy can generally be characterized as placing more emphasis on either the state or the citizen, leading to collectivist or individualist solutions to problems, be they real or perceived. In collectivist societies, tests, like history, are used to achieve conformity, control, and identity. In individualistic societies, they are used to promote individual progress. The role of tests within each broad approach will be described and illustrated. Finally, I briefly describe effect-driven test architecture as a method for testers to proscribe unintended uses of their tests.


This article appears IN Annual Review of Applied Linguistics Vol. 29, Issue 1, which you can READ on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .

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