LINGUIST List 32.2159

Wed Jun 23 2021

Review: English; Applied Linguistics; Sociolinguistics: Mirhosseini, De Costa (2020)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <jecoburnlinguistlist.org>



Date: 13-Jan-2021
From: Shaden Attia <sattia2uwo.ca>
Subject: The Sociopolitics of English Language Testing
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Book announced at https://linguistlist.org/issues/31/31-3230.html

EDITOR: Seyyed-Abdolhamid Mirhosseini
EDITOR: Peter De Costa
TITLE: The Sociopolitics of English Language Testing
PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
YEAR: 2020

REVIEWER: Shaden Samir Attia, University of Western Ontario

SUMMARY

Edited by Seyyed-Abdolhamid Mirhosseini and Peter I. De Costa, “The Sociopolitics of English Language Testing” is divided into two parts and is composed of eleven articles. The articles discuss an array of variables related to English testing in schools, universities, and work contexts. Part one presents five articles discussing English testing in English-speaking countries, while Part two includes six articles tackling English testing in non-English-speaking contexts.

The division of the textbook and articles in this way is helpful in keeping the readers focused on one context at a time and providing a general idea of the situations in different countries, whether English or non-English-speaking. In addition, in the preface, the editors offer a very informative overview and a brief summary of the book’s content and the different chapters.

The five chapters in part one discuss the testing situation and the use of tests in the UK, Australia, and the US. Chapter 1, by John Yandell, Brenton Doecke, and Zamzam Abdi, explores the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) in London and its role and effect as a high-stakes exam and discusses how different classroom situations s are used as a neoliberal tool to control how students think. The article also discusses how the choice of topics favors some groups and cultures and how such preferences shape student identities. At the end of the article, the authors highlight how teachers and students can counteract and fight against the neoliberal and colonial control, encouraging them not to accept the ideas, language, and culture imposed on them.

In Chapter 2, Leonard Freeman and Gillian Wigglesworth analyze the relation between school attendance and remoteness and achievement in the Northern Territory of Australia. They critique the deficiency view of indigenous communities and how the National Assessment program- Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLaN) relates school attendance to student achievement. They highlight NAPLaN’s use of a one-size-fits-all system, due to which the needs of indigenous students living in remote areas are not addressed. They underline the importance of modifying teaching, learning,and assessment methods to address the needs of indigenous students, acknowledging their use of English as a second language.

In Chapter 3, Luis Posa and Sheila Shannon explore the US context and refer to the deficit view towards minority students and bilingualism. They investigate Mexican students, highlighting American schools’ use of tests which are geared towards creating monolingual students using a curriculum that represents the White majority and its history. They suggest ways for teachers to be more critical and to fight against the monolingual system. They highlight how students’ first language should be used in class, negating the false idea of second language English students’ linguistic and cultural deficiency.

Along similar critical lines, Chapter 4,by Netta Avineri and James Perren, discusses service-learning. This is an approach to learning by incorporating curricular goals, learning and reflection, and community service. The study provides a real-life example of a course for Japanese students in California and describes the benefits of such courses in inducing critical thinking and active involvement in the community. This chapter offers a concrete example of being critical with students and provides a clear outline for anyone who wishes to develop a similar course.

The last chapter in Part one, by Jamie Schissel, returns to the idea of deficiency and highlights the importance of providing tests that are socially and culturally suitable for all students and the use of learners’ first languages in testing in order for them to access both of their linguistic repertoires. The article provides an overview of Whiteness and White supremacy and how racism affects education and portrays learners of English as a second language as deficient compared to their White counterparts. The author not only provides theoretical information about the problem but offers real examples of the use of bilingual and multilingual tasks in assessing students,and describes the positive results of these tasks and assessments.

The five chapters in this part offer both theoretical and practical information on testing and assessment and propose different ideas of how to be critical as a teacher, parent and student. The chapters connect nicely to one another as they all discuss the idea of cultural and linguistic exclusion and favoring the majority’s views, ideas and culture. They also provide an overview of the role of politics, policy and governments in suppressing minorities in different countries.

The second part of the textbook contains 6 chapters tackling testing and assessment in non-English speaking countries which are the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Oman and Nepal. The chapters offer an overview of the role colonialism, politics and coloniality play, their relation to tests and English proficiency, and how all these variables affect school and university students and teachers.

In chapter 6, Ruanni Tupas offers a somewhat detailed background on the term coloniality and what it means and how English testing is one of its representations in the Philippines. The article discusses the hidden agendas behind the US aid programs in controlling, exploiting, and continuing its colonial presence in the country. The chapter relates to the previous chapters in areas such as the neglect of any language other than English, the idea of nativespeakerism and suggestions for teachers and schools to fight against the colonial presence and control imposed through tests.

Masaki Oda in chapter 7 focuses on standardized tests and the role the media plays in affecting the public. The chapter discusses how policy makers use the media for their own good in order to disseminate the ideas they want and influence the masses which serve their capitalistic goals. It further discusses how the media highlights specific terms such as the four skills or Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) in their articles to portray them as important and necessary which eventually affects the readers’ view after being frequently exposed to such terms.

Chapter 8, moves the discussion to South Korea and Guan-Hyeok Im, Liying Chung and Dongil Shin discuss the NEAT which is a standardized test that South Korea designed to replace international standardized tests such as TOEFL. The article investigated the push toward a nationally-designed exam to reduce the national spending on private English education and to improve English education. The authors discuss how the exam failed to replace TOEFL due to technical difficulties, and due to the role that private education institutions played in using the media to attack the exam to assure that their organizations remain open and make use of parents seeking to improve their children’s language proficiency.

In chapter 9, Miso Kim and Mari Haneda focus on two South Korean job seekers and their experience with standardized tests which is TOEIC and the disconnect between the standardized test’s tasks and real-life communication. The authors use two tasks, a test-like task and real-life task, and they use the results to show the disconnect between tasks used for tests and communication in work situations and how the participants’ communication reflected that disconnect. The participants in the study noticed that disconnect but were obliged to take the test as it is an essential step to find a job. The article also discusses the use of tests as a gatekeeping tool and raises some excellent questions at the end to draw readers attention to the definition of communication and the vagueness of what communicative competence means and how it is used in tests.

Chapter 10 is situated in Oman and Ali Al-Issa discusses the debate over the use of IELTS for enrolling students in ELT programs and the problem of associating good English proficiency with good teaching abilities. Al-Issa underlines the colonial background of standardized tests and questions their validity and he highlights their cultural bias and cultural exclusion. He notes that this exclusion can be seen in the themes presented in the reading section in the IELTS for example which represent Western cultures and how the Middle East is rarely present in these readings. In addition, the article examines student teachers in Oman and the results highlight problems in the validity of the IELTS, its use to determine teaching ability, and the misleading beliefs that students have about the connection between their IELTS results and their teaching skills.

The final chapter in part 2 by Prem Phyak explores standardized tests in Nepal and how they are used to privilege some and gate keep others from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The article highlights the role of the so-called “educational consultancies” in manipulating Nepali students who wish to travel abroad by advertising for standardized tests and presenting them as the students’ way for a better life and great future. The author underlines how students are used as an ideological political tool by investigating the linguistic landscape in Nepal represented in several advertisements/images advertising for standardized tests. This article connects to the previous articles in highlighting the colonial powers still present in non-English-speaking countries and the commodification of standardized English tests.

EVALUATION

The “Sociopolitics of English Language Testing” provides a general overview of English testing and assessment in both English and non-English-speaking countries and is written in a language accessible to multiple readers including student teachers, educators, policy makers, and assessment professionals. The division of the book into two parts, discussing the testing situation in English-speaking and non-English speaking countries, offers both coherence and clarity for the reader, who can easily compare the situation in both contexts and evaluate them on the basis of the information provided. The reader is offered multiple studies and related literature, providing enough information to judge the testing situation and tests used. In addition, the articles identify the research gaps that need further investigation, thereby offering an excellent opportunity for researchers interested in testing and assessment and making the reader aware of the paucity of literature in specific areas. Furthermore, the articles provide suggestions for teachers, policy makers, and assessment professionals to improve the testing situation and encourage them to be mindful of different cultures and contexts in order to be aware of the effects of politics and media.

The book’s content could have been further enriched by including articles written by policy makers and assessment professionals or test designers, as it is important to understand their rationale for the use and design of specific tests. In addition, providing more practical solutions for educators and test takers would have been useful, as the book clearly explained the use of politics and media and the role of the colonial powers in gatekeeping students and professionals from study opportunities or jobs. However, not many tangible and applicable solutions are offered. The researchers do provide ways for teachers to be more critical and highlight how students and parents are manipulated by media and politics; nevertheless, this knowledge is not sufficient to institute changes. For this reason, case studies of schools, universities, or companies defying the current test mechanisms would have given the reader a taste of what can be done to make changes and the possible results of opposing the standardized, colonial, and capitalist-oriented tests.

With respect to the organization of the different chapters, having separate parts for English and non-English contexts provides flow and coherence; however, another suggestion would be dividing each part into two sections, discussing how English testing is used in job markets and how it is used in schools and universities, as well as adding more articles on the role tests play in the job market and how they affect job seekers. Finally, adding articles from different countries in the Middle East would have enriched the book, especially with regard to the job market and job requirements, and how tests and other forms of gate-keeping are used with non-native English speakers.

To sum up, this book highlights an existing problem relating to English testing. In doing so it underlines how different variables interrelate and affect assessment and testing all over the world and the future research that needs to be done. The book is an excellent starting point for researchers and educators interested in testing and assessment, as well as for those who wish to learn how to be sensitive to the long-used and accepted standardized tests and how to bring about change. It brings a fresh and critical perspective that merits further investigation.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Shaden Attia is a graduate research assistant and a PhD student at the Faculty of Education at the University of Western Ontario. Prior to starting her PhD, she completed a master’s degree in TESOL and a bachelor’s degree in Italian language and literature. Her MA thesis explored Foreign Language Anxiety in the Egyptian ESL classrooms. Her research interests include applied linguistics, TESOL, Second Language Acquisition, adult education and social justice in the field of education. She aspires to teach in a university setting after graduation and to continue her research in education and applied linguistics.



Page Updated: 23-Jun-2021