The question raised in part 1 of this two-part article was, “Which type of test is best for formal and summative evaluations designed to assess language learning and ability or language level?” Of the five categories of assessment: Placement assessment, Formative assessment, Diagnostic assessment, Summative evaluation, and Self- assessment. (Cucchiarelli, Panti, Valenti, 2000), we identified aspects of Formative assessment and Summative evaluation. In my opinion, English language evaluations should be done using language performance assessments. In this, part 2 of the article, we’ll examine some reasons why.

The Common European Framework

In the Common European Framework of language teaching and learning, a rubric in the form of a series of “Can” statements is used to aid in assessing language skills and performance. These “can” statements range in level from A1, A2 basic levels through B1, B2 intermediate levels up to C1, C2 advanced levels. These are proving to be highly effective in learner English language performance skills evaluation on a global level since they provide standardized points of reference for both teachers and learners.

In demonstrating language skills, prospective employers, higher-education program administrators, business clients and recipients of business correspondence do not base their continued contact on how much you “know” about language, but rather on the ability to effectively communicate in the target language. Increasingly, this language is English. What you “meant” to say is seldom considered. What you actually say is paramount.

In immersion situations where communication can be critical, no one, for example would ask, “Can you conjugate the verb to be?” They well may however, ask for a response which would require use of the verb to be conjugated in the correct person.

Picture this: You, our intrepid English language learner, are standing at a corner of Broad and Market streets in Center City Philadelphia. You want to go to Veteran’s Stadium in South Philadelphia by taking a bus or subway train but don’t know how. What do you need, English language knowledge or English language performance skills?

Decided yet? That wasn’t difficult at all, was it? That’s why I advocate performance skills over language knowledge. But guess which one is promoted and measured in numerous schools and language institutes.

Effective Language Skills Indicators

What would be more effective language skills indicators, to engage a learner in a conversation that involves meaningful input and language production, or to ask for a regurgitation of grammar, rules and English language learning aspects? To write an essay on a topic meaningful to the learner or to step through groups of true-false or fill-in-the-blanks questions on a format? In deciding on an assessment or evaluation program, consider that language tests should be, situation specific. That is to say, a test can be very effective in one situation with one particular group of students and be virtually useless in another situation or with another group of students. (J.D. Brown, 1984) Also, remember that “in most language programs, any rational approach to testing will be a vast improvement over the existing conditions.” (J.D. Brown, 1984)

TEFL teachers require both knowledge and language performance skills, but in my opinion, English language learners should be focused principally on development of English language performance skills.

What do YOU think?