The Aftermath of the Pandemic and (Language) Assessment:
Are We There Yet?
Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo, Languages Center, Brazil
Founding Member, English Language Testing Society (ELTS), USA
Earlier this year, as schools around the world (of course, mine included) prepared to shift their activities and classes from face-to-face to (some 100%, others partially) virtual mode, I wrote a text¹ using the GPS metaphor, which should, then, guide the way through the not-much-traveled roads and lead us “home”. The overarching argument of this essay is that the driving forces that should calibrate/orient the GPS to take us up and down these roads are the much-known principles of assessment. Validity, reliability, practicality, usefulness,
washback, authenticity, transparency and security are the cornerstones of assessment (Coombe, Folse & Humbley, 20072) and as such should guide us to a safe place (which we might call home).
Now, almost ten months into this devastating pandemic, still unsure about what the future holds, we assess the “places” we have been through, where we are and the road ahead of us. So, some questions come to mind: are we there yet? Did we take the right road/detour/shortcut? How does “home” look like now (if we are there)? What happened to “home”? If we are not quite “there”, what is this place? What lies ahead? Though I do not have the answers to these questions, I think the reflection is worth trying and so I invite you to join
me in this journey.
If I followed what our GPS oriented me, then I believe I should be “there” or somewhere close, after all, the coordinates with which I programmed my trip were sound and familiar to me, weren’t they? I wish it were that easy to sort things out amid these times we are living. But, here is a thought. What makes home, home? In more pragmatic terms, what are the foundations of my home? When I think of home, I think of family (close and extended), friends, bonds, truth, affection, conflict – a support system. I also think that home may not look the same all the time, but it is always my ultimate support system. It may not look like the way I once knew; it may have evolved, changed or grown, but if I look closely enough, I can find those true values that hold it together.
So, how can we go from this whole feel-like-home-for-me GPS metaphor to the aftermath of this pandemic situation we are going through now and (language) assessment? Well, what does the GPS do? With the information that you have precisely calibrated the device, it assesses the situation in order to give you the best option(s) to arrive at the chosen destination. Plain simple.
In my case, I think using some insightful questions might help. Considering the changes that we have made in order to adapt classes/courses to virtual mode, both in teaching methodologies and in assessment instruments: 1) Are we achieving our learning outcomes or 2) Are we assessing what we are teaching in the way we are teaching (validity)? Are our results consistent across the board (reliability)? 3) To which purpose is my assessment system intended (usefulness)? 4) Are the test instruments teacher-friendly? or 4) Are we providing teachers with the necessary resources to design instruments, administer and grade so that proper and meaningful feedback is given to students in a timely fashion (practicality)? 5) Are learners motivated with the assessment system/instrument? 6) Do instruments reflect real-world contexts, including the one we have been enduring for 10 months (authenticity)? 7) Do learners know and understand what, how and why they are being evaluated on? Are the steps clear to all (transparency)? 8) Are there distractors that might jeopardize the validity and/or reliability of the assessment? 9) What is being done to make sure, especially in virtual mode, that the assessment reflects the learning outcomes desired (security)?
Like I said before, I do not have the answers to all these questions, but they certainly have helped me understand a little bit more about the place I am right now. They might help you, too. They are a support system. If your home seems a little different, perhaps it is time to look at the configurations of that GPS of yours. Assess your situation. Down to the core. To the bone.
I think we cannot really measure or account for the aftermath of this pandemic at the moment, but we can start, maybe, looking at the collateral beauty³ of it all. Some of us may have gone through drastic changes in our working routines, be it by changing our teaching methodologies to adapt to virtual/digital environments/platforms or by rethinking our assessment systems, which have been so deeply entrenched in our teaching philosophies, all to fit in this “new” reality. What if we took this as an opportunity to grow, evolve, recalculate coordinates, but still arrive at our desired, programmed and much-known destination? Start looking around and perhaps, reprogram your GPS.
2 Coombe, C., Folse, K., & Hubley, N. (2007). A practical guide to assessing English-language learners. Michigan
Teacher Training series. Ann Arbor, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press.
3 Frankel, D. (2016). Collateral Beauty. Warner Bros.