Language Assessment, a graduate course

Language Assessment

This course introduces learners to the history, methods, innovations, and current debates about assessment of language in all its forms. We’ll survey various assessment instruments, critically approach current perspectives on assessment, and examine the resulting ramifications for both learners and instructors. Though our scope will be wide, we’ll largely focus on the teaching, learning and evaluation of English language in North American settings.

Students will keep an online journal where they will post responses to readings and activities, and will complete a portfolio on an assessment area of their choice that includes a) an interactive lesson that critically evaluates a major language assessment tool/approach, b) a paper prepared for an academic journal, c) a small group journal study, and d) a presentation prepared for an academic conference complete with annotated bibliography on their subject and a handout with a short summary of their research.

By the end of this course students will gain an understanding of why and how language is assessed, will become familiar with a wide range of assessment tools/approaches, will have gained firsthand experience with a specific tool/approach, will develop a critical perspective on language teaching and assessment, will gain an awareness on current scholarship in language assessment, will have completed a manuscript for publication, and will have created a presentation appropriate for an academic conference.


  • Brown, H.D. (2003). Language Assessment – Principles and Classroom Practice. USA: Pearson.
  • Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. USA: Continuum.
  • Lightbrown, P. & Spada, N. (2006). How Languages are Learned. USA: Oxford University Press.
  • Shohamy, E. (2000). The Power of Tests. USA: Pearson ESL.

And…please choose oneof the following:

  • Cambridge Language Assessment: Assessing Writing
  • Cambridge Language Assessment: Assessing Listening
  • Cambridge Language Assessment: Assessing Speaking
  • Cambridge Language Assessment: Assessing Reading
  • Cambridge Language Assessment: Assessing Grammar
  • Cambridge Language Assessment: Assessing Vocabulary
  • Cambridge Language Assessment: Assessing Languages for Specific Purposes
  • OR any of the Studies in Language Testing series


Additional Reading

  • Bachman, L. (1991). What does language testing have to offer? TESOL Quarterly, 25, 671-704.
  • Bachman, L. (2000). Modern Language Testing at the Turn of the Century. Language Testing, 17, 1-20.
  • Bachman, L. (2007). Language Assessment: Opportunities and Challenges.
  • Banerjee, J. (2003). The TOEFL CBT. Language Testing, 20, 111-123.
  • Bartels, N. (1999). Book Reviews of Learning about Language Assessment: Dilemmas, Decisions, and Directions and New Ways of Classroom Assessment. TESL-EJ, 4, 2, retrieved from
  • Brindley, G. (1998). Assessing listening abilities. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 18, 171-191.
  • Brown, J.D. & Hudson, T. (1998). The alternatives in language assessment. TESOL Quarterly, 32, 653-675.
  • Canale, M. & Swain, M. (1980). Theoretical bases of communicative approaches to second language teaching and testing. Applied Linguistics, 80, 1-47.
  • Fulcher, G, & Davidson, F. (2009). Test architecture, test retrofit. Language Testing, 26, 123-144.
  • Harrison, M. (2006). Taking the teacher out of the test: Minimizing teacher participation in language testing. In M. Koyama & E. Skier (Eds.) More Autonomy You Ask (MAYA) . (pp. 137-146). Japan: JALT LD.
  • Huot, B. (1998). Toward a new theory of writing assessment. College Composition and Communication, 47, 549-566.
  • Inbar-Lourie, O. (2008). Constructing a language assessment knowledge base: A focus on language assessment courses. Language Testing, 25, 385-402
  • Kleinsasser, R. (2005). Transforming a postgraduate level assessment course: A second language teacher educator’s narrative. Prospect, 20, 77-102.
  • Lumley, T. & O’Sullivan, B. (2005). The effects of test-taker gender, audience and topic on task-performance in tape-mediated assessment of speaking. Language Testing, 22, 415-437.
  • McNamara, T. (2001). Language assessment as social practice. Language Testing, 18, 333-349.
  • Mislevy, R., Steinberg, L. & Almond, R. (2002). Design and analysis in task-based language assessment. Language Testing, 19, 477-496.
  • Norris, J. (2000). Purposeful language assessment. Forum, 38.
  • Roever, C. (2001). Web-based language testing. Language Learning and Technology, 5.
  • Ross, S. (1998). Self-assessment in second language testing. Language Testing, 15, 1-20.
  • Stansfield, C. (1986). A history of the Test of Written English: A developmental year. Language Testing, 3, 224-234.
  • Trites, L. & McGroarty, M. (2005). Reading to learn and reading to integrate: New tasks for reading comprehension tests? Language Testing, 22, 174-210.
  • White, L. (2003). On the Nature of Interlanguage Representation: Universal Grammar in the Second Language. In C. Doughty & M. Long (Eds.) The Handbook of Second Language Acquisition (pp.19-42). USA: Blackwell.
  • Young, R. (2002). Discourse approaches to oral language assessment. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 22, 243-262.

Major Assignments

  • ReadingsWe will read a wide range of articles, books, and short fiction. Each week’s readings will be discussed during the next week’s class.
  • Online Journal – You will keep a blog at where you will post reactions and critical responses to weekly readings. In addition to writing, you will be expected to read your classmates’ blogs and offer constructive commentary. 15%
  • Evaluation of Assessment Tool/Approach – You will choose an assessment tool/approach that relates to the major themes of this course and create an interactive lesson for your classmates, approximately 30 minutes in length. We’ll further discuss this in class. 15%
  • Journal Study – Working in a small group, you will choose a refereed journal that regularly publishes language assessment scholarship and present information about this journal to your classmates. 10%
  • Paper – You will independently compose a 10-15 page research paper written in APA style on a topic of your choice related to the major themes in this course. The paper should use no less than 15 references, at least 10 of which must be from refereed journals. 25%
  • Presentation – Your presentation should be no longer than 15 minutes and may address any aspect of your written paper. A brief handout summarizing key points in your research and an annotated bibliography will accompany your presentation. 15%
  • Final Reflective Letter – You will trace the evolution of your ideas about assessment, discuss particular aspects of the course that were effective (or ineffective) for you, offer feedback on course design, etc. You are encouraged to quote from your blog as well as reflect on your overall learning. 10%

Course Policies

  • Attendance is expected and required.
  • Plagiarism will be responded to with expulsion from the course.
  • Respect for all learners and various communication styles is requested.


  • Blog 15%
  • Assessment Evaluation 15%
  • Journal Study 10%
  • Paper 25%
  • Presentation 15%
  • Reflective Letter 10%
  • Participation and Attendance 10%

90-100% = A;  80-89% =B; 70-79%=C


Week 1 – Course Introduction

  • Reading: How Languages are Learned (1st half); Language Assessment as Social Practice; What Does Language Testing Have to Offer?
  • Homework: Write about a memorable experience where some aspect of your own language was assessed. For example: How old were you? What kind of language, what kind of assessment? How did you respond? What would you have done differently?

Week 2 – What is language and how/why do we assess it?

  • Reading: Pedagogy of the Oppressed; How Languages are Learned (2nd half)
  • Homework: Respond to Freire; answer week 2’s question.

Week 3 – Who are we assessing? Journal presentations

  • Reading: Language Assessment (1st half); Constructing a Knowledge Base; Language Assessment: Opportunities and Challenges
  • Homework: What is your relationship with language teaching?

Week 4 – Introduction to assessment; Journal presentations

  • Reading: Language Assessment (2nd half); Theoretical Bases of Communicative Approaches…; A History of the Test of Written English
  • Homework: Discuss a few areas of language assessment that currently interest you and explain why.

Week 5 – The beginnings of assessment

  • Reading: Begin reading your chosen book; Discourse Approaches to Oral Language Assessment; The Effect of Test-taker Gender…; Assessing Listening Abilities
  • Homework: Respond to this week’s readings.

Week 6 – Assessing speaking and listening

  • Reading: Continue reading your chosen book; On the Nature of Interlanguage Representation; A Framework for Second Language Vocabulary Assessment
  • Homework: Respond to this week’s readings.

Week 7 – Assessing grammar and vocabulary

  • Reading: Continue reading your chosen book; Toward a New Theory of Writing Assessment; Reading to Learn, Reading to Integrate
  • Homework: Respond to this week’s readings.

Week 8 – Assessing writing and reading

  • Reading: Continue reading your chosen book; Self-assessment in Second Language Testing
  • Homework: Respond to this week’s readings.

Week 9 – Assessment tools, part one: Student presentations

  • Reading: The Power of Tests
  • Homework: Respond to Shohamy.

Week 10 – Assessment tools, part two: Student presentations

  • Reading: The Power of Tests; Purposeful Language Testing
  • Homework: Design an alternative approach to any of the testing tools we examined in class (this will count as two homework assignments, so be thorough).

Week 11 – Critical perspectives on assessment.

  • Reading: The Alternatives to Language Testing; Taking the Teacher Out of the Test; Design and Analysis in Task-based Language Assessment
  • Homework: Respond to this week’s readings.

Week 12 – Alternatives to testing

  • Reading: Web-based Language Testing; Test Architecture, Test Retrofit; TOEFL CBT
  • Homework: Respond to this week’s readings.

Week 13 – The future of language assessment.

  • Reading: Bartels’ book reviews; Modern Language Testing at the Turn of the Century
  • Homework: Write a review of one of the texts you read for the course and publish the review both to your blog and to a major online bookstore.

Week 14 – Final presentations

  • Reading: Transforming a Postgraduate Level Assessment Course
  • Homework: Trace the evolution of your ideas about language assessment; Final thoughts?

Week 15 – Final presentations and end of semester party

  • Please make sure that all of your work is posted to your blog.
  • Final Reflective Letters due

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