“Are We Just Teaching Students To Pass A Test?”

 The Washback Effects of the TOEIC Examination on the  Teachers and Students of a Thai Business School

Introduction

In the article entitled “The Washback Effects of the TOEIC Examination on the Teachers and Students of a Thai Business School” Apichatrojanakul (2011) studied washback effect of TOEIC examination on teachers and students. To discuss washback, she based her explanation on her teaching experience and interviews with teachers and students. She found out that based on the findings it is conclusive that washback has positive and negative effects on teaching and learning. Thus, she concluded that a balance between teacher- and student-centered approach is advisable to attain the education goals, and schools must recognize washback for the preparation of TOEIC courses. As part of her recommendation, a further study must be conducted in other Thai school to study washback.

Summary

Washback is an effect of a test on teaching and learning. Based on the results, the study discovered the positive and negative washback of TOEIC on teachers and students. One positive effect for teachers is that they are able to help students pass TOEIC, which is a positive effect for students, and make teaching TOEIC courses more effective and faster. On the other hand, the negative effect of the TOEIC on the Thai school is that strategies of teachers are affected; for instance, the 4-mat model or the communicative approach is suspended. As a result, student-centered approach is abandoned leading to boredom, limited access to holistic learning, and lack of application of knowledge to real-life situations.

 

Critique

Apichatrojanakul (2011) strategically presented the introduction giving the current situation of teachers and students in Thailand experiencing washback effect. After the background, she stated that there is a problem in how these people are affected by washback in different circumstances, and she immediately claimed that her study aimed to address these issues. Despite of having a short background, she was able to present it in a succinct and well-transitioned manner for readers to picture out a part of situation in education that needs to be addressed.

She used Alderson’s (1996) definition of washback, which built a good foundation in the section as Alderson is a known expert in language testing. Her claims that a test has an effect on teaching and learning supports Valette (1196) who said that a test is powerful and influential in giving quality education. On the other hand, her study on the washback effect of TOEIC is timely, contextualized, and the best kind of examination as many teachers prepares their students to pass high stake test like TOEIC or other national achievement tests.

Apichatrojanakul (2011) failed to recognize that as administration, which is part of the educational system, can also be influenced and experience washback effect as Hughes (1994) considered administration along with teachers, learning, and among others belongs to educational system. Apichatrojanakul (2011) was only focused on the washback effects on teachers and students only.

Bailey (1996) said that washback of a test can bring good or bad effect to teaching and learning or education which the main author of the article supported. She recognized this claim that after transferring from student-centered to teacher-centered teaching style, TOEIC made an impact on teachers and learners both positively and negatively. Her findings will surely help teacher make teaching decisions what kind of approach they need to address to achieve holistic learning.

As Madaus described a phenomenon called “teaching to the test”.  Apichatrojanakul (2011) provided good insights that teachers’ teaching styles are dramatically influenced by the change of curriculum. As indicated in her results of the study, the new curriculum demands teachers to use teacher-centered approach and exposed a lot of grammar questions and vocabulary for students so as to prepare them for TOEIC. Thus, this challenges teachers in making ethical decisions on whether to cover the whole syllabus or to teach to the test and what kind of teaching students deserve, which are a part of issues presented by Wall. However,

One unethical practice as described by Mehrens and Keminsky (1998) is when teachers gave materials in classroom similar to what is given in the test. This was present in the strategy of teachers interviewed. Alderson Wall (1993) explained that teachers now decide how much attention to pay in certain parts of the curriculum based on the importance of such part in a test. Alderson, Watanabe, and Hamp-Lyons (1996) revealed that personal characteristics of teachers are key factors to how they are influenced by test pressures, which Apichatrojanakul (2011) should have emphasized the characteristics and values of teachers because they feel pressured to ensure their students perform well in the test and because they understand they are not serving students well enough.

Indeed, teaching to the test influences what teachers taught and students learn; how teaching and learning occur; the rate, sequence, degree, depth of teaching and learning; and the attitude of teachers and learning (Alderson & Wall (1993). However, a study of Wall (1996) contradicts what Apichatrojanakul (2011) found out because Wall (1996) revealed that a test can have no effect on the teaching strategies.

The downside of teaching-centered teaching style is that students have no time for collaboration and fun that are important to the learning process and no time for learning writing and speaking (Apichatrojanakul, 2011). They were anxious and stressed when the examination is coming closer. This result from her study supports the studies done in the past that students adopt roles and change attitude during this time towards the exams. Huhta et al. (2006) considered the relationship of students and test emotional. One of which is what Apichatrojanakul (2011) revealed in one of its interview that one positive effect of washback is it encourages students and lead them to making ethical decision to study harder and get supplementary materials for passing an exam.

Her claim was certain that there are positive and negative washback effects of the TOEIC on the teachers and students. She supports Alderson’s definition on washback having positive or negative effects to educational system. She is right at making a claim that a balance between teaching-centered approach and the child-centered approach must be observed. This is the crucial stage where teachers gather information before they make decisions which affects teaching and learning consequences.

To make the study more meaningful, Apichatrojanakul should have made recommendations to test designers of TOEIC with regard to the washback of their tests and impact their tests creates on the classroom, curriculum, administration, and society (Wall, 1996).

In conclusion, the findings of Apichatrojanakul (2011) are similar to other research in language testing; washback has a positive or negative effect and plays a significant role in teaching and learning in the four-corned classroom.

 

Conclusion

Going back to the definition of washback by Alderson, its effect is to always be considered positive or negative so that teachers can make informed decisions what teaching strategy students deserve. Additional implication of washback is for the language designers is that they must consider to always produce a good test so that it will have a useful effect on teaching and ensure that tests enable teachers to cover all areas as required by syllabus and to use teaching strategies for the over-all development of students.

 

References

Apichatrojanakul, P. (2011). The washback effects of the TOEIC examination on the teachers and students of a thai business school. Language Testing in Asia. 1(1), 62-75.

Alderson, J. C. and Hamp-Lyons, L. (1996). TOEFL preparation courses: A study of washback Language Testing. 13, 280-297.

Bailey, K. (1996). Working for washback: A review of the washback concept in language testing. Language Testing. 13, 257-279.

Hughes, A. (1994). Backwash and TOEFL 2000. Unpublished manuscript, commissioned by Educational Testing Sevices.

Huhta, A., Kalaja, P. and Pitkaen-Huhta, A. (2006). Discursive construction of a high-stake test: the many faces of a test takers. Langage Testing. 23, 326-350.

Mehrens, W. A. and Kaminsky, J. (1989). Methods for improving standardized  test scores: Fruitful, fruitless or fraudulent? Educational Measurement: Issues and Practices. 8, 14-22.

Wall, D. (1996). Introducing new tests into traditional systems: Insights from general education and from innovation theory. Language Testing. 13, 3: 336-54.

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