EFL EXAMINATION WASHBACK IN JAPAN: INVESTIGATING THE EFFECTS OF ORAL ASSESSMENT ON TEACHING AND LEARNING

| May 29, 2006
Title
EFL EXAMINATION WASHBACK IN JAPAN: INVESTIGATING THE EFFECTS OF ORAL ASSESSMENT ON TEACHING AND LEARNING

Author
NICHOLAS A. CAINE
University of Manchester
Abstract
The influence a test has on teaching and learning is commonly referred to as the washback effect . It is often argued that English examinations in Japan, which tend to be heavily grammar-orientated, have a negative washback effect on teaching and learning. The areas of writing and speaking are of particular concern as both tend to be assessed via indirect testing methods. This study, then, examines the effects of existing English tests in Japan and also proposes an original direct test of speaking, which is subsequently trialled in a sample learning context. An attempt is then made to determine the extent and nature of washback resulting from this new speaking test.

Chapter 1 looks at the study of English as a foreign language (EFL) within the context of Japanese high schools. In particular, the discussion focuses on the mismatch that occurs between the levels of curriculum planning and actual classroom implementation. It is suggested that one of the reasons behind the apparent failure of the official communicative syllabus adopted by the Japanese Ministry of Education (MEXT) is due to the existence of the hidden syllabus driven by the content of EFL examinations.

Chapter 2 examines the phenomenon of washback with a review of the published literature in the field. The notions of test washback and test impact are introduced before the discussion goes on to look at the different kinds of influence a test might have, with specific reference to the Washback Hypothesis put forward by Alderson & Wall (1993). The issue of washback occurring as a result of high stakes testing is also considered and finally, the question of whether positive washback can be nurtured and thus improve curricula is analysed in greater detail.

Chapter 3 presents the rationale for the design of the new speaking test. Firstly, however, a brief background to communicative language testing is presented in order to consider an approach that conforms to the philosophy of the official English language syllabus in Japan. An outline of current EFL tests faced by the learners in the sample is also offered in this chapter.

Chapter 4 details the data collection techniques being used to measure the washback effect of existing tests and the new speaking test. An outline of the research context is also provided along with details of the learners and teachers taking part in all aspects of the study.
Finally, Chapter 5 discusses the research findings and looks at the implications for both EFL test design, and for the future implementation of a communicative syllabus in the Japanese context.

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Category: Thesis