Tuesday 28th of November 2023


Fairness, justice and language assessment

Tim McNamara, AM FAHA FAcSS, Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor Emeritus, School of Languages and Linguistics, The University of Melbourne

Oral presentation transcribed by Yves Bardière


AbstractAssessing is an everyday life practice. It is a permanent process, which can be split into four stages: 1) we first gather evidence from the observed performance; 2) we then interpret this evidence; 3) we reach conclusions about what a person knows or can do; 4) we ultimately make decisions based on these conclusions. The assessing process is usually very short and can lead to the wrong conclusions. This is why it needs to be backed by further evidence, a process known as the validation process. This paper focuses on the two dimensions of justice in assessment, fairness and justification: does the test provide fair, reliable and valid information on the person’s competence and what social and political use is made of the test? The latter dimension raises particularly complex issues, the risk being that the test might be used to enforce policy control across the whole educational system. An illustration of that is the role played by The Common European Framework of Reference. The CEFR is now becoming an object of dispute in terms of justice. It is more and more criticized for enforcing a standardized, functional, managerial and undifferentiated view of education.





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