I had to take an online Arabic test for my teaching methods class, and this is the paper I wrote about it.

The CASLS pilot test seems to promote a communicative competence theory of teaching. According to Brown, the keystone of communicative competence theories is the interactive nature of language. “Users of a language creatively interact with other people as well as with texts (including test items). Simply put, this means that tests have to involve people in actually performing the behavior that we want to measure.” (Brown, p 259). The test put the test-taker in authentic or near-authentic situations, and asked a series of multiple choice questions about the test-taker’s comprehension. The test was careful to provide non-misleading advance organizers, which helped to more accurately simulate authentic interaction. For example, one of the test questions was about a lost cat. On the ad was a picture of the cat. The multiple choice answers included several items – but even if the test-taker had no idea what the words in the ad meant, they could use their previous knowledge and the schema activated by a picture of a cat in a newspaper to deduce a correct answer.

The CASLS pilot test also promoted whole thinking. Often, comprehension questions included words that were not included in the test itself. Instead of listening for a word, a student would have to understand the context. For example, in one listening comprehension question, Ahmed discusses his vacation with his mother. One of the comprehension questions is, “How is Ahmed traveling?” “A. boat, B. car, C. bus, D. plane.” The word is never discussed during the dialogue, but one assumes that Ahmed, traveling from Egypt to Lebanon for a short vacation, would travel by plane. The test assesses students’ ability to use language in context: Ahmed’s mom asks him if he bought his tathkara, which generally refers to plane tickets. If a student did not understand this concept, they would not be able to answer the question correctly.

The flaw in this test is the lack of student input. If the test were to truly be interactive, students would not be able to randomly guess from a list of items. In real life, there will not be options A-D to help guide comprehension and assessment of a situation. I answered questions correctly that I otherwise would not have known because the answers were in Multiple Choice format. In this way, the test falls short from testing the skills that it wants to measure, which seem to be communicative competence.

In general, this test is completely different from the other kinds of tests I have taken in Arabic. From 101-301, a staple of the test has always been translation. The tests have always been closed-book, closed-partner, with absolutely zero advance organizers. There was one time in 101 that taking a test involved watching a video-clip, but that was probably to assess our ability to understand a variety of speakers; it was basically a talking head on a video screen. These tests are far from promoting the communicative competency theory the way the CASLS pilot test does.

I agree with Brown when he writes that tests must “test for grammatical, discourse, sociolinguistic, and illocutionary competence as well as strategic competence [and] require the learner to use language naturally for genuine communication and to relate to thoughts and feelings, in short, to put authentic language to use within a context.” (Brown, p 458) How useful is our study of language if it does not accomplish the ultimate goal, which is communication? The CASLS pilot test comes closer to providing students with an authentic context and an opportunity to interact than many of the achievement-type tests I have experienced in BYU’s Arabic department. I believe that if students are expected to be competent communicators, our tests should assess communicative language proficiency. I think my students at Renaissance would love this type of test.

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