Fairer, Greener, Stronger: The Future of Language Assessment

The New Directions East Asia 2021 conference convenes under the theme “Fairer, Greener, Stronger: The Future of Language Assessment.” It recognises that the language assessment industry, like all other sectors, has experienced significant disruption over the last year. There has been an acceleration in systemic change, innovation and the emergence of divisions in society relating to equality, accessibility and sustainability.

The conference brings together leaders in language assessment, policymakers and educators to help inform policies and shape the partnerships needed to navigate this new challenging context.

Convened as an online forum, leaders will engage in debate and discussion on how language assessment stakeholders can respond to opportunities, innovate, and establish meaningful partnerships to overcome division and uncertainty.

Fairer:

Equal access to quality education is a fundamental right of everyone in every nation, and a crucial driver of social and economic progress.

This theme explores the ways in which we can drive greater inclusivity in language assessment and language education policy. We invite discussion on how we can improve access and enhance accommodations in tests, how testing can be more representative of the diversity of language learners and speakers, and how the widening digital divide can be addressed and mitigated as language assessment shifts towards digitalisation. Particularly in the context of this increased use of technology, we seek to understand how computers can be leveraged to provide solutions, and explore the potential threats to fairness and inclusivity we need to guard against as assessment goes digital. We look at how tests can open up workplace opportunities to learners, and how fairness should be at the heart of language learning and educational policy reform.

Greener:

A faster transition to clean energy and a zero carbon future is the only option the global community has to combat climate change. It calls on all individuals, institutions and governments to work together to reduce their impact on the environment.

The environmental impact of language assessment has received scant attention. While there are clear benefits to the shift from paper-based, travel-intensive, in-person testing as a trouble-free step towards reducing our carbon footprint as an industry, the potential impact on the natural world of other resource-heavy methods, such as machine-learning used in automated assessment, cannot be ignored.

In this COP-26 year, when climate change is centre-stage, this theme encourages us to think about the impact of our industry on the environment and the key sustainability factors we need to consider as language testing increasingly moves into the digital space.

Stronger:

Building future-ready, shock-proof educational systems and societies requires safeguarding and reinforcing the links that assessment provides to learning, employment and community participation by designing testing systems that are adaptable and resilient.

Threats to test access can translate into stalled learning progress, closed doors in employment and missed opportunities for many. 

This theme considers how the pivotal role assessment plays in education and society can be exploited for good: how tests can be strengthened and how tests can be used to strengthen the wider educational, social and vocational ecosystems to weather challenges that lie ahead. We are interested in how employment, social and learning landscapes of the future can be positively shaped by alternative approaches to testing, by the responsible, considered use of new technologies, and by how, when considered as part of a comprehensive learning system, the powerful relationship between curriculum, teaching and testing can be used to positively influence learning.

Our Sub-strands:

Inclusivity and access in language testing

With a view to improving accessibility, inclusivity and opportunity for all, the focus of this strand is on fairer language assessment. Sub-topics include enabling access through accommodations whilst protecting test reliability and validity, preventing bias and underrepresentation in language assessment, and guarding against the potential negative social consequences of test digitalisation. We invite presenters to share practical examples or case studies of how fairness and inclusivity have been incorporated into language tests and broader assessment and policy practices, or to highlight key considerations and recommendations in this area.

Future-readiness: Learning from the legacy of COVID-19

Educators, learners and testing organisations have faced enormous challenges due to the restrictions on in-person assessment in many countries around the world. Next steps in the careers of students have been uncertain where traditional entrance and exit tests have been disrupted, and teachers have been constrained in their ability to evaluate learner progress. In this strand, we focus on what we have learned and how language assessment and learning systems have become more resilient. We are particularly keen to receive proposals on alternative approaches to producing scores which can be used for gatekeeping purposes and innovations in language assessment in general.

Assessment in comprehensive learning systems: at the policy level

As Ministries of Education look to reform education policies and empower learners to become effective global citizens, decisions around language assessment can have a major impact on the success of the initiatives. Looking at the education system more holistically – the curriculum, the teaching, the tests, and the relationship between them – is more likely to lead to a stronger system. This strand invites proposals related to policy-making in language education and, in particular, where assessment has helped to drive positive change.

Assessment in comprehensive learning systems: in the classroom

Teachers are key drivers of improvement in learning systems and crucial to the implementation of any change in language education policy. This strand focuses on teachers and testing in the classroom and we are chiefly interested in how teachers respond to changes in tests and assessment, or how they adapt their assessment practices to changes in the curriculum or teaching methodology. We’re particularly interested in proposals from teachers that focus on practical studies in the classroom.

Creating opportunities: Assessment for work

Building stronger, fairer societies means ensuring that people can access work opportunities by proving their skills to potential employers. Opening up possibilities to be evaluated on key skills and developing workplace-relevant tests helps to create opportunities for a range of people who might otherwise have no route to gainful employment and fewer options to meaningfully contribute to their community. We invite papers that explore this topic, particularly those that describe the use and development of tests for the purpose of increasing access to the workplace.

Automated language testing

Recent advances in big data and machine learning are making automated assessment of spoken and written language performance a reality. While this progress might seem like a panacea for large-scale language testing, it comes with caveats and necessary considerations in order to avoid threats to fairness, validity and inclusivity. This strand invites presenters who engage with the complexities of automated assessment to provide some insight into how we can responsibly incorporate the advantages of the system into language testing.

The impact of language assessment on the environment, now and in the future

This strand invites papers exploring the environmental footprint of testing, whether investigating current practices or the potential positive and negative consequences of moving towards digital assessment. We are particularly interested in papers focused on how the language testing industry can positively contribute towards reducing environmental impact.