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Validity and Washback in Language Testing

Messick, Samuel J.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Construct Validity, Language Teachers, Language Tests, Performance Assessment, Teaching Methods, Test Interpretation, Test Use


The current educational reform movement in the United States puts considerable stock in the notion that performance assessments, as opposed to multiple-choice tests, will facilitate improved teaching and learning. Some proponents even claim that performance assessments, especially those that are authentic and direct, are likely to be "systemically valid." A kindred notion prominent in applied linguistics is called "washback," which is the extent to which the test influences language teachers and learners to do things they would not otherwise necessarily do. As with "systemic validity," some writers invoke the notion of "washback validity," holding that a test's validity should be gauged by the degree to which it has a positive influence on teaching. The author maintains that one should not rely on washback, with all its complexity and uncontrolled variables, to establish test validity, but instead examine the test properties likely to produce washback—namely, authenticity and directness— to determine what they mean in terms of validity. These issues are then examined in the broader context of a comprehensive view of construct validity.

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