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Professor Xiangdong Gu - College English Test (CET) washback talk

Date: 20 September 2013 Time: 2.00 pm

Venue: Bowland North SR10

A longitudinal case study of the washback of the National College English Test on teachers' teaching processes and behaviours: Classroom observation

Xiangdong Gu, Chongqing University & Zhiqiang Yang, Chongqing University of Science and Technology

Date: Friday 20th September

Time: 2:00pm - 3:30pm

Room: SR10 Bowland North


Since Alderson and Wall (1993), an increasing number of washback studies have been carried out in the field of language assessment (among others, Wall & Alderson, 1993; Shohamy, Donitsa-Schmidt & Ferman, 1996; Alderson & Hamp-Lyons, 1996; Watanabe, 1996; Qi, 2004; Cheng, 2005; Hawkey, 2006; Gu, 2007; Green, 2007). These have deepened our understanding of this complex phenomenon. However, there is a dearth of baseline and longitudinal studies tracking changes in washback.

This study reports the results of a longitudinal case study of the washback of the National College English Test in China (CET), from which the washback findings on teaching processes and behaviours observed will be discussed. This CET washback study, using a case-study approach, focused on classroom teachers before and after the largest innovation in the history of CET in 2005. We observed 17 teachers' classrooms in 2003 (before the CET innovation) and 29 teachers' classrooms in 2009 (after the CET innovation) using the same classroom observation coding scheme. We also videotaped three teachers' classroom teaching for in-depth analysis in both years at the sampled university.

Before and after classroom teaching and learning comparisons were made from four perspectives: teaching plans, teaching content, teaching methods and teaching attitudes. The research findings indicate that the College English teaching model remained the same after the CET innovation, but there were also some clear-cut changes in terms of semester teaching plans, teaching content and teaching methods. It seems that the CET innovation was one of the main factors contributing to these changes, which, however, may also be attributed to other factors, such as the official teaching syllabus, school curriculum design, the use of the CET results, teachers' individual differences, and students' English proficiency. This paper will discuss these changes and factors and should encourage participants to think about the changes and factors in relation to the exams they are familiar with.

In the CET washback study, two theoretical models were constructed: a basic research model of CET washback and a hierarchical model of its stakeholders, with test-irrelevant factors related to different layers of stakeholders. These models may be replicated or referenced in other test washback studies. Our research indicates a series of test-irrelevant factors affecting teachers' teaching processes and behaviours, and puts forward suggestions for various groups of stakeholders to promote positive washback. We also provide suggestions for further studies on CET washback in particular and test washback in general as well.

Biographical details

Professor Xiangdong Gu is director of the Research Centre of Language, Cognition and Language Application and director of the Assessment Research Institute in Chongqing University, China. She also serves as professor at the English Department in the same university and as senior research consultant to Cambridge English Language Assessment. She holds a PhD in Linguistics and Applied Linguistics from Shanghai Jiaotong University (China) supervised by Professor Huizhong Yang, and furthered her study at University of California Los Angeles supervised by Professor Lyle F. Bachman after her PhD. She had a one-year visiting professorship (Oct. 2011-Sept. 2012) supervised by Dr Nick Saville in Cambridge ESOL Research and Validation Group. Since 2000, she has published and presented academic papers widely on language assessment, EFL teaching & learning, and teacher development. Her recent interests mainly focus on validation and impact studies of large-scale and high-stakes national and international EFL tests in China.


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Organising departments and research centres: Linguistics and English Language


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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
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