Criteria in English language assessment : a South African perspective

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The study recorded in this dissertation was undertaken in the School of Education at the University of Cape Town (UCT) during the period 1986-1990. It was motivated by perceived anomalies in the administration of State regulations for endorsement of teachers' diplomas in respect of ability in English (E/e). The study commences with an analysis of the relevant requirements of the regulations for teacher bilingualism, as set out in sections 10 and 11 of Criteria for the Evaluation of South African Qualifications for Employment in Education, 1988. Theoretical and practical problems of evaluation and endorsement identified at UCT are considered in relation to the concept of test failure, as opposed to testee failure. Responses to a questionnaire sent to other teacher training centres indicate similar concerns elsewhere. Arising from a review of recent literature on language testing, and against the background of the multilingual target groups tested at UCT, a proposition is put forward for a distinction between communicative competence and language proficiency as criteria in language assessment, depending on whether English is the medium (communicative competence), or the subject (proficiency), of instruction. Assuming that English will remain a medium of instruction in a changing socio-political dispensation, at least in the short and medium terms, the study then focuses on test design, construction and scoring, where the objective is to test communicative competence in English, rather than proficiency. The role of English in the curriculum in a future South Africa is discussed briefly. It is concluded that current regulations for language endorsement are in urgent need of review. The following recommendations are made in this regard: that the relevant requirements for teachers in State schools be reformulated to account for one level, rather than two, of endorsement in English as the medium of instruction; that such endorsement be required only in the case of non-English medium graduates, thereby recognising the integrity of the English medium teachers' diploma itself; that procedures for assessment for the purpose of diploma endorsement be standardised; and that the State support further research in this area.

Bibliography: pages 181-186.