Washback Effect of the CEPA English Test on Teaching in an Educational Zone in the UAE
Al Sheraiqi, Khawla Rashed
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Studies conducted to investigate the washback effect of standardized tests have found that the influence which a test might have on teaching can be positive or negative (see Cheng, 2005; Shohamy, 2001; and Wall & Alderson, 1996). One reason for variation in the washback effect of achievement and placement tests depends on the connection between the content of the test and the content of the students' syllabus. One way positive washback can be achieved is when the test is designed to include subjects and skills related to what students study in their daily lessons. Teachers in that case may make more efforts to ensure students' understanding of the content of their syllabus in order to ensure their success in their standardized tests. Such efforts would lead to providing students with a learning experience of a better quality (see Wall & Alderson, 1996). On the other hand, in contexts where the administered test is not related to the studied syllabus, negative washback might occur. Teachers in such a context may tend to teach to the test, concentrating more on the skills and subjects that are expected to be in the test and skipping over or superficially teaching the subjects that are not tested (see Wall & Alderson, 1996; and Volante, 2006). Of course, such practices have direct influence on the learning which takes place in these contexts. In 2006, it was decided to have all grade 12 students in the UAE take the CEPA English Test. Many decisions were decided to be taken regarding grade 12 students based on their results in the CEPA English Test. These decisions were related to secondary school graduation and university admission and placement. It is logical to think that introducing a high-stakes test like the CEPA English Test would have a washback effect on the teaching and learning process in the UAE, and this study aimed to discover the dimensions of that washback effect, if such an effect exists. Data collection methods included a teachers' questionnaire and interviews, as well as analysis of two Mock CEPA English Tests in comparison with grade 12 textbooks' scope and sequences. All the data were collected from one educational zone in the UAE. The findings of this study showed that there was not a direct relationship between the content of the analyzed Mock CEPA English Tests and the grade 12 syllabi as shown in the scope and sequence. Also, there were some aspects of both positive and negative washback present in the teaching process in the educational zone under study.