Treacherous Quicksand: Quality Measurement in Foreign Language Education

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

While working on a new publication, I came across the following statement by H.G. Widdowson (1990: 1): “The effectiveness of teaching cannot be equated with its rational accountability.” This made me think again about what good quality management and quality assurance in foreign language learning and teaching – including the (fuzzy) concept of accountability – is all about. To my mind, it is essential to avoid simplistic equations between standardized tests / test scores and teacher / foreign language teaching quality on the one hand, and between individual test results and the outcome of foreign language and intercultural learning on the other. Equations like these are grossly inadequate to address the complex challenge of improving the quality of learning and teaching in foreign language classrooms. Instead of encouraging practitioners to take a fresh look at their teaching (stimulating, for instance, in-service training), I think they rather contribute to fixing the status quo (and a teaching to the test mentality), i.e. to ensuring stagnation.

Foreign language education in the 21st century is more than skills-based instruction (which does not make it easier at all; see my personal view of foreign language education in Germany on this blog). It embraces language (including literature) and culture as a whole, and it is this educational whole which matters. It cannot be captured by standardized (especially discrete-point) testing.

Accountability? “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.“ (William Shakespeare). This leaves many questions open to discussion. What do you personally think about all this?

Widdowson, Henry G. (1990). Aspects of Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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