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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The usefulness and ethical status of language entrance/placement testing at a post-secondary institution Golder, Katherine Jane


Often language entrance and placement testing at post-secondary institutions is used as a gatekeeping mechanism--sorting people in and out, keeping out those who don’t exactly fit their desired profile. This is troubling in a country as multicultural as Canada since testing language can be seen as testing culture. Testing, therefore, may be perceived as a tool for restricting minority access. This has been highlighted by recent media coverage of foreign-trained professionals and their restricted access to post-secondary institutions to gain Canadian credentials. However, testing can and should do more than gatekeeping: among other purposes, testing can be an educational, diagnostic tool, and feedback on results can give test takers insight into their strengths and weaknesses. While the classic criteria of reliability and validity are important in evaluating testing, we must also include criteria beyond these. For testing to be considered ’good’ it must be useful (e.g. demonstrate reliability, validity, practicality) and ethical (ensure all test takers are treated equally, demonstrate respect for persons, and maximize the benefits to stakeholders). This research project is an exploratory qualitative examination of the usefulness and ethical status of language entrance/placement testing at a Canadian post-secondary institution. Opinions and perceptions of testing were obtained from a variety of stakeholders in the testing process to determine how ethical and useful testing was and was perceived to be. The stakeholder groups involved were test takers (both successful and unsuccessful), test score users (including instructors and administrators), and test developers and administrators. Data was obtained through focus groups, interviews, and questionnaires between September and November of 2005. The main finding of this research was that while the testing process met certain criteria for ethics and usefulness, there were a variety of areas that could be improved. Overall, a lack of communication between test developers/administrators and other stakeholder groups, as well as a general lack of transparency in the testing process, led to widespread misunderstandings of the tests’ content and purposes. This, in turn, created a lack of respect for the authority of testing, and a lack of face validity.

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