Language Testing and Assessment (LTA) is of special interest in Greece and Cyprus, the two countries where Standard Modern Greek is the official language1, for various reasons. First of all, LTA has permeated state school EFL education with teachers following specific testing requirements while trying to meet other instructional and administrative needs (see Tsagari and Pavlou, 2008; Tsagari, 2011a; Vogt et al, in press). As a result, EFL teachers experience various roles, e.g. teachers as ‘supporters of language development’ as well as ‘examiners’ and ‘raters’. In trying to maintain these roles teachers have to keep a balance between the directives for summative assessment data of learner achievement (for bureaucratic reporting purposes) and need for formative assessment for language learning and instructional planning as recommended in the new school curricula2. This state of affairs has resulted in creating an imbalance in the range of assessment practices and methods used in EFL state school education affecting significantly the development of enhanced, student-oriented assessment practices. There is also evidence of the ‘washback effect’ (Alderson & Wall, 1993) in teachers’ LTA practices that stems from classroom-based testing practices associated with external measures of language performance, as well as from the overreliance on textbook materials and its accompanying test booklets that are often used as sources of teachers’ assessments (Tsagari, 2009).
The private language sector in both countries presents an equally interesting picture. For example, even though students are taught EFL in public schools, the majority of them attend foreign language classes in private institutions called “frontistiria” or receive tuition on a one-on-one basis (Tsagari, 2006; 2009). The motivation for attending additional foreign language classes is the drive to obtain foreign language certification offered by international and local testing agencies who are very active in both countries (for a list of such agencies see Papageorgiou, 2009, p. 199). Tsagari (2009, pp. 190-202) presents empirical evidence that this desire is not only because of future professional or educational plans but also because of personal reasons, in particular self-esteem, as a result of belonging to the group of “successful” students (i.e. those who pass a language exam). All these, along with the official recognition such language exams receive by the State explain the value added to the various language certification systems that exist in both contexts. This state of affairs has often led to discussion about and research on the impact of such tests on language learning and teaching (see Tsagari, 2009; 2011b; in press).
However, even though foreign language testing and certification has been a mainstay in the present contexts for so many years, there is currently lack of a compendium of studies that can offer insights into large-scale foreign language testing and classroom-based assessment practices in the two educational contexts. The aim of this special issue of Research Papers in Language Teaching and Learning is to address this gap in the existing literature by putting together a corpus of both theoretical and research-oriented papers that present local and European trends and findings of research projects in LTA conducted within the Greek educational systems. These are thematically organized under three parts which are briefly described below.
1. Language testing developments and issues in Europe and in Greece. The first paper in the volume is written by a distinguished European testing scholar, Professor Sauli Takala, who has served as the President of the European Association for Language Testing and Assessment (EALTA) and has also been closely involved in the work of the Language Policy Division of the Council of Europe (see for example Takala, 2004). In his paper, Takala presents a detailed account of the developments and future challenges in the European testing and assessment context, which inevitably have a strong influence on the Greek educational system. The second paper focuses on similar issues but this time with specific reference to Greece. It is written by an active academic in the country, Professor Sofia Papaefthymiou-Lytra, who has taught and trained hundreds of pre-service and in-service teachers of English.
2. Issues related to English-language examinations administered in Greece. The next four papers by doctoral students (Papafilippou, Nteliou, Liontou and Delieza) present research related to testing agencies currently administering examinations in Greece. They demonstrate a very interesting mix of methods and language skills they investigate, as well as materials published by various testing agencies.
3. Assessment issues in foreign language classrooms. The remaining papers were submitted by in-service teachers, who obtained the M.Ed. in TESOL from the Hellenic Open University with an emphasis on language assessment. Vlandi explores teacher assessment practices in the language classroom of a state high school and the students’ view of these practices and makes recommendations about the professional development of EFL teachers. Five papers, by Barabouti, Kouzouli, Daphni, Bompolou and Efthymiou investigate different aspects of the use of portfolios in state school classrooms and offer suggestions regarding this type of assessment. Two more papers discuss the application of self-assessment (Chalkia) and peer-assessment (Meletiadou) and argue for a more learner-centered approach in the classroom. Lastly, three papers by Karayianni, Daskalogiannaki and Baglatzi present innovative assessment methods using technology.
The inclusion of papers written by graduate students (the majority of whom are practicing EFL state school teachers), as authors of this special issue was not accidental. By incorporating their papers in this volume we aimed to demonstrate that local expertise in LTA does exist and that a growing number of people with knowledge in the area can support innovative LTA practices in the educational system. For example, at the school level, the growing body of educators with a sound knowledge and understanding of LTA principles and techniques can lead to assessment innovations that are student-oriented and can have a positive impact on language learning. Supporting LTA literacy, especially in state school education, is imperative at present as valid and fair LTA practices and methods facilitate the alignment of local educational standards with basic and ‘transversal’ competences and other educational priorities stipulated by the Council of Europe3. In addition, local expertise in LTA helps users of tests (students, teachers, parents, educational policy makers and employers) draw valid inferences from scores of large-scale tests. This is also important for testing agencies, both local and international, because their testing ‘products’ can be used in appropriate ways.
Last but not least, we would like to highlight one additional outcome of this edited volume. The gradual compilation, reviewing and editing of the papers as well as the provision of feedback during the lifespan of this special issue was a truly rewarding experience for us, the guest editors, as well as the graduate student/authors. In the numerous exchanges of communication via emails and phonecalls, the student/authors admitted that they gained a better understanding of LTA principles and of improving their academic skills in writing a paper for a peer-reviewed publication (for most of them this special issue was their first attempt). We hope that this collection of papers will be useful to future practitioners and researchers, as well as graduate students interested in LTA in Greece, Cyprus and elsewhere.
Dina TSAGARI and Spiros PAPAGEORGIOU