Cambridge Language Assessment Series,
Cambridge University Press, 2004, 212 pages
There are two major reasons why a book focusing on this area is of importance. Firstly, because assessing the productive skills has always been problematic in terms of its relative subjectivity, and, secondly, because accurate and standardised assessment procedures are now vital in the context of international examinations, particularly those which fall within the Common European/ALTE Framework.
This is an academic book, typical of The Cambridge Applied Linguistics series, and a companion to seven other volumes covering the assessment of all aspects of language. Nevertheless the book is written in an accessible style, and contains sections which are of interest and relevance not only to professional test designers, but to all those involved in testing and assessment, including examiners who need to be aware of the principles behind the tests they are required to administer.
The book is broadly divided into three sections, with four chapters devoted to theoretical considerations and research into the speaking skill, task-design and assessment scales, three chapters concerned with practical examples and advice, and a final chapter which focuses on procedures for ensuring the reliability and validity of speaking tests.
All aspects of assessment are more than adequately covered. Teachers and testers will be particularly interested in the section devoted to task design, which not only considers a wide range of test-types but also the nuts and bolts of writing materials and task specifications. Of more general interest is the excellent comparison of written descriptors for international examinations, ranging from the length and detail of the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines to the relative simplicity and brevity of the TSE rating scale. Such a comparison involves insight into the developersí beliefs and assumptions about language learning.
This is a very well organised book, synthesising a wealth of existing literature, moving sensibly from the theoretical to the practical, and providing an overall understanding of the complex issues involved in assessing speaking. Teachers and testers alike will enjoy and learn a great deal from this book.
184 April/May 2005