The Role of Language in Assessment ELISE T R UMBU L L A ND GUILLE RMO SOL ANO - FLORES
Language is the primary human tool for appropriating knowledge (Mantero, 2002) and for sharing what we know or think we know (Bronkart, 1995). It is the most powerful means by which human beings gain understanding of what is in each other’s minds-what Bronkart calls “intercomprehension.” And language is the symbol system through which humans construct new knowledge, ideas, hypotheses, plans, and poetry. It is of critical importance that teachers understand relationships between language and assessment because their assessment practices are-quite naturally-based on their “perceptions and understanding” (Jia, Eslami, & Burlbaw, 2006, p. 425). Language is so much a part of the processes of teaching, learning, and assessment that we-as educators-rarely stop to examine its role in these processes unless we are trying to teach English language learners (ELLs) or those who have language-based learning disabilities. In those cases, we become aware of how important language is to students’ academic success and the nature of the linguistic skills necessary to such success. We see that both basic and specialized vocabulary are essential. We observe that students may not have mastered certain grammatical forms necessary for understanding typical test questions; and we recognize that spelling, reading, and writing make particular demands that may not be so daunting to the native English-speaking student but do present problems for the English language learner. We know that for these students, assessments are often more of a test of language than of academic content-learning and may tell us little about what students actually know and can do (American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, & National Council on Measurement in Education, 1999; Heubert & Hauser, 1999; Valdés & Figueroa, 1994).