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  • Testing online version of this article can be found at:

    DOI: 10.1177/0265532213514529 2014 31: 264Language Testing

    Guoxing YuLanguage Classroom

    Book review: Classroom-Based Assessment in the School Foreign

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    McNamara, T. (2006). Validity in language testing: The challenge of Sam Messicks legacy. Language Assessment Quarterly, 3(1), 3151.

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    K. Hill (2012). Classroom-Based Assessment in the School Foreign Language Classroom. Frankfurt: Peter Lang. 234 pp. ISBN 9783631638118 (hbk), ISBN 9783653019841 (ebk), 37.20

    Reviewed by: Guoxing Yu, University of Bristol, UK

    Language Testing and Evaluation is a well-established series of publications in the field of language assessment; it is particularly known for publishing revised versions of doc-toral dissertations since 2005. This volume, Number 27 of the series, is based on Kathryn Hills PhD dissertation (2008), which was supervised by Professor Tim McNamara at the University of Melbourne, Australia. The chapters of this volume are arranged in a typical order of a PhD dissertation, including an introduction and background to the study (Chapters 1 and 2), a literature review on classroom-based assessment (Chapter 3), an overview of the research design and participants (Chapters 4 and 5) and the approach to data analysis (Chapter 6), results (Chapters 7, 8, and 9), and a discussion and conclusions (Chapter 9).

    In this volume, Hill reports her ethnographic study of three teachers formative assess-ment in Indonesian as a foreign language at two successive levels of schooling (Year 6, the last year of primary education, and Year 7, the first year of secondary education in Victoria where she lives). Classroom-based assessment has been gaining momentum, especially in general educational assessment since the seminal meta-analysis by Black and Wiliam (1998). Similarly, in the field of language assessment, works by Pauline Rea-Dickins and Constant Leung have inspired a number of studies of classroom-based assessment, especially in English as an additional/foreign/second language. Hills is one such study. The five research questions reflect the issues identified by Leung (2005) and Rea-Dickins (2006) in relation to the roles of teachers and learners in classroom-based assessment processes: (1) What do language teachers do when they carry out classroom-based assessment? (2) What do they look for when they are assessing learners? (3) What theory or standards do they use? (4) Do learners share the same understandings? (5) Is

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    success constructed in the same way in primary and secondary school foreign language programs? (pp. 1314).

    The continuity issue was central to this research, as Hill states in the very first sen-tence of the book: This book presents the results of an ethnographic study of classroom-based assessment practices used to investigate the issue of continuity between primary and second school foreign language programs (p. 11). This policy-driven approach to formulating the research agenda and reference to continuity issues in classroom-based assessment presents an interesting and, I would argue, fresh example of research into language teachers formative assessment. The research itself clearly demonstrates the reciprocal nature of educational policy and language assessment research, which is often missed in many doctoral dissertation projects. Equally importantly, it is worth pointing out that Hills research moves beyond Rea-Dickins and Leungs, not simply because of having Indonesian as a foreign language commonly taught in Australia as its research context, but largely because of its effort to put forward a framework for researching classroom-based assessment processes, which is reported in a more concise way in Hill and McNamara (2011). Interested readers should consult Hill and McNamara (2011), and the accompanying podcast by Hill ( The podcast and the journal paper together provide an essential snapshot into the framework and her book, which I summarize below.

    In Chapter 1, Hill explains very briefly the continuity issues in foreign language edu-cation between primary and secondary schools in Australia, and postulates that teachers assessment practices might be an entry point to understanding them. The second section of the chapter presents the five research questions (see above) and the overview of the book. Although it is such a short chapter as in a book, it is efficiently captivating and helpful for readers to decide whether they would wish to read on or not. I was intrigued by this short introductory chapter.

    In Chapter 2, Hill elucidates the continuity issues by examining the Australian gov-ernment policies on primary foreign language education with special reference to UK and US policies for teaching foreign languages in schools. Her critique on the continuity issues in Australia has been well informed, notably by her own previous studies (e.g., Hill, 2003), which she cites quite extensively to present a convincing case for further research from the perspectives of teachers classroom-based assessment.

    Following naturally from Chapter 2, Hill reviews the literature on classroom-based assessment in Chapter 3. In the first half of the chapter, she presents a broad working definition of classroom-based assessment as three key dimensions of assessment, Evidence, Interpretation, and Use, in line with McNamara (2001). Evidence refers to the information or data that is collected, in terms of a number of questions such as what is assessed, how is evidence collected, who is assessed, and by whom. Interpretation refers to reflection (whether the attention to assessment is sustained or fleeting) and criteria (what values are attached to guide the assessment, and whether they are explicit or unconscious, external or indigenous). Use refers to purpose (how evi-dence is used) and agent (by whom). Although the three dimensions do not seem to present a significantly different definition of classroom-based assessment from those put forward by other researchers, what is really interesting and innovative is the

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  • 266 Language Testing 31(2)

    approach that Hill took. She defines classroom-based assessment in line with the research methodology of this study: the ethnographic principle to admit all possible evidence (p. 34). This all-encompassing definition of classroom-based assessment: any reflection by teachers (and/or learners) on the qualities of a learners (or group of learners) work and the use of that information by teachers (and/or learners) for teach-ing, learning, reporting, management or socialisation purposes (p. 34) serves the research aims and data collection methodology particularly well. In the second half of the chapter, the literature review on classroom-based assessment is arranged along the themes of the five research questions.

    In the first half of Chapter 4, Hill justifies the use of ethnographic research methods with reference to her own epistemological positioning as a researcher. The aim of the study, as Hill rightly admits, was not to produce a complete ethnography of the class-room but rather to use ethnographic methods, including participant observation and case study, to gain a deeper understanding of assessment practices in the participating class-rooms (pp. 4950). In the second half of Chapter 4, Hill provides a snapshot of the research sites and participants, and the main datasets, which comprised classroom obser-vations, field notes and interviews with teachers and students, supplemented by associ-ated documents such as official curricula, school policy, textbooks, assessment rubrics, teachers notes and ledgers, written communications between teachers, student work-books, worksheets and assignments, and progress reports se