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Cambridge University’s new Master of Studies (MSt) in English Language Assessment will empower professionals in language testing to enhance teaching and learning, writes Dr Nick Saville from Cambridge Assessment English.
When we develop any assessment in Cambridge, we design it to have a positive impact on teaching and learning, and to benefit both the individual learner and society more widely. This is in line with the University of Cambridge’s mission ‘to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence.'
How can you ensure that the impact of a test is positive? For a start you need to evaluate the impact of the test and to have the skills and system to spot any negative effects so that you put them right. This is what we call ‘impact by design’ and it is at the heart of the new Master of Studies in English Language Assessment which begins in January 2022.
I have been working in Cambridge for over three decades, and for the last 20 years I have been Director of Research and Thought Leadership for Cambridge Assessment English. I’m particularly interested in how people learn languages, and how they develop more than one language. Above all, I am passionate about the way language assessment is the key to effective teaching and learning.
I’m also very interested in how we in Cambridge can help learners using different forms of assessment to support their learning. This is why I believe that this new Master's degree is so valuable for English language professionals and will make an important contribution to English language education worldwide.
Traditionally, assessment has been taught mainly as part of wider courses in applied linguistics and covers both first language speakers and second or foreign language learners. This new course focuses specifically on the assessment of English as a second or foreign language and is delivered by a truly multidisciplinary team from across the University of Cambridge. Many of my colleagues from Cambridge Assessment English will be teaching on the course, alongside our colleagues in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Language and Linguistics, the Institiute of Continuing Education with the input of the Institute for Automated Language Teaching and Assessment (ALTA).
The course will cover theories of language acquisition, teaching and testing, as well as the statistical techniques at the heart of language assessment. Students do not need to be experts in statistics, but they do need to come with an open mind to find out more about these areas!
We’ll also be looking at cutting edge technology in language assessment. We will focus on developing a wide range of skills to help participants to critically evaluate the use of the technology in assessment, and to implement it effectively, always emphasising the benefits for teachers and learners.
Cambridge University has been teaching English and applied linguistics as a speciality subject for thirty years and Cambridge Assessment English has always been closely involved with this work. My colleagues in the research team at Cambridge English taught a module on assessment as part of the former MPhil course in English and Applied Linguistics, and we wanted to offer a course that was more specifically focused on English language assessment.
We’ve been working with colleagues across the University for several years to develop this new course to make sure that it will really benefit a wide range of professionals. It’s going to be relevant for anyone who is involved in language testing, whether in the classroom, in curriculum development or at the policy level, as well as assessment specialists who want to deepen their knowledge and skills, and possibly to undertake academic research in the field.