Negotiating the boundaries of responsibility: Rethinking test takers and the ethics of testing
Kellie Frost, University of Melbourne
Volume 10, Issue 1, 2021
Abstract: While the importance of accounting for the use of tests as policy instruments is by now widely acknowledged, validation frameworks in language testing rest on core assumptions which, I argue, preclude consideration of the lived experiences and subjectivities of test takers, and of the intentions and purposeful actions these experiences and subjectivities engender. As a result, the complex and dynamic ways that test taker actions are implicated in generating test and policy consequences remain hidden from view, as do the ethical implications of the wider societal impacts of testing practices. Drawing on studies examining test taker experiences of the use of English testing for immigration purposes in the Australian context, I highlight the disconnect between how test takers, test users and language testers come to attribute meanings to testing practices in this complex policy setting, and the types of conflicting decisions and actions which then emerge. To conclude, I argue for a renewed criticality in language testing that extends beyond evaluations of how well, if at all, test uses align with the expectations of test users and/or language testers, to a focus on the expectations of test takers as the stakeholder group to whom we must be primarily accountable. This demands not only further research into the lived experiences of those subjected to testing practices, but also an engagement with the wider discursive space within which problems of language and of policy are imagined, and the ways in which language testing, as a discipline, is implicated in the production of idealised language users, workers, and citizens, together with the various exclusions these entail.
Keywords: skilled migration, language policy, test takers, test impact, critical language testing