Wednesday, March 30, 2016

elena shohamy interview 2010

I'm getting the background on Prof. Shohamy from Lazaraton, 2010, being an interview transcript. This because she's clearly the leading figure in CLT.

Shohamy's interest in language and testing could be the result of a 1950s childhood in Israel, where ability in Hebrew was a signifier of belonging, and citizenship. Her father had employment difficulties because of his inability in the language: "There was kind of an unofficial CEFR scale, if you will, whereby people got language proficiency scores."  

In the 1970s, at University of Minnesota, the FSI (or CIA or ETS?) were interested in testing being given academic credibility. They used face-to-face interviews for assessment and considered that they had '“emotional validity,” or “experiential validity.”' Her doctoral work compared cloze tests and the FSI speaking tests in Hebrew, (finding high correlations), but "I am very glad that I detached myself from that work and went in a different direction in testing, with a focus on its social and political implications."

"For all kinds of reasons testers are constantly looking for simple solutions, such as the CEFR, for much more complex issues."

The (Israeli) Ministry of Education used tests to give power over teachers, who are "people who follow orders" and this is usually done by means of testing, (p263). 

[It's not really relevant to my interest in Shohamy's work, but, as an aside, see for example p264, the speed with which things happen in Israel according to her is breathtaking: from academic paper, to meeting with the Minister of Education, to government policy, all in a matter of weeks. Interesting when considering language policy generally. (Compare, eg, Attaturk's alphabetization changes, July-November, 1928.) However, 'it is clear that policy and deeds do not always match'.] 

'I find that we generally try to address questions posed by testing organizations such as ETS or Cambridge ESOL. I find the researchers in the field are not interested in the effect of these tests on human beings, on the cost of tests, on what language means in this day and age of immigration, globalization and transnationalism, and on various societal dimensions of tests.'

'...other researchers need to do this kind of research, to monitor testing agencies so the tests with negative consequences will not be used, and to protect test-takers from such tests, by introducing issues of test-taker rights' [emphasis supplied].

Research on citizenship tests is compared with pharmaceutical research. Those who develop tests for citizenship will not look too closely into consequences because they are getting paid. 'We certainly need to continue with research... to examine test consequences, good and bad, and to interview people who were victims of tests and then publicize these findings', [emphasis supplied. My research in a nutshell]. 

Speaks with approval of Shohamy, 2001, which I'll read next. 


Lazaraton, A. (2010). From Cloze to Consequences and Beyond: An Interview With Elana Shohamy. Language Assessment Quarterly, 7(3), 255–279.

Shohamy, E. (2001). The power of tests: A critical view of the uses of language tests. Harlow, UK: Pearson Longman.