The context is about Chinese college student English learning. College English Test, or CET, is a national English as a foreign language test in China. The aim of the test is to examine the English proficiency of undergraduate to “reach the required English levels specified in the National College English Syllabus” (two versions: one for science and engineering students, one for students of arts). There are two levels of test: level 4 and level 6. Many schools even associate level 4 certificate with graduation diploma. If students don’t pass CET 4, they will only get a degree without a diploma. Students who got a CET 6 certificate are usually considered to be competitive in job market and more likely to be recruited. While CET was widely recognized as a standardized test to assess students’ English skills in the past, now numerous critiques question the validity & reliability of this format of evaluation. Some people argue that test that are mainly composed of multiple choice emphasize the score and test itself, rather than the belief of English as a tool for communication and cultural exchange. Also, critiques of CET expand to teaching method in classroom and learning contents. Therefore, reforms have been called out both in instruction and evaluation aspects for several years. (and indeed CET 4 have gone through some reforms, but questions and doubts remains)
In 2013, several changes in CET 4 were made to fit the requirement in the syllabus. Some measures were taken to increase the degree of authenticity of the test. Though most students still has no access to the oral test section (“Till now, only a small fraction of students who got 550 points and above (out of 710 full marks) in the paper test of CET-4 are qualified to apply for oral test of CET-4.”), different formats in listening, reading and translation sections appeared. For instance, dialogs in listening section are now related to daily life, becoming more “authentic”; there is no cloze test section any more, students are required to translate a Chinese paragraph into English instead. Topics in translation section covers a wide range of issues, including history, culture, social development and economic status. Some experts agreed that the new test tries to learn from IELTS and TOEFL to increase its validity and reliability.
According to results of an online survey, which was conducted by Sina Weibo ( a famous Chinese micro-blog platform), “23.1 percent out of 3,835 test-takers said they didn’t finish the listening comprehension section” and 38.4 % of all respondents felt the new test “ is really difficult” while around 20% of participants admitted they felt “totally lost ”. (Note: Since the institute that in charge of CET would publish each year’s test items after the exam, everyone could buy copies of exam papers; statement of the online survey use terms like” compared to the old version”. So basically most new test participators have ideas of what the old version looks like.)
Problems arise here. Why more than half of all respondents felt they could not adjust to the new formats? Why nearly 60 percent of respondents either felt “too difficult” or “totally lost” (compared to the old version)? Remember that, new CET 4, as a new evaluation tool, in spite of existing faults, are on the right track. Obviously, students’ reactions show that they are not well-prepared yet. The problems then move to English teaching courses in college. From some articles and unstructured interview results, several common issues are: heavily teacher-centered instruction; boring learning contents; test-oriented instruction; students’ motivation and no connection between what is taught and what is tested. (Interesting, it seems to be the opposite of test-oriented instruction)
Where we are now: students don’t feel they learn much from the class; strategies utilized are merely for the exam, not learning; CET lacks adequate reliability and validity to evaluate English proficiency.
Where we want to go: College English class contributes to students’ English learning; strategies is used to facilitate teaching & learning; “authentic” and proper evaluation tool are developed to assess students in terms of English as communication tool.
Items listed above are descriptions of the “symptom” and situations we want to achieve after interventions being employed. The real problem is that students failed the reach the required English levels specified in the syllabus.
Assuming that certificates of CET 4 will still so important to college students (diploma & job market), and you are supposed to work on this discrepancy at the curriculum level, I would like to use the Morrison’s model (figure 2) to inform my ID model design because it is curriculum-oriented. It contains need assessment as the very first phase. Stockholder within the system include but not limited to students, school (teachers, technologists etc..), content experts, curriculum designer and instructional designers. External needs come from companies and the society. Key players are undergraduate students (English major students excluded). Outsides the system there are two other interdependent sections: National College English Syllabus and College English Test 4. If we look at the problem in a broader system, National College English Syllabus then becomes the input, the initial system turn to the process and students’ performance in CET 4 is the output. Therefore, when conducting a need assessment, all three sections illustrated below in figure 1 should be included.
In Morrison’s Model, Front-end analysis process include “instructional problem”, “learners’ characteristics”, “task analysis”. The purpose is to figure out what is the gap and what causes the gap. Alongside possible reasons within the system, syllabus and College English Test might also contribute to students’ poor performance. So in this context, we need also concern with interrelated factors outside the system in need assessment.