It has long been believed that tests directly influence educational processes in various ways. One common assumption is that teachers will be influenced by the knowledge that their students are planning to take a certain test and will adapt their teaching methodology and lesson content to reflect the test’s demands. The term ‘backwash’ has been used to refer to the way a test affects teaching materials and classroom management (Hughes 1989), although within the applied linguistics and language testing community the term ‘washback’ is more widely used today (Weir 1990; Alderson and Wall 1993; Alderson 2004). Washback is generally perceived as being either negative (harmful) or positive (beneficial). Negative washback is said to occur when a test’s content or format is based on a narrow definition of language ability, and so constrains the teaching/learning context. Davies et al. (1999: 225) offer the following illustration: ‘If, for example, the skill of writing is tested only by multiple choice items then there is great pressure to practise such items rather than to practise the skill of writing itself’. Positive washback is said to result when a testing procedure encourages ‘good’ teaching practice; for example, an oral proficiency test is introduced in the expectation that it will promote the teaching of speaking skills.

Lynda Taylor

To read the article download the PDF: Washback and Impact