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The impact of implementing English proficiency tests as a graduation requirement at Taiwanese universities of technology

Hsu, Hui-Fen (2010) The impact of implementing English proficiency tests as a graduation requirement at Taiwanese universities of technology. PhD thesis, University of York.

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Abstract

Both the Taiwanese government and the community at large recognise that a high level of English language ability among the workforce is essential for success in virtually all walks of life, as Taiwan is heavily dependent on international business for its economic growth. A growing concern for national standards of educational achievement in a competitive global economy, together with a heightened demand for accountability in government expenditure has been reflected in tertiary institutions, where the problem of graduates’ English proficiency has been addressed. An innovation, the Graduation Threshold (GT), has been proposed by some universities of technology in order to ensure higher standards of English proficiency among graduating students. GT is a university policy whereby students are expected to fulfil graduation requirements by obtaining a certain level in, or getting at least a certain score on, an English proficiency test. Tests have long been advocated by policymakers in diverse national contexts as one form of effective leverage of control. The phenomenon of how tests influence teaching and learning is commonly described as ‘washback’. Yet while the connection between testing and learning is commonly made, it is not known whether it really exists and, if it does, it is seldom crystal clear whether tests have favourable or deleterious washback. Following a critical review of selected literature on the washback of tests, particularly English language tests, on teaching and learning, the focus of the current study is to determine whether the effort of the concerned Taiwanese universities of technology to implement the GT has changed institutional policies, teaching and learning. If so, are English proficiency tests playing any role in this? If there has not been any marked change, are English proficiency tests in any way responsible for blocking or impeding changes? The research sites were non-English departments of Taiwanese universities of technology, which were divided into two groups. One of the groups (Group 1) required non-English major students to pass one of a set of English proficiency tests at a specified level as a graduation requirement, whereas the other group (Group 2) did not prescribe any English graduation requirement. In each group, 27 to 28 teachers and 300 to 321 students completed questionnaires. Two teachers from each group, along with three departmental directors and three advisory committee members within the Taiwanese Ministry of Education, were interviewed. Two lessons taught by each interviewed teacher were also observed. Results indicated that the policy of implementing English proficiency tests as a graduation requirement had a superficial or at times no impact on teaching for both groups, with a slightly greater impact on Group 1, who complied with their university’s policy of English graduation requirement. Although the majority of Group 1 teachers, departmental directors and advisory committee members had generally positive attitudes towards the policy, teachers’ fundamental beliefs about English language teaching and learning were not changed. The new policy influenced what the teachers taught, but not how they taught. In addition, the teachers, departmental directors and advisory committee members pointed out several issues and problems with the diffusion and implementation of the educational innovation. The teachers and educational administrators nevertheless were aware of the problems they currently faced and appeared determined to resolve them. The results seem to argue against using English proficiency tests as a degree requirement or for other gatekeeping purposes. Guidelines are proposed for those universities which want to adopt the English proficiency tests for these high-stakes purposes.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: washback; attitudes and perspectives of English instructors in Taiwan; English proficiency tests; graduation requirement; attitudes and perspectives of students of English in Taiwanese universities of technology
Academic Units: The University of York > Educational Studies (York)
Depositing User: Ms Hui-Fen Hsu
Date Deposited: 25 May 2010 10:33
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2013 08:43
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/576

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