Language Assessment Literacy Research Brief

By Rima Elabdali

Why is it important to consider an instructor’s language assessment literacy skills? This research brief will explains how developing this kind of literacy has implications that extend beyond the assessment .

This research brief can also be viewed and downloaded as a pdf here.

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Language Assessment Literacy (LAL) refers to language instructors’ familiarity with assessment practices and their ability to apply this knowledge to evaluate students’ language outcome measures (Malone, 2013; Stiggins, 1991). Concerns about teachers’ assessment literacy abounds in the literature; prior studies have indicated that teachers may lack the skills needed to select or develop appropriate assessment measures (Taras & Davis, 2017; Xu & Brown, 2016; Wright, Foran, Holmes, & Lou, 2016). Such concerns have also been voiced specifically about language teachers, with studies suggesting inadequate levels of assessment training (Fulcher, 2012; Mendoza & Arandia, 2009), which highlights the need for training in foreign-language assessment (Magnan, 1991; Terry, 1992). While there is ample evidence of a lack of assessment practices, pre-service assessment seminars remain the dominant model for preparing foreign language teachers. This model, as Allen and Maxim (2013) argued, does not account for long-term responsibilities and contextual realities of foreign language teaching. Further, the ever-changing nature of language testing as a field highlights the need for on-going professional development (PD) in language assessment (Malone, 2008). The list below summarizes major findings from studies that examined the effect of PD on language teachers’ assessment literacy.

What does it mean?

Professional development (PD) is defined as learning opportunities that provide teachers with the support structure to participate in a collegial and collaborative dialogue and reflection in order to improve their knowledge, skills, and classroom practices (Diaz-Maggioli, 2003).

Performance-based assessment is a measure of language learners’ ability to perform real-world tasks in the target language rather than their knowledge of the grammar (Davies et al., 1999).


  • Teachers acquired confidence in their assessment of foreign language ability and reported a transformation of practices towards a more learner-centered approach that highlights flexibility and communication (Hildén & Fröjdendahl, 2018).
  • Teachers expressed an increased sense of community and collegial support among the foreign language faculty. They became more reflective about their assessment practices and reported adjusting their grammar-oriented speaking and writing rubrics to performance-based assessment rubrics that emphasize expression and authenticity (Hurbult, 2015).
  • Short-term gains were achieved in teachers’ self-perceived LAL capacities, but the long-term effects of PD on LAL were unclear as teachers’ capacity to translate the learned knowledge into teaching was hampered by external factors, such as limited time, thus highlighting the need to provide continuous support for long-term impact (Kim, Borowczyk, Elabdali, & Malone, (in preparation)).

It can be said…

Professional development has the potential to foster language teachers’ assessment literacy. Teachers who engage in assessment training demonstrate higher confidence in their assessment skills and are better able to reflect on their assessment practices. Professional development can also encourage language teachers to move beyond teacher-centered teaching and grammar-oriented assessment towards learner-centered approaches and performance-based assessment practices.

Professional development can also offer language teachers opportunities to establish communal support. Such social networks focused on exploring innovative practices can be a catalyst for adopting and sustaining practices (Haviland, Shin, & Turley, 2010; Hurbult, 2015) because teachers are able to explore the feasibility of new practices under local constraints and discuss ways to adapt them to the regulations and culture of their institutions.

So What?

Policy Makers

…should ensure funding for systematic PD opportunities, especially for in-service language teachers, in order to provide access to assessment training.

Language Programs

…should support language teachers’ assessment literacy through ongoing PD opportunities.

Language Researchers

…should further examine the long-term effects of PD on teachers’ assessment literacy.


Allen, H.W., & Maxim, H.H. (Eds.). (2013). Educating the future foreign language professoriate for the 21st century. Boston: Heinle Cengage.

Davies, A., Brown, A., Elder, C., Hill, K., Lumley, T., & McNamara, T. (1999). Dictionary of Language Testing, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Diaz-Maggioli, G. (2003). Professional development for language teachers. Eric Digest, 3(3), 1-4.

Fulcher, G. (2012). Assessment literacy for the language classroom. Language Assessment Quarterly, 9(2), 113-132.

Haviland, D., Shin, S., Turley, S. (2010). Now I’m ready: The impact of professional development initiative on faculty concerns with program assessment. Innovative Higher Education, 35(4), 261-275.

Hildén, R., & Fröjdendahl, B. (2018). The dawn of assessment literacy – exploring the conceptions of Finnish student teachers in foreign languages. Apples – Journal of Applied Language Studies, 12(1), 1-24.

Hurlbut, S. L. (2015). Exploring foreign language classroom-based assessment through subject-specific professional development: A participatory action research case study (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). The University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE.

Magnan, S. S. (1991). Just do it: Directing TAs toward task-based and process-oriented testing. In R.V. Teschner (Ed.), Assessing foreign language proficiency of undergraduates. Issues in language program direction: A series of annual volumes (pp. 135 – 162). Boston: Heinle.

Malone, M.E. (2008). Training in language assessment: In E. Shohamy & N. Hornberger (Eds.), Encyclopedia of language and education, Vol. 7: Language testing and assessment (2nd ed., pp. 225-233). New York: Springer Science and Business Media.

Malone, M.E. (2013). The essentials of assessment literacy: Contrasts between testers and users. Language Testing, 30(3), 329-344.

Stiggins, R. (1991). Assessment literacy. Phi Delta Kappan, 72(7), 534-539.

Taras, M., & Davies, M. (2017). Assessment beliefs of higher education staff developers. London Review of Education, 15(1), 126-140.

Terry, R.M. (1992). Improving inter-rater reliability in scoring tests in multisection courses. In J.C. Walz (Ed.), Development and supervision of teaching assistants in foreign languages. Issues in language program direction: A series of annual volumes (pp. 229-262). Boston: Heinle.

Wright, H.P., Foran, A.R., Holmes, H., & Lou, Y. (2016). Classroom assessments: What type of learning is being measured? Paper presented at American Educational Research Association, Washington DC.

Xu, Y., & Brown, G. (2016). Teacher assessment literacy in practice: A reconceptualization. Teaching and Teacher Education, 58(C), 149-162.

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