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Philosophy and language testing

posted on 11.06.2014, 14:12 by N. Glenn Fulcher
For the purpose of this chapter, philosophy will be seen as the study of the beliefs that we have about the world, and the use of rational argument and evidence in the formulation and support of those beliefs. In recent years it has been widely argued that language testing exists in a social context and that language assessment practices and test use can be understood only in terms of the exercise of power. This position is based on a particular view of the world in which meaning is created by human interaction and social structures, but where there is little use for reference in Frege's sense. It is a position that does not ask ontological questions, but prioritizes a social ethics of test use for instrumental purposes. This illustrates a deeper truth than any claim that tests exist in, and are shaped by, social conditions. Namely, that how we understand the role of tests and social conditions is determined by our prior understanding of how we think the world works. In this chapter I will attempt to unravel some of the key philosophical issues that face the language-testing profession, and in the process help to shed some light on fault lines in current debate that are much deeper than mere disagreement on procedure or outcomes. These will include: the nature of our constructs; the role of “procedure” in validity theory; realism, instrumentalism, and constructionism; the place of “inference”; reductionism and language assessment as a “social” science. The discussion will be embedded in a loose historical narrative that relates language assessment to the development of philosophical beliefs about “assessing man” in the social sciences.



Fulcher, N. G., Philosophy and Language Testing, ed. Kunnan, AJ, 'The Companion to Language Testing', 3, Wiley-Blackwell, 2014, pp. 1431-1451

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Kunnan, AJ