University of Leicester
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Investigating the washback effect of a revised EFL public examination on teachers’ instructional practices, materials and curriculum

posted on 2014-02-05, 11:23 authored by Abdulhamid Mustafa El-Murabet Onaiba
The phenomenon of how tests influence teaching and learning is commonly described in language education as "washback". The purpose of this study was to investigate how English teachers in Libyan schools were influenced by introducing a reformed EFL public examination, called the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE), in terms of their instructional practices—the how; and teaching materials and curriculum—the what. The study also sought to examine the effect of any other teacher and context-dependent variables on washback. Three main aspects were studied: teachers’ perception of the exam (perception washback); classroom teaching and testing practices (methodology washback); and teachers’ choice, selection and use of teaching materials (curriculum washback). To address these issues, a mixed methods approach was utilized. Descriptive and inferential statistics were used to analyse quantitative data obtained from surveying 100 teachers. Content analysis was then conducted to interpret qualitative data elicited from documents, observations of two teachers and interviews with 11 teachers and 7 inspectors. The study found that teachers expressed negative rather than positive views towards the exam. Findings indicated that the introduced exam did exert washback on teachers’ instructional practices. However, washback was noticed in issues related to classroom testing practices rather than in teaching practices. As the new BECE did not represent the current curriculum, negative washback was observed on the content of the curriculum: some teachers tended to rely on the “hidden syllabus”, while others narrowed the syllabus to meet the content of the exam. While some desired aims were achieved through the exam, others were not. The intensity and direction of washback was shown to be influenced by mediating variables such as the teacher and the context: the data indicated differences between veteran and novice teachers, and their level of education also affected their response to the exam. Gender was irrelevant. The grade level and class size taught was also associated with impact. The findings of the study indicate how examination reform can be used as leverage of pedagogical change and to dictate the how and the what of teaching, but to different degrees. The study made it crystal clear that washback does exist, but that it operates in a complex manner associated with other variables besides the exam per se. Thus the study suggests that washback cannot be a theory because it seemed not to have predictive power. This study also suggests guidance for future policies for improvement of the examination system in Libyan schools, arguing for alignment of examinations and the English curriculum, with some recommendations as to how this may be achieved.



Fulcher, Norman; Gieve, Simon

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University of Leicester

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  • Doctoral

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  • EdD



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