Context, Construct, and Consequences: Washback of the College English Test in China
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The College English Test (CET) is a large-scale language testing program implemented for the purpose of enhancing English as a foreign language (EFL) in the Chinese tertiary education context. Its results have been used for different purposes in varied contexts. The multiple uses have generated growing concerns and debate over consequences and validity. However, in the field of language assessment, there are few empirical studies that investigate test consequences within a coherent validation framework. Without such studies, it’s hard to know how and why the CET program influences teaching and learning. To address this research gap and research problem, this multi-phase, multi-method study investigated the intended and unintended consequences of the CET, focusing on its washback on students’ learning and learning outcomes. Drawing on the argument-based validation approach, I linked evidence about the CET consequences to construct validity. Participants of this study were multiple stakeholders including the test developer, test users and students. Interview, questionnaire, and test score data were collected. The interview data were analyzed thematically. Structural equation modeling (SEM) was used to analyze the questionnaire and the test score data. Findings of this study highlight the complexity of the consequences of the CET in the Chinese educational and societal contexts. This complexity was attributable to both properties of the test and other contextual forces, particularly uses of the test in the educational and societal contexts. These findings indicate that while the CET provides useful information about students’ achievement of the curriculum, the decision to use the testing program to enhance EFL education is not supported by evidence regarding its consequences. This study sheds light on understanding why and in what ways the CET washback exists in the Chinese educational context. Findings of this study have significant implications for future washback research and for the CET implementation as well as EFL teaching and learning.