Exploring the Alignment of the Secondary School Certificate English Examination with Curriculum and Classroom Instruction: a Washback Study in Bangladesh

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Sultana, Nasreen
Washback , ESL , EFL , Influence of Examinations , Test Impact , Curriculum Alignment , Teaching and Learning of English , Bangladesh , South Asia , Secondary School Certificate English Examination , Qualitative Research
In the nearly three decades of research, washback research has explored a range of factors such as teachers, students, and social contexts in order to understand how testing influences teaching and learning globally. However, little research has been done on how (mis)aligned assessment systems may create test washback on classroom teaching and learning. In South Asian contexts, test washback is especially noticeable due to the region’s extremely examination-oriented education system, yet studies on washback in this part of the world are extremely limited especially in Bangladesh. This doctoral dissertation attempted to bridge this gap in the literature by investigating the alignment of curriculum, textbook, and examination in Bangladesh to examine how alignment or misalignment relationships created washback effects on classroom teaching and learning. The Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examination is the most high-stakes examination in Bangladesh. Approximately two million students take the SSC examination each year. High scores on this examination, particularly SSC English-language scores, are needed to gain admission to higher education and top universities; high SSC scores can also help students obtain better jobs. Also, getting a better grade in the English subject is a badge of status marker for students and their parents. Thus, securing the highest possible score on the SSC English examination is essential for test takers. To explore how the SSC English examination influenced English classroom teaching and learning, this study used a multimethod, qualitative approach. Drawing on an adapted argument and evidence-based validation framework (Pellegrino et al., 2016), I collected evidence from multiple stakeholders to build the instructional validity of the classroom instruction. Instructional validity seeks evidence about the alignment of examination with the defined knowledge and skills in the curriculum, and how examination guides classroom teaching and learning (Pellegrino et al., 2016). Data were collected through documents, interviews, classroom observations, and focus groups. Three main findings of the study highlight the complex and non-linear nature of washback in the context of Bangladesh. First, the SSC English examination was largely misaligned with the national English curriculum and the prescribed textbook because of bureaucratic and contextual problems in the country’s educational system. Second, because of this misalignment, teachers taught to the test rather than the curriculum. Since high SSC English examination scores were the most highly valued outcome, English skills not on the examination were ignored by teachers. Third, students prepared only for the examination, fulfilling their short-term goal of high SSC English scores while neglecting their long-term goal of improving English proficiency. While students took intense test preparation, they were privy to the fact that test preparation was not going to improve their English skills. For national curriculum and textbook developers, these washback effects were unintended. However, for teachers and students, these results were intentional and what they wanted, as students and teachers prioritized high SSC examination scores over English proficiency which was the original goal in the English curriculum.
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