Educational Assessment (part III) – Released items and thinking outside the box

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In the last two posts, Icommented on Educational Assessment from two perspectives; first, analysing the types of tests we can find, and second, reflecting on how the information obtained through these tests is used in media. In this third post on educational assessment I’ll be dealing with the so-called ‘released items’, that is, activities and questions included in these official tests anybody can access and explore. To narrow down the analysis, I’ve chosen the European Survey of Language Competences (ESLC). As I said in a previous post, this test assesses students’ language competences in two foreign or additional languages. In Spain, English and French are tested having students finishing compulsory secondary education as participants. I’m wondering: What do these questions look like? What type of structure do they follow? What thinking skills are they promoting? Are they fostering creative thinking? 

Released Items
Released Items

To start with, I’ve accessed the document ‘released tasks’, available on the Spanish Ministry of Education website (you can access it here). This gave me the chance to have a gut reaction towards the structure and content of this test. It quickly reminded me of those old tests I had to take when I was studying English in the Language School. I was 10 years old, and I hated them :). Also, they have the same structure as other tests, such as the ones used in the Official School of Languages or in examination institutions, such as Cambridge or Trinity. In other words, the format is quite traditional. Regarding content, if you have a look at page 5 in the document, you’ll see that the topics covered are also quite common: family, hobbies, holidays, etc.

Most tasks are following a multiple-choice response format, and are asking the student to spot key information in written and oral tests. Let’s see an example which has intrigued me. It is on page 16. There you can read a short text on Leo, a cat which has been lost. The text is thought to be a notice written by his owner, but it doesn’t contain common features of this type of texts, namely, a photo of the lost animal, and short and descriptive sentences. The text is not natural at all, and it is really clear that some sentences have been added to have some more ‘stuff’ to ask about.

Trying to see the brigh side of things, knowing the structure of the activity may be of use if students are very scared thinking about the test. In this way, we can make them see that tasks are very similar to the ones most textbooks and official tests are using. Also, it is interesting for teachers to see how the activities are scaffolded differently according to students’ level (even if they are not the ideal model for scaffolding, it may serve teacher trainees to reflect on how these tasks could be improved to be used in class in a more significant way.

And here it goes my question, what’s the place of creativity in all of this? How are we measuring divergent thinking? How are we checking that students are using compensational strategies which will not answer the question as it is required for them to do but will make them successful at the end? Are tests directed to students which feel at ease with Multiple Intelligences other than Logical and Linguistic? Is this type of learner we are looking for? Are these tests reflecting a spoon-feeding methodology which was useful in the industrial revolution when everything was structured, organised and measured accordingly? Is there a chance to design tests which are reflecting students’ full learning potential instead of making them say/do/match/point to what it is considered ‘correct’? Discussion is open.

We should foster higher order thinking skills. Divergent thinking is a must
We should foster higher order thinking skills. Divergent thinking is a must

Image 1 taken from here.

Image 2 by 2nix taken from


One thought on “Educational Assessment (part III) – Released items and thinking outside the box

    Ana said:
    November 26, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    Good point! Creativity doesn’t seem to play a key role in these texts. In fact, although scaffolding techniques, visual support and other tools are present in today’s lessons, assessment is still considered the poor relative in teaching and learning since it follows the same old patterns we suffered as students years ago.

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