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Tibor Vígh : Theoretical and empirical research on the washback -effect of exams on teaching and learning

Washback, also known as backwash in the educational literature, is a common term in applied linguistics referring to the influence of testing on teaching and learning and, in a broader sense, to its impact on the educational system or society. This paper gives an overview of the discussion of this phenomenon from different perspectives, both in general education and in language education. Part 1 discusses the definition of washback and its role in measurement-driven instruction, in curriculum alignment and in different interpretations of validity. Part 2 describes the function and mechanisms of washback in the development of theoretical models. As a conclusion, a synthesising model is offered, aiming to demonstrate the functioning and mechanism of washback. Part 3 reviews results of empirical studies from different cultures in order to show the methodology of research on washback and the areas affected most by a test. Also discussed are the problems that emerge when findings are generalised and when results are transformed into conclusions. Part 4 highlights the lessons from the theoretical and empirical literature reviewed. It is obvious that washback has often been discussed and that there are different points of views on what the construct comprises. Washback is a complex phenomenon that has a direct or indirect effect on the perceptions and attitudes of the participants (teachers and students, developers of instructional materials and curriculum designers) on the teaching and learning process (on the content of teaching, methods, and assessment practices) and on the quality of learning. The effect is elusive, as it depends on a number of aspects, the most important of which are teacher-related factors: their beliefs, attitudes, assumptions and knowledge. Washback can be positive or negative and its strength is independent of test validity. The study of washback requires mixed methodology, involving both qualitative and quantitative research techniques.

MAGYAR PEDAGÓGIA 107. Number 2. 141-161. (2007)

Levelezési cím / Address for correspondence: Vígh Tibor, Szegedi Tudományegyetem, Ne¬ve¬lés¬tudományi Doktori Iskola, H–6722 Szeged, Petőfi S. sgt. 30–34.


Magyar Tudományos Akadémia