The mediating role of textbooks in high-stakes assessment reform by Leung & Andrews

Posted: August 3, 2012 by kilickay in 2012, assessment, exam, textbook(s)

“Were all instructors to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth something hardly less than a revolution in teaching would be worked.”  Dewey (1916)

Dewey stressed the importance of the quality of mental process; in other words, how thinking is evolved is considered more important than providing correct answers.  I do think that today’s instructors are well aware of the quality of mental process. However, since there are several reasons such as  the nationwide examinations which are commonly used as gatekeepers to admission to colleges, and the expectations of stakeholders, parents and students, instructors are forced to focus on the production of correct answers.

Leung and Andrews reports the findings of the study which they conducted on the role of textbooks in a high-stake assessment reform: School Based Assessment (SBA) as part of the 2007 Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination in English Language (HKCEE). The SBA reform, if briefly stated, aimed at involving students’ own teachers as both facilitators and assessors in all stages of the assessment of their students’ English, which contributed to 15 per cent of the students’ final English score in the HKCEE. As stated by the authors, this reform challenged the teachers who were used to teaching to the test. The overall aim of the study was to investigate to what extent SBA textbooks changed the way the teachers teach and use materials in their classrooms.

Four popular SBA textbooks were analyzed, including materials such as the CD-ROMS accompanying these books.  As a data-collection instrument, a teacher questionnaire with six-point Likert scale items and open-ended questions was developed and administered to 185 teachers working at Hong Kong secondary schools. These teachers were all trained in SBA.  Of the questionnaires, 93 were analyzed since some of the teachers responded that they did not any experience of teaching SBA.

The analysis conducted on the four SBA textbooks indicated that only two of them provided activities to improve students’ speaking skills, while the other two books served as a guideline to how to select suitable materials instead of providing oral activities although speaking skill is evaluated in SBA. The responses provided to the items on the questionnaire revealed that teachers did not rely on heavily on SBA textbooks as they were involved in SBA duties in their schools, and SBA encouraged them to be better evaluators of the materials and the practices involved in assessment. The responses provided to the open-ended questions indicated that the majority of the teachers developed materials for their students so that their needs and interests were also covered in the materials.

The major finding of the study regarding the discussion of SBA and a high-stake language examination is, I think, that when teachers are involved in the assessment of their students’ language proficiency, and when they become a part of it, teachers’ are more willing to contribute to assessment practices through developing materials and becoming less reliant on the textbooks. However, a word of caution is due here. Since as in this study, teachers were both facilitators and assessors, and their assessment of their students’ proficiency contributed to 15 per cent of the students’ final English score, some reliability issues may arise.


Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education. The Macmillan Company . Retrieved from

Leung, C. Y., & Andrews, S. (2012). The mediating role of textbooks in high-stakes assessment reform. ELT Journal, 66(3), 356-365.


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