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Washback in Language Assessment

Abstract “Washback” (alternatively “backwash”) is a term used in education to describe the influence, whether beneficial or damaging, of an assessment on the teaching and learning that precedes and prepares for that assessment. Over the past 30 years, washback, often conceived as one instance of “impact” or the range of effects that assessment may have on society more generally, has become established as a popular topic for applied linguistics research. Studies have covered a variety of contexts from national and international tests administered to millions of test takers to the classroom assessment practices of individual teachers. Researchers have employed a range of methods, including small‐scale observational studies and much more extensive questionnaire surveys, often making use of mixed methods to access different perspectives on the issues. These have revealed washback to be a complex phenomenon, closely associated with and affected by established practices, beliefs, and attitudes. Although test developers increasingly recognize the importance of washback and impact in evaluating assessment use, it remains to be fully integrated into standard validation practice.

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