History of Language Testing

Bernard Spolsky

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Although some thirty years ago I saw language testing as made up of three successive periods, each an advance over the last, I am now less optimistic. Rather, I see it as developed as part of a long history of examinations, starting with the Imperial Chinese system and moving from the selection among an elite to an effort to control mass education systems. The result has been industrialization, so that testing has become big business, and political concern for accountability is threatening to swamp schools with tests. To handle evidence of inevitable uncertainty, psychometrics developed techniques to show statistical reliability, but efforts to demonstrate validity remain inconclusive, though construct validity and argument-based approaches focused on test use are suggesting promising leads. Testers have developed guidelines for ethical testing, but there is no enforcement. Computerization has raised new problems but not solved old ones. Language testers are open to the implications of language diversity, and some propose multilingual testing. But the power of the established systems continues.
Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationLanguage Testing and Assessment
EditorsElana Shohamy, Iair G. Or, Stephen May
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Number of pages10
ISBN (Print)978-3-319-02260-4
StatePublished - 2017

Publication series

NameEncyclopedia of Language and Education (ELE)


  • Uncertainty
  • Psychometrics
  • Industrialization
  • Ethics
  • Scales


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