Possible to Make Assessment Culturally Inclusive?

A dear friend and colleague of mine, Amy Puett, posed a very interesting question about culturally inclusive language assessments a while back. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very helpful in answering. What I could offer, however, was a space to share this question with the larger world of ELT. If you have any insight into what Amy offers below, we’d be very grateful.  


I’m currently working on an MA in TESOL, and I’m doing a research project on biases in spoken assessments. In my experience, there hasn’t been a lot to account for in differences in cultures, ages or purpose when it comes to assessing students in their level of spoken English. The standard guidelines for assessing one’s level of spoken English are generally the CEFR and ACTFL guidelines; however, these don’t account for shy, uncommunicative Korean students who might be under a lot of pressure with their studies or a socially astute Pakistani student who knows when and where to pull out stock phrases to impress others with their English skills. Also, there is little room in these guidelines to accurately describe young learners. I’ve taught many Korean elementary students who are at a B1 level of reading, and I can’t see the students acknowledging their level by saying “I can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. I can enter unprepared into conversation on topics that are familiar, of personal interest or pertinent to everyday life (e.g. family, hobbies, work, travel and current events).”

Even the guide to using the CEFR guidelines states in the introduction that ‘The Framework aims to be not only comprehensive, transparent and coherent, but also open, dynamic and non-dogmatic. -Council of Europe (2001a:18)’[1] It also mentions that it’s not expansive in describing young learners. [2] However, I have still witnessed that many students are nonetheless labeled with these terms, which I feel can affect how some teachers teach them. The ACTFL has similar issues. For example, the following is said about a student with ‘low intermediate’ speaking skills:

“At the Intermediate Low sublevel, speakers are primarily reactive and struggle to answer direct questions or requests for information. They are also able to ask a few appropriate questions. Intermediate Low speakers manage to sustain the functions of the Intermediate level, although just barely.”[3]

It would be beyond many people’s conscience to behave in such a manner in some of the countries I’ve taught in, and they would learn how to fake responses or gloss over any gaps in their understanding. I also know language students of higher speaking levels who would act in the same manner due to their naturally shy nature in dealing with foreigners.

I feel there must be more TESOL instructors can do to incorporate a more inclusive set of terminology that would allow either more room for interpretation or include a more sets of guidelines to adequately assess students and describe their levels of spoken English language skills.

My question is can any share their experiences with this issue or recommend relevant research? Any help would be appreciated.