The topic related National English Speaking Exam in secondary Education is an important one. There are official guidelines but also challenges that are have raised passion and controversy regarding its effectiveness in assessing candidates for the BEPC (8th Grade O.Level) and the Baccalaureate (12th Grade A.Level). At some point, some officials at the MOE suggested that this oral part of the English test be simply removed. But, it seems to be here to stay, given the importance of the English language. In this talk, I’d like to highlight the following points:

  • The rationale for the introduction of an oral component in the English tests for the BEPC and the Bac exams
  • Format and Administration
  • Evaluation in terms of practicality, validity and reliability
  • Challenges that need to be taken up

The rationale for the introduction of an oral part in the Bac and BEPC exam

EFL courses in most countries are based on the 4 main macro-skills: Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening. With reference to a well-known document written by the then  ELT officials (The objectives of ELT in CI,1996) and signed by two ministers, the English language learning in the context of West Africa should be in line with the integration goals of West African States within such organizations as ECOWAS that comprise both Francophone and anglophone countries. This document suggests that ELT highlight development of the four macro-skills in an integrated way through CLT. This explains why both the BAC and BEPC have two main components:

Written part: Reading passage + comprehension questions; Grammar section (Language in use) and a piece of Writing (letter writing-opinion-giving- article writing- Describing- telling a story).

Oral part:  The candidate has a direct exchange with the examiner over a material which may be a short passage or pictures.

Format and Administration

Objectives: According to the reference handbook for the administration of the BEPC and BAC, the Oral tests aims to check the candidate’s comprehension and analysis of a text or an iconographic material through questions and answers. In this regard, it specifies that the material is just a pretext for discussion and not an end in itself. The reference handbook also adds that the rater or examiner can also consider the candidate’s “intellectual curiosity” and “interest” for the topic as bonus criteria for the assessment of his/her performance.

Format:

The Oral part: consists in having the candidate have a direct exchange with the examiner over a material which may be a short passage or images.

Materials:

Texts and pictures related to topics from the curriculum/syllabus. For some unknown reasons, only BEPC candidates use both pictures and texts while Terminale classes use texts only.

Administration:

Prior to the beginning of the oral exam a moderator or harmonizer chosen from among experienced teachers, holds a meeting with the examiners/interviewer to remind them of official instructions: equality of chances to all candidates, prohibition to visit colleague interviewers, using phones, etc. Next, the moderator interviews one or 2 candidate to set as an example.

Timing: officially 30 minutes per candidate (15 prep + 15mn interview)
Number of candidates: Officially 32 per day, ie 16 half a day
Grades: out of 20
Weighting: Coefficient1 vs 2 for writing (30% of the English Test)

Evaluation of Oral Test

From 3 perspectives: Practicality; Content validity and Reliability

Practicality:

A test is said to be practical when it’s easy to administer and is cost-effective. Does our oral test respect this criterion? I would say ‘yes’, because we just need texts and pictures as materials and scorers.

Content Validity:

Does the content tested reflect what has been taught or what is in the curriculum? Validity refers to the extent to which a test actually measures what it intends to measure.

Based on the topic discussed in the materials used for the test, we could say ‘yes’

Reliability:

How reliable is this oral test? Reliability is another criterion through which we can say a test is good or not. It’s the ability of a test to produce the same results if given on different occasions. What could make the test reliable?

Do we use a rubric that describes the different levels of performance of each candidate and the grade allotted to it. And if this exists, are examiners trained as to how to use it?

We used to have one very simplistic rubric that lists 5 skill categories targeted in the test: Comprehension, Fluency, Pronunciation, Vocabulary and Grammar. Against each category, we have a scale of grades ranging from 1 to 4. The examiner circles the appropriate grade for each category and makes the total of all the categories out of 20. How many scorers use this rubric? We cannot tell. Sometimes, it’s available and some other times it’s not.

As you can see, the role of the harmonizer/moderator is to help reduce both intra-scorer and inter-scorer reliability issues, but do they succeed in this? Hard to say.

In addition to these objective issues, there’s the question of bribery that seriously affects the reliability of the test.

Challenges to take up

What is likely to happen in the future? Will the MOE decide to stop administering the Oral exam due to its lack of reliability?

  • Set up a more reliable rubric: A rubric that describes in detail different levels of performance with corresponding grades (band descriptors)
  • A training of scorers as to how to use it
  • Reinforce the fight against bribery
  • Providing students with the marking guide in advance helps them understand the nature of good work and helps them to evaluate the quality of their own work in the assessment

Will these be enough to restore the reliability of the Oral exam? That is another issue.

Kouadio D. Appia, (Dr.)
Inspector,
National Coordinator to ELT In-Service Teacher Training