Bu Ali Sina University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of English Language and Literature, Hamedan, Iran
Abstract: The widespread use of test scores for different educational and social decision making purposes has made the washback effect of tests a distinct educational phenomenon (Cheng, 1997).The high school third grade final exam in the general educational system of Iran has for long been a high stake test designed to assess the achievement of high school graduates in different school subjects. The present study aimed to investigate the washback effect of this nation-wide exam on EFL teachers’ teaching methodology, assessment procedures, and attitudes towards different aspects of the educational system. For this purpose, a researcher made, validated questionnaire was administered to 160 EFL teachers. The results indicated that the third grade nation-wide final exam adversely affects EFL teachers’ teaching methodology and increases teaching to the test effect quite noticeably as they try to teach according to the content and format of the test. The results further showed an even stronger negative effect of the exam on EFL teachers’ assessment procedures. However, the teachers’ attitude towards different aspects of the educational system was not found to be as strongly affected as the other two variables. The findings of the study are of importance for testing and assessment bureaus in charge of extensive high stake tests development. Moreover, raising teachers’ awareness of the drawback of teaching-to-the test effect of such a high stake test might help them improve their teaching and evaluation practices.
Washback or backwash refers to the effect of testing and assessment on teaching and learning
processes (Cheng, Watanabe & Curtis, 2004) and follows the idea that tests or examinations
can and should drive teaching and learning processes. Interchangeably referred to as
measurement-driven instruction, the concept entails a match between the content and the
format of the test and the format and content of the instruction (Cheng et al., 2004). The
consistency or match has also been termed as curriculum alignment (Shepard, 1990). From
another point of view, the test effects and the scope of such effects persuaded Wall (1996) to
distinguish between test impact and washback. According to Wall, impact refers to the effects
of a test on individuals, policies, or practices in different contexts including the classroom,
school, the educational system, and even society at large, while washback/backwash refers to
the effects of tests on teaching and learning processes. Washback is inherently believed to
move in a particular direction to describe testing–teaching relations; however, Alderson and
Wall (1993) identified the bidirectional nature of washback as either positive or negative.
Negative washback, the undesirable effect of tests on teaching and learning, happens when
there is no match between the assumed goals of teaching and the focus of assessment. On the
other hand, positive washback is described as the positive attitude towards the test and
cooperative functioning to ensure its assigned purposes. According to Alderson and Wall
(1993, p.66) a test has a positive effect “if there is no difference between the curriculum and
teaching to test.” From a rather different perspective, Watanabe (2004) described washback
in terms of its dimensions, aspects of learning and teaching influenced by the examination,
and the factors mediating the process of washback being generated.
Washback effect has attracted great attention in recent years in different educational
contexts and has been one of the main lines of research in both general education and foreign
or second language educational settings (e.g., Chapman & Snyder, 2000; Cheng, Sun & Ma,
2015; Davies, 1968; Green, 2007; Madaus, 1998; Shih, 2007; Spratt, 2005; Xie, 2015; Zhan
& Andrews, 2014).
As an important washback effect of high stake tests and contrary to the perceived
common rule proposing that test comes after teaching and learning processes, the priority is
inverted in the case of many high stake tests (Cheng, 1997) so that in such testing situations
testing comes ahead of teaching and learning. This effect, in turn, influences different aspects
and stakeholders of the educational process. As Hughes (1993, p.2) asserts “in order to clarify
our thinking on backwash, it is helpful to distinguish between participants, processes, and
products in teaching and learning recognizing that all three may be affected by the nature of
the test”. Furthermore, that educational systems may be both directly and indirectly affected
by high stake tests like school leaving examinations.
Researchers such as Swain (1985) underscored the positive aspects of test effects on
language learning and language curriculum. Swain believed that teachers would “teach to the
test”. In other words, knowing the content and format of the test, the teachers would teach the
same or similar content more effectively. Similarly, Wall (2000) believed that the results of
the tests’ ‘differentiating rituals’ are, sometimes, so effective in the testees’ future life that the
other stakeholders (e.g., teachers) do whatever necessary to help the learners pass the test and
the students’ parents ask them to do any possible activities to pass it.
The effects of the tests on teachers and learners are well documented and various
studies have examined this effect. It, however, seems that the washback effect of a
nationwide high stake test like the third grade school leaving final exam on
teachers’methodology, attitude, and assessment procedures in Iranian high school mainstream
educational context is still understudied. As a partial attempt to address the need, this study
was conducted to examine the washback effects of the third grade final exam as an annually
held exam in the Iranian general education system on specifically EFL teachers’ teaching
methodology, assessment procedures, and attitude towards this aspect of the general
Review of the related literature
Testing and assessment in versatile forms are integral parts of every system of education.
This is why assessment is primarily designed to service teaching and learning (Davies, 1990).
However, a role reversal has recently occurred in educational settings because of the impact
high stake tests exert on different components of teaching and learning process which has
altered teaching to be at the service of testing. This pernicious influence of tests on what goes
on in the educational environments and classrooms in particular as well as on the teachers’
teaching procedure has raised some concerns among EFL experts. Additionally, it has given
rise to a plethora of studies on the tests and their possible effects on the stakeholders
including participants, test developers, and administrators (e.g., Alderson & Wall, 1993;
Bailey, 1996, 1999; Chapelle & Douglas, 1993; Damankesh & Babaii, 2015; Hamp-Lyons,
1997; Shohamy, Donitsa-Schmidt & Ferman, 1996: Watanabe, 2004; Xie, 2015).
The aims and scope of washback studies have been quite versatile. Bailey (1996, 1999),
for example, proposed that washback should minimally examine both washback to the
program (results of test-derived information provided to teachers, administrators, curriculum
developers, counselors, etc.) and washback to learners (the effects of test–derived
information provided to test takers) from teachers’ and students’ perspectives. According to
Fulcher and Davison (2007), washback studies should highlight “those things that we do in
classroom because of the test, but ‘would not otherwise do’ (p.221). Furthermore, in their
washback hypothesis, Alderson and Wall (1993, p.117) state that “teachers and learners do
things they would not necessarily otherwise do because of the test”.
Washback researchers attested that any test may be of both positive and negative
effects. According to Wall (2000), positive effect is the drive that persuades testees to cover
all subjects completely, complete their assigned syllabuses, and get familiar with other
teachers’ standards. On the other hand, quoting Wiseman (1961), Wall (2000) maintains that
the negative aspect of the test encourages teachers to watch the examiner’s foibles and note
his idiosyncrasies to prepare students for the most likely test items that might appear in the
examination. This negative washback effect restricts teachers’ teaching styles and persuades
them to concentrate on the ‘purely examinable side’ of their work and by neglecting other
areas. Accordingly, possible positive and negative washback effects of such tests provide
ample opportunities and foci for the studies in this realm.
Studies on the washback effects of high stakes tests have shown that these tests make
teachers focus on those points that are likely to appear in the tests and teachers usually do not
take pedagogical aspects of instructions into account as they usually teach to the test ( Hamp-Lyons, 1997). Furthermore, as Bachman (1990) believes, negative washback would result in
testing determining the content of teaching. However, it is noteworthy that the extent and
nature of test consequences or washback effect depends on teachers’ educational background,
past learning experience, and beliefs about effective teaching and learning (Watanabe, 2004).
In an effort to further clarify the extent and nature of washback effect, Smith (1991)
identified five components of change as a result of washback effects of tests including the
target system, the management system, the innovation itself, available resources, and the
content in which the change is supposed to happen. Also, Hughes (1993), in his washback
model, suggested that participants, processes, and products are the main recipients of the
effect. Participants, in Hughes’s (1993), included “all of those whose perceptions and
attitudes toward their work may be affected by a test”. The three elements of the model are
1. Participants: Students, classroom teachers, administrators and material developers and
publishers whose perceptions and attitudes towards their work may be affected by a
2. Processes: Any actions taken by the participants which may contribute to the process
3. Products: What is learned and quality of the learning (Hughes, 1993, p.2)
As can be seen in the model, teachers constitute the most noticeable participants in washback
Concerning washback effect type and degree, Alderson and Hamp-Lyons (1996) in
their study on the washback effect of TOFEL test reported lots of variations among teachers’
perspectives. They maintained that “our study shows clearly that the TOEFL affects both
what and how teachers teach, but the effect is not the same in degree or in kind from teacher
to teacher” (p.295). Contrary to the results Alderson and Hamp-Lyons (1996) obtained,
Alderson and Wall (1993) examined the washback effect of innovative tests on Sri Lankan
educational system and found that tests can affect content of teaching but less likely they
affect the teaching procedure. However, Cheng (1997) in a study on the revised Hong Kong
Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE) found that “84% of the teachers believed
they would change their teaching methodology as a result of the introduction of the revised
HKCEE”(p.45). Similar to Cheng, Lam (1994) supported the washback effect of the tests on
the teaching methodology but he further noted that an important factor affecting the
methodology change as a result of tests’ washback effect is the teaching experience of the
teachers. He stated that experienced teachers were much more examination-oriented than
their younger counterparts.
Some researchers have investigated the washback effect of different high stake tests on
teachers and students’ behavior and attitude in the Iranian educational context. Ghorbani
(2008), for instance, conducted a survey on the washback effect of University Entrance
Examination (UEE) on the teaching practices of a group of pre-university English teachers.
Ghorbani examined the six dimensions of classroom activities and time management,
teaching methods, teaching materials, syllabus design, teaching content, and classroom
assessment. The results showed that all of the participating teachers, regardless of their
demographics, were affected negatively by the nationwide high stake UEE.
Contrary to the results reported by Ghorbani (2008), Mousavi and Amiri (2011)
investigated the washback effect of Master of Arts level TEFL University Entrance
Examination on the academic behavior of students and professors. They used an observation
checklist and two questionnaires to gather the required data. The questionnaires were
responded by 32 university teachers and 210 students. They concluded that the test had an
insignificant effect on the students and professors’ academic behaviors. Nikoopour and
AminiFarsani (2012) evaluated the washback effect of State and Azad UEE on Iranian EFL
candidates and high school teachers. They found that UEE had influence on teachers’
methodology, content of educational programs, students’ learning strategies, and teachers’
method of evaluation, students and teachers’ attitudes and students’ affective domain.
Furthermore, Razavi Pour, Riazi and Rashidi (2011) investigated the effects of teacher's
assessment literacy in moderating the washback effects of summative tests in the EFL context
of Iran. For this purpose a test of assessment literacy and a questionnaire on teaching
methodology were administered to 53 EFL secondary school teachers. The results revealed
that EFL teachers suffer from poor knowledge of assessment and demands of external tests
affect their teaching and assessment procedures. Moreover, Nazari and Nikoopour (2011)
investigated the washback effects of high school examinations on 120 female Iranian high
school learners' language learning beliefs and found that first, the participants agreed on the
type of washback effect of the exams and second, there is a correspondence between different
factors of learners’ language learning beliefs and foreign language learning process.
In another study, Mokhtari and Moradi Abbasabadi (2013) studied the washback effect
of Iranian school-leaving tests of English (ISLTE) on teachers’ perceptions and
performances. They interviewed and observed 10 high school English their classes. The
findings verified that ISLTE had a strong negative washback effect on their teaching
procedures. The negative washback effect of the test was shown in the form of materials
translation by teachers and the absence or disappearance of communicative activities in the
observed classes. They suggested that, due to the strong impact of the test on the teachers’
teaching methodology, the format of ISLTE was in need of serious revision. Finally,
Amengual (2010) examined the washback effects of a high-stakes English Test (ET) on
curriculum, materials, teaching methods, and teachers’ feeling and attitudes and found that
ET clearly affected curriculum and materials.
In addition to University Entrance Examination (UEE) at different levels of BA, MA,
and PhD, there are some other nationwide high stake tests held by the Ministry of Education
in the context of general education of Iran. One such a test is the third grade high school final
examination. The test, as a gate keeping test, plays a determining role in the candidates’
follow up studies. Moreover, the grade point average of the examinations has a direct effect
on the high school students’ university entrance examination results. Hence, due to the
significance of these examinations for both teachers and students, this study was designed to
probe into the potential effects of a less frequently studied high stake test on the high school
teachers’ teaching methodology, testing and assessment procedures, and attitudes towards the
educational system. Against this backdrop the following research questions were posed:
RQ1: Does the nation-wide third grade final English examination of high school have any
washback effect on English teachers’ teaching procedures?
RQ2: Does the final English examination have any washback effect on English teachers’
classroom evaluation and assessment procedures?
RQ3: Does the final English examination have any washback effect on teachers’ attitude
towards different aspects of the educational system?
One hundred sixty EFL teachers who were teaching third grade courses in high schools were
chosen based on convenience sampling procedure to participate in the study. The
participating teachers were teaching in the two cities of Malayer and Boroujerd. They were
all high school English teachers and either held MA in TEFL (15 %), or BA in English
literature, translation or TEFL (85 %).Thirty percent of participants were female and 70
percent were male EFL teachers. Most of the participants had the experience of teaching at
different grades or levels of high schools and pre-university centers. Table 1 summarizes the
teaching experience and the number of the participants.
The main instrument in this study was a researcher-made five-point Likert scale
questionnaire. The first version of the questionnaire was developed based on a few previously
designed questionnaires (e.g., Cheng, 1997; Mousavi & Amiri, 2011; Nikoopour & Amini
Farsani, 2012) and the ideas the researchers received from some TEFL experts. The first draft
included 19 statements to tap the participants’ opinion about the three intended areas of the
washback effects of the test. The early draft was reviewed by two TEFL experts in order to
ensure its content and face validity. The draft was reviewed and revised based on the
suggestions and the comments of the TEFL experts.
Afterwards, the questionnaire was piloted with 60 EFL teachers. Analyzing the
obtained data through principle component factor analysis (PCA), 6 items (9, 11, 12, 13,
16and 14) were excluded from the final version of the questionnaire due to poor correlations
and factor loadings (less than 0.3). The final version questionnaire included 13 five point
Likert scale items ranging from strongly disagree (with the assumed value of 1) to strongly
agree (with the assumed value of 5). Cronbach’s alpha internal consistency reliability index
of the questionnaire was estimated to be 0.71 (α= 0.71), and hence, deemed acceptable. In
addition, Keiser-Mayer Olkin test of adequacy of items was fairly acceptable (KMO= 0.68)
and Bartellet’s test of Spherecity was significant (p=.000). The final 13 item questionnaire
was used to tap the participants’ ideas on three factors of the EFL teachers’ teaching
methodology, evaluation procedures and attitudes towards the education system (see
The participating teachers in both pilot and main study were met in their schools. Consents
were obtained prior to the administration of the questionnaire. At the pilot phase of the study,
60 high school EFL teachers took the questionnaire. The main aim of the piloting stage was
to do a validation study on the instrument and estimate the reliability of the questionnaire.
After the pilot study and the PCA statistical procedure, a group of 100 high school teachers
were asked to take the questionnaire and the collected data were descriptively analyzed to
answer the research questions.
Pilot study results
As mentioned before, the first version of the questionnaire was first administered to 60 EFL
teachers who were teaching the third grade high school English course. As shown in Table 2,
the questionnaire had an appropriate level of adequacy since the observed KMO value
exceeded the minimum acceptability level of 0.5 or 0.6, (KMO=0.68> 0.5 or 0.6). In
addition, the Bartlett’s test of Spehercity was significant showing that the principal
component factor analysis was safe to be conducted.
As in Tables 3 and Table 4, the factor analyses confirmed the strong correlation of the
questionnaire items with three main factors.
In addition, the initial eigenvalues of only the first three components exceeded the
criterion value of 1(Pallant, 2013) and the cumulative percentage of the three components
explained a total of 60.01 percent of the variance.
As seen in Table 4, the variance was divided among 13 items and 6 items out of the
total of 19 questionnaire items were discarded due to poor correlation and factor loading (less
than 0.3). Finally, the rotated factor matrix identified the more strongly correlated items for
each factor. As such, the final questionnaire including 13 variables which tapped altogether
the three main factors was achieved. The three factors were named as methodology (factor 1),
attitude (factor 2) and evaluation (factor 3). Items 8, 3, 7, 2, and 5 were loaded on factor one,
items 15, 17, 18, 19 tapped factor two and factor three was tapped by items 1, 10, 4, and 6 of
the 19 item questionnaire. Meanwhile, it should be noted that as some of the questionnaire
items (items 2, 15, and 14) were negatively correlated with the factors, hence, reversely
computed ad analyzed.
Main Study Results
In the second phase of the study 100 EFL teachers took the validated 13 item questionnaire.
The data collected were analyzed in terms of descriptive analyses and frequency counts. The
frequency for each level of the Likert scale of the items of each factor was computed and the
average frequency for each was obtained. In addition, in order to obtain the mean value of the
responses to each questionnaire item, considering the assumed value of the levels of the scale
(strongly disagree =1, disagree=2, undecided=3, agree=4, and strongly agree=5), the mean
value for all items was calculated and finally the average mean score for the factor was
As Table 5 presents, about 72 percent (45.8+26.2) of the teachers believed that the exam
affected their teaching methods in EFL classes and the average mean score for this factor was
fairly high (3.84).
It is necessary to add that the questionnaire items in the following tables were minimally
presented due to the limited space of the tables and the full report of the questionnaire items
is presented in the appendix.
Evidently, 43 percent of the respondents agreed that if they were to teach a third grade
final exam preparatory course (item 2) , they would use the same methods and techniques
they were using in their regular classes of high schools in which the academic skills and
abilities are to be given the first priority. Thirty seven percent “strongly agreed” with item 2
which means that, added to the percentage of the teachers who “agreed” with this statement,
80 percent of the teachers “change their teaching methodology so that they could prepare
their learners for the test in an attempt to guarantee their learners’ success at the intended
test”. Items 7 and 8 of the questionnaire referred to the teaching tips and tricks for successful
test taking of the learners and ultimate success in passing the test. The percentage of
responses to these questionnaire items at different points of Likert scale were quite revealing
(Table 5) confirming the existence of teaching to the test process in the studied educational
context. On the other hand, 42 percent of the respondents ‘agreed’, and 33 percent ‘strongly
agreed’ with the statement in item 3 of the questionnaire stating that “I teach the material and
learning points according to their importance level in the exam”. This means that the content
of teaching was also strongly affected by the test content as well, as altogether 75 percent of
the respondents accepted the stated rationale for the choice of the content of their teaching.
Table 6 presents the descriptive statistic information for the ‘evaluation’ factor. A total
of about 84 percent of the teachers either agreed (49 %) or strongly agreed (35 %) that the
test exerted a significant effect on their evaluation and assessment procedures. The total mean
score for this factor (4.12) compared with the methodology factor (3.84) appeared to be
significantly higher which was indicative of even stronger influence of the test on the
teachers’ evaluation and assessment procedures.
As is evident in Table 6, a total of about 92 percent of the teachers either agreed (43 %)
or strongly agreed (49 %) with the first questionnaire item (item 1) saying that I consider
third grade final exam while teaching and testing in my classes. A mean score of 4.34 was
clearly indicative of the strength of the effect of the test on the addressed areas of the
teaching and assessment. More or less similar effect was evident above for the other items.
Roughly speaking, items 1 and 4 considered how of testing and 6 and10 focus on what of
testing. In other words, the two categories of items addressed the content and the procedure
of testing the teachers use in their educational context. The percentages and the mean scores
presented in Table 6 are strongly indicative of the influence of the third grade final exam on
both what and how of the teachers’ assessment and testing.
Finally concerning the test’s washback effect on the teachers’ attitude, the obtained
results, presented in Table 7, show that totally about 45 percent of participants believed that
the test affected their attitudes significantly (29% agreed, 16% strongly agreed); however, 19
percent were undecided, and 36 percent denied the tests’ impact (28 % disagree + 8 %
strongly disagree) in this regard. The average mean score for this factor (3.16) was the lowest
compared to the other two factors i.e., teaching methodology and evaluation procedures.
The comparisons for the descriptive statistic information gained for the three factors are
presented in Table 8. According to the obtained results, the teachers’ evaluation and
assessment procedures were highly affected by the nation-wide third grade high school final
exam and the magnitude of the test’s washback effect on the teachers teaching methodology
was placed in the second place of importance. However, it seems that the participants’
attitude towards the Iranian general education system was not highly affected by the test as
the total mean score obtained for this factor (3.16) was fairly close to the mid position of the
Likert scale that was neutral in value. Consequently, the findings roughly indicated that the
first and second null hypotheses of the study which denied any kind of washback effect of the
test on the teachers’ teaching methodology and evaluation and assessment procedures were
both rejected while the third hypothesis which rejected the effect of the test on the teachers’
attitude was confirmed.
Testing and assessment as integral parts of education play a wide range of prognostic and
diagnostic roles in education process and help the pedagogical or educational processes
which might precede or follow them. However, their positive contribution to education is not
free of some negative effects on the same processes. Both positive and negative effects of
testing on the follow up teaching and learning processes have been termed as washback or
backwash by the testing and assessment scholars (e.g., Alderson &Wall, 1993; Hughes, 1993;
Wall, 1996). However, the present concern with washback was ignited by Messick’s (1989)
introduction of the notion of consequences into his definition of validity (Fulcher, 2010).
While the existence of washback effect is not in question, the how of this effect is not so clear
(Tsagari, 2009) and hence needs to be studied. The need for the study of the washback effects
of high stake tests is clearly more significant than the same need for low stake tests due to the
wider scope of the consequences accompanying such tests. High stake tests are considered
and used as agents of change (Luxia, 2005); however, as many empirical studies have shown
and the stated results of the present study confirmed, the use of high stakes tests is not usually
as effective as they are planned (Qi, 2004, as cited in Fulcher, 2010) and sometimes not in the
same way as their designers meant (Andrews, 1994). The current study partially attempted to
address the washback effects of a high stake nationwide achievement test that is administered
by the end of third year of high school in the Iranian general education system.
By the end of the third year of secondary high school all subject matters taught during
the educational year are subject to this nationwide evaluation through which students across
the country take a single test for each subject at exactly the same time. The test results are
influential in the candidates follow up academic studies in higher education centers, colleges,
and universities. The washback effects of the high stake test of English as a Foreign
Language (EFL) on the English teachers’ teaching methodology, assessment and evaluation
methods, and attitudes towards educational processes were studied in this piece of research.
The washback effect of the test on the teacher variables was focused on here as teachers are
highly decisive and hence most visible participants in washback studies among other
participants (Baily, 1999) owing to the direct effect of tests on their pedagogical behaviors.
In this study, a researcher-made and validated questionnaire was administered to 160
EFL teachers who were teaching English courses of the third grade of high schools in the
pilot and main study phases. The results indicated that the third grade nationwide final test
significantly affects EFL teachers’ teaching methodology and increases teaching to the test
effect. As is described above, the participating teachers’ teaching methods were be under the
negative impact of the test since they stated that they change their teaching method so that
they could guarantee their students’ success at the test. This point completely confirms
Alderson and Wall (1993, p.117) who stated that "teachers do things they would not
necessarily otherwise do because of the test". The participants also openly agreed with the
focus on the teaching tips and tricks of taking the test to the sacrifice of the academic and
pedagogical aspects and content of the course. Hamp-Lyons (1997) referred to a similar point
when he noted that these tests made teachers focus on points that were likely to appear in the
tests and they usually did not take into account pedagogical aspects of instruction which
meant that they taught to the test. This finding is also consistent with that of many previous
studies such as Alderson and Hamp-Lyons (1996), Watanabe (1996), Cheng (1997), Luxia
(2005), Spratt (2005), Ghorbani (2008), Nikoopour and AminiFarsani (2012), SeyedErfani
(2012), Zhan and Andrews (2014) and Damankesh and Babaii (2015) all of which confirmed
the negative impact of high stake tests on the teaching methodology of teachers.
However, the finding confirming the negative impact of high stake tests on teaching
methodology was not consistent with few studies such as Alderson and Wall (1993) who
concluded that the tests influenced the content of teaching but had no impact upon teaching
methodology. Similarly, Shin (2009) suggested that teachers’ instruction was not vulnerable
to the test impacts it exerted the micro-level contextual factors and teacher factors.
In addition to the how of teaching which was affected by the third grade nationwide
test, the content or what of teaching of the participating teachers was also highly affected, as
the majority of the teachers (75 %) chose their teaching practice based on the test content.
Conversely, Wall (2000) maintained that one of the negative washback effects of the tests
happened when the teacher prepared the test takers for the most likely test items that might
appear in the examination. This negative washback effect would persuade them to
concentrate on the ‘purely examinable side’ of their work and the other areas to be
overlooked. The lack of attention to the other pedagogical aspects excludes the possibility of
measurement driven instruction (Cheng & Watanabi, 2004) which favors a match between
the content and format of the test and the format and the content of the instruction. In
measurement driven instruction the regular course of instruction is to be reflected in the
format and content of the test while teaching to the test entails a ‘role reversal’ (Davies,
1990) in that it is the content and format of the test that controls the process and content of
the preceding instruction. In other words, teaching is at the service of testing (Cheng, 1997;
Davies, 1990) while it is believed to be the other way round. The reported negative washback
effect of the high stake tests on the content or what of teaching confirms the earlier studies
results (e.g., Alderson & Hamp-Lyons,1996; Hamp-Lyons ,1997; Ghorbani, 2008; Nikoopour
& AminiFarsani , 2012; and Cheng, Sun & Ma, 2015).
Furthermore, the results of the present study confirm an even stronger significant
negative effect for the high stake test on the EFL teachers’ testing and assessment procedures
since an absolute majority of the respondents (92%) verified that they consider both the
format and the content of the high stake tests in their own testing and evaluation practices. It
is concluded that both what of testing and how of testing are affected by the high stake test.
The effect on the teachers’ assessment and testing procedures seems to be even stronger than
the effect on the teachers’ methodology. This point further supports the finding that the
teachers do whatever that familiarizes the learners with the content and format of the high
stake test and prepares them for it while they might not embark on the same course of
teaching, testing and other pedagogical activities if it was not for the sake of the test or if the
test did not exist (Alderson & Wall, 1993). In other words, not only teaching to the test is
practiced but also ‘testing to the test’ is quite evident. Other already referred to researchers
like Hamp-Lyons (1997), Ghorbani (2008) and Nikoopour and AminiFarsani (2012) have
also reported the negative impact of high stake tests on the testing, assessment, and
evaluation procedures of the teachers.
Finally, the last finding of this study verifies that, unlike teachers’ teaching and testing
methodology, their attitude towards different aspects of general education including teaching
and learning processes are as strongly affected by the test as the other two factors. This, in
turn, indicates that the teachers were applying quite strategic pedagogical practices to achieve
the most practical and institutionally valued objective that is to enable their learners pass the
test, while their attitude towards the desirable educational processes are not deeply affected
and altered. A probable explanation for this effect might be the fact that the tests’
differentiating rituals (Wall, 2000) sometimes are so effective in the testees’ future life that
the teachers ask the testees to do any possible activities to only pass the tests and quite clearly
they change their own pedagogical practices to serve this purpose. This last finding seems to
be in complete accordance with the previous findings as the existence of negative washback
effect projects the lack of positive attitude of the stakeholders towards the test. Alderson and
Wall (1993) believed that a positive washback would function when there is a positive
attitude toward the test and there is a cooperative working to fulfill its assigned purposes. The
negative washback effect of the third grade nationwide English exam on the teaching and
assessment procedures of the teachers is indicative of the lack of a positive attitude of the
teachers towards the test.
The results of this specific study provide evidence to the fact that content and format of
teaching are to a great extant geared towards and adapted to high take tests content and
format. Both what of teaching and how of teaching of the EFL teachers were negatively
affected by the content and format of the specific studied high stake test. It verifies the results
of previous studies on the washback effects of high stakes tests on teachers attitude and
methodology in EFL classes. However, it is emphasized that EFL teachers spend most of
their class time to practice the material which are likely to be included in third grade final
exam and the communicative skills of the language which were not likely to be included in
the studied exam were all neglected. Evidently, this procedure has negative and detrimental
effects on the overall foreign language communicative competence development of Iranian
high school students as the EFL teachers did not prioritize this main aspect of foreign
language learning over the language related components which were deemed to be included
in the third grade final exam. In addition, EFL teachers’ classroom assessment procedures
and evaluation format were so designed that maximum similarity with the content and format
of the high stake tests was achieved, maximally preparing them for the test in advance. All
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