Assessing interactional competence: the case of school-based speaking assessment in Hong Kong
Lam, Ming Kei
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In recent decades, the field of assessing speaking has seen an increasing emphasis on ‘interaction’. In defining the construct of interactional competence (IC), both the theoretical formulation and empirical evidence suggest that the competence is coconstructed and context-specific. This poses a multitude of conundrums for language testing practitioners and researchers, one of which is the extent to which we can extrapolate candidates’ performance in the target non-testing context from their performance in a test. This thesis considers these questions in the case of the Group Interaction (GI) task in the School-based Assessment (SBA) for the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (HKDSE). Validation studies on the SBA Group Interaction task to date have generated somewhat contradictory results as to whether the task elicits authentic oral language use. Moreover, studies to date have not compared students’ interactions under different task implementation conditions (such as the amount of preparation time), or have investigated in detail what exactly students do during preparation time and how that might impact on their subsequent assessed interaction. This study explores what kinds of interactional features constitute interactional competence; how IC is co-constructed in discourse, and what complexities there might be in assessing the competence through a group interaction task. It also investigates whether the SBA GI task elicits authentic oral language use, and how the task implementation condition of preparation time might influence the validity of the task. Video-recordings of the assessed group interactions were obtained from two schools, with students given extended preparation time in one school but not the other. The assessed group interactions are analyzed using a Conversation Analytic approach, supplemented by data from mock assessments and stimulated recall interviews with student-candidates and teacher-raters. This study contributes to the construct definition of interactional competence – its components and the specific ways they are performed in discourse. Drawing on findings about students’ overhearer-oriented talk, it also problematizes the assumption that a group interaction task is necessarily eliciting and assessing candidates’ competence for interacting in a peer group only. More specifically to the SBA GI task, this study has produced evidence that group interactions with and without extended preparation time are qualitatively different, and has identified some of the ways in which extended preparation time might compromise the task’s validity in assessing interactional competence.