Curriculum Forum

Vol. 9 No. 2, Pages 1 - 33, 2000

What Works? The Washback Effect of a New Public Examination on Teachers'' Perspectives and Behaviours in Classroom Teaching

CHENG Liying & Peter FALVEY


Public examinations are often used as instruments of control in the school system. A belief that assessment can leverage educational change and bring positive washback effects to teaching has often led to top-down educational reforms. This is t he case in Hong Kong, where major changes, introduced into the Certificate of Education Examination in English, were intended to bring about positive washback in classroom teaching. A large-scale research study was carried out over a period of three years to investigate what actually worked with the introduction of the new Certificate of Education in English. The findings of this study indicated that the Hong Kong educational system responded rapidly to the change. Washback, as a process, was seen to occu r quickly and efficiently in the creation of language teaching materials. Teachers' and students' perceptions of classroom teaching and learning activities were also directly influenced. However, the washback process on the teaching methods that teachers used occurred slowly and reluctantly. The study revealed that the washback effect on classroom teaching was limited and superficial. It is postulated that only a combined effort of effective teacher education and materials development can bring about genu ine change in classroom teaching.

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