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Testing a Nation

The Social and Educational Impact of the College English Test in China


Mark Garner and Dayong Huang

Many countries have national policies in relation to English language teaching that are monitored through standardized tests, and students’ performance in these tests may have a significant impact on their career prospects. When such high stakes become attached to a language test, it begins to play a far greater role than originally intended.
A preeminent example is the College English Test (CET), taken biannually by upwards of ten million students in China, which makes it the world’s largest national English test. Its impact is evident in many areas of Chinese society. Specified grades on the CET are requirements for graduation from universities, many job applications and even some residence permits. Consolidated CET results are widely used for rating teachers for promotion and for competitively grading institutions, hence influencing strategic planning by universities, government departments and companies, particularly those engaged in publishing or bookselling. The CET has, furthermore, given rise to a highly organized cheating ‘industry’, which is the subject of frequent governmental disclaimers and warnings.
This book reports on an extensive study of the impact of the CET in China, both on the lives of students and teachers and on educational and governmental institutions. The authors also draw theoretical and practical implications from their study for educational planners in other countries.


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Chapter 4 Uses made of the CET results


The impacts of a test on the lives of students and on institutional practices arise from the uses by key agencies of the outcomes of the test. In the case of the CET, there are two kind of key agencies. First, there are the bodies responsible for the testing process, that is, the MoE and the universities. Secondly, there are those who use the results from the test as criteria for allocating social goods, namely, employers of graduates and various govern- ment bureaucracies. The ways in which these agencies make use of the test, and hence the stakes that are attached to it, are discussed in this chapter. The Ministry of Education (MoE) The MoE is responsible for overseeing the promotion of English teaching and learning at university level, and the CET is a core means by which the responsibility is exercised. The test is used by the MoE in three broad ways: i. The CET is embedded in the College English teaching syllabus. ii. Universities are required to prepare students for the CET and to administer the test. iii. Students’ performance on the CET is used to evaluate the quality of university education, specifically but not exclusively in relation to English language teaching. Successive CET syllabi have stipulated the ways in which (i) is to be achieved: 62 Chapter 4 The scope of the CET-4 is mainly all the contents from Grade 1 to Grade 4 speci- fied in the College English Syllabus (except speaking and translation). (CET-4 Syllabus...

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