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Testing a Nation

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

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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 6 The impact of the CET on students’ ethical conduct: Cheating on the CET

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Introduction Cheating has been widely addressed in the education research literature (e.g. Amrein-Beardsley, Berliner & Rideau 2010, Anderman 2007, Baird 1980, Bowers 1964, Cizek 1999, 2001, 2003, Grimes 2004, Lupton & Chapman 2002, McCabe & Trevino 1993, 1997, McCabe, Trevino & Butterfield 2001, 2002, Wan & Li 2006, Whitley 1998). Much of this research has focused specifically on cheating on tests (e.g. Aiken 1991, Haney & Clarke 2007, Nicols & Berliner 2007). Cizek (2001) is an overview of issues concerning cheating on large-scale tests. Suen & Yu (2006) explore cheating on the Civil Imperial Exam in China (keju; see Chapter 2). Amrein-Beardsley et al. (2010) investigated educators’ cheating practice in response to high- stakes testing in the United States. Little attention has, however, been paid to cheating specifically in relation to language testing, and one aim of the present study was to contribute to this underresearched area. Empirical data were obtained concerning the prevalence and causes of cheating on the CET, along with the means employed. Of particular interest in relation to such a large-scale national test are the social and personal consequences of cheating, both for the individuals who engage in it, and on educational institutions and the general public. Our interest in this topic was motivated by the experience over more than a decade of one author (Huang) in administering the test and observ- ing students’ behaviour and institutional and public reactions to what was perceived as a significant problem. As with the other impacts studied, the primary data were drawn from the interviews with students...

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