Assessment Reform and the Growth of International Education in China: A Summary of an International Exchange Forum in Chongqing (October 15)
The education system in China is undergoing several important changes. Following an announcement by the Ministry of Education in 2016 that the assessment of English language ability ought to be based on a model similar to the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), numerous conferences have taken place to prepare for this impending change. One such example occurred in Chongqing on October 15, a well-attended forum that also focused on the growth of international education in China.
Opening in the lavishly designed ballroom foyer of the Westin Hotel, the event brought together some of the leading figures in the development of the China Standards of English framework (or CSE), including the plenary speaker Professor Liu Jianda, Vice-President of Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. The event, organized by the British Council marketing and communication teams, centered on the growing popularity of the Aptis test, a test of communicative English designed by the British Council’s Assessment Research Group.
Many of the presentations drew attention to the need to develop the communicative competence of Chinese English learners, a requirement which Aptis has been created, at least in part, to fulfill. It became clear from attending several of the talks that Aptis is the test that aligns most closely with the Ministry of Education’s CSE framework, which is why speakers discussed how materials can be designed in accordance with the CSE and Aptis, as well as how such materials can be selected using corpus-based technology to ensure that the chosen materials are level-appropriate for those using them.
Other talks focused on explaining how the CEFR helped to frame the design of the CSE, as well as the Aptis test itself, which uses the CEFR descriptors (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2) to inform its takers of what their CEFR level actually is. Having originally been conceived as a Europe-specific language framework, the CEFR has now expanded into Asia, giving rise to homegrown initiatives in Japan, Taiwan and now Mainland China, all of whom have used the CEFR as a set of guidelines to construct their own testing frameworks.
Part of the government’s decision to reform English assessment lies in the rapid growth of international education in China. Numerous speakers represented international schools around China, from Haileybury College in Tianjin to the International School of Nanjing. The number of international schools in China has grown by 13.6% per annum since 2012, according to ISC Research data, and many of these schools are using Aptis as a way of gauging their students’ English ability. One of the principals of these schools, Mr. Robert Erwin of Haileybury International School, reported very positive experiences using Aptis to help Haileybury’s students reach the required levels of English proficiency.
It is encouraging to see so many language education professionals helping to make China’s assessment reforms a reality. Forums such as these are where many of the best ideas are likely to be generated.