Tahnee Bucher, Ph.D., an assessment developer at Michigan Language Assessment, defended her dissertation, “Assessing Language Assessment Literacy in University and College-Administered Intensive English Programs Across the United States,” in 2021 for her doctorate in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching from the University of Arizona. Her work explores the language assessment literacy of different groups of stakeholders directly involved in making accountability and instructional decisions on the basis of language assessment results. In our discussion, Bucher puts into perspective why the findings of her research are critical in advancing higher education language assessments. 

After almost two decades of teaching English as a second or other language and nearly 10 years specializing in classroom language assessment and language proficiency testing, Bucher joined Michigan Language Assessment in October 2022. A large portion of her role is to ensure the organization continues to provide valid, reliable, and fair assessments. Bucher performs item and test form reviews, item performance analysis, and quality assurance processes, and supports research initiatives. 

“If I had to pick a favorite part of my role, I would say it’s that I help test takers achieve or get closer to achieving their goals,” Bucher said. “What I do and how well I do my job will impact somebody else’s language learning journey and their opportunities. As a teacher you have that impact, and that’s what I did for 18 years, but being part of an organization where I help create tests that will impact somebody else’s future is very fulfilling.” 

Bucher has first-hand experience with what it means to prepare for and take a standardized language proficiency test —and the impact it can have. “I was once a test taker because I’m originally from Brazil. I had to take a language proficiency test to be able to pursue my goals. I know the importance of helping construct tests that are effectively measuring somebody’s ability in English.”

Teacher Preparation and Its Impact

Language assessments are a key part of an international student’s journey to studying abroad. However, Bucher feels not enough emphasis is placed on the importance of language assessment literacy, particularly in the area of teacher preparation. Her research set out to investigate perceived levels of language assessment literacy and preparedness to assess student learning and to use assessment results effectively and reliably in environments where English is taught as a Second Language. As in any assessment context, it is important to ask who are the people developing and administering tests, who are the people interpreting and using test results, and how they have been trained to do so.

She chose to focus her research on Intensive English Programs (IEPs) in higher education because of the pressure to be accountable for student performance and to adhere to guidelines. Also important is the need to assess the quality of education offered and the greater need to improve the overall experience, performance, and engagement of IEP students while rates of enrollment continued to decline at the time of her research. 

Researchers in the field of education have observed that at some point it was decided that if you know how to teach, you know how to test, and that is not necessarily the case. You may be an excellent teacher, but you may not know how to create a good test. “Not a lot of emphasis has traditionally been given to language assessment in teacher preparation programs. We have all these great teachers, but when it comes to accurately measuring students’ achievement of learning outcomes, not everyone has been adequately prepared to do that, and that’s what the research showed,” Bucher said.

The results of her empirical research showed the knowledge and attitudes of the language teachers and program directors. Bucher discovered through her interviews that there is not enough targeted training available to teachers and administrators and most have only received basic training in assessment skills they use regularly. 

Through the results of her study, Bucher then examined how these stakeholders are trained to be assessment literate and what they perceive to need further training on. She hopes that her research and its findings will lead to additional studies to determine how to effectively disseminate language assessment knowledge and train the professionals involved in developing tests, making decisions, creating policies, and using test results.  

Our commitment to assessment literacy

Bucher’s expertise in language assessment literacy and experience in the classroom helps Michigan Language Assessment ensure the fairness, accuracy, and validity of tests such as MET. 

“Our organization’s responsibility goes beyond just developing tests that are valid, reliable, and fair. Our responsibility is to ensure the stakeholders we are involved with understand what it is that they are seeing when they get a test back from us. It doesn’t matter if you have the best test in the world that is truly, effectively, and accurately showing how much the test taker knows if the score is being misused or misinterpreted. It is everybody’s responsibility to improve everybody’s assessment literacy,” Bucher said.

Michigan Language Assessment strives to constantly improve language assessment literacy across the organization. Bucher is involved in continuing education and research, and is a part of the malpractice review board. Every hand in the process has an impact, and work like Bucher’s pinpoints gaps in education and areas where we can help teachers develop a deeper understanding of the exams they give and prepare their students to succeed.

To watch the entire interview with Bucher on her dissertation, visit our Youtube channel..

For more information on our tests, visit our website.