Another Falling Down on the Job!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

 I am always flabbergasted by how some great sensible ideas end up into something… well, how to say this?… Indefinable would be the word… I think…

Last week, I accidently found an interesting article by Kathryn May that had been published on the Front page of The Ottawa Citizen October 7, 2006. At the time, the president of the Public Service Commission, Maria Barrados, was announcing that the federal government was about to introduce a new oral language test in order to improve the failure rate of senior anglophone civil servants. The Commission was also planning to revamp the written tests.

She kept her promise because, as of today, all three tests (oral, written and reading) are in effect! It actually took between one and almost two years to come up with these new testing tools… considering the legendary bureaucratic slow pace of any government, I would say it is not so bad! It could have taken much longer…

By now, everyone knows how skeptical I do feel about the new tests. Of course, both written and reading tests desperatly needed a new “look” (the old ones were just not measuring anything: except perhaps people’s abilities to translate literally). I am not convinced the new trend will really evaluate civil servants’ knowledge of the second language… there is still too much emphasis on useless details and “mots-liens” and not enough on verbs, grammar and syntax. But, I must admit it is much better than it used to be… therefore, there is hope! If I hang on there long enough, I might see the end of this tunnel before I do retire!…

What caught my attention in this article was the description of what could be the new oral test. Right at the beginning, it was stated that it would not be any easier (no surprise there!), but the format would be updated to better reflect the latest trends in language testing (some examples of these “trends” maybe? nope!). In other words, an only 30 minute artificial one-on-one “conversation” with an evaluator and a tape-recorder in the middle of the table had to be replaced by something less intimidating… I do agree on this one: I have been told many times that it looked like a police interrogation, minus the two-way mirror!

I do believe at the time Ms. Barrados was interviewed, her panel of experts was still in the brainstorming phase of the project… because everything was in the conditional mood and highly hypothetical (though somewhat reasonable and kind of enticing!). According to her, the test would still be grounded on a conversation with an assessor, but could be built around discussions about a video or a presentation both, the candidate and the tester, would have watched together (how picturesque! side-by-side… like two good friends at the movies! any free pop-corn with golden topping and pops?). Another option would be candidates “shadowed” at work to observe how they use their second language on the job.

The president suggested that, with the new test, civil servants would also know why they failed and what they would need to get ready for the next one… reminding that, with the old test, people did not know why they had failed… ???????????????? I do not know where the president was during all those years, but for having listened to dozens of tapes and read reports on the reasons (I did not always agree with) for failure, I can assure you those people DID know!

Almost two years after this interview, the new oral test has been implemented June 16, 2008. AND! It has no resemblance with whatever was suggested by Ms. Barrados back in October 2006. How can we contemplate an idea and, then, end up with something like this? I told you: Indefinable is the most appropriate word I could come up with to describe such a process…

Les Bonnes Intentions Tuent!

This blog moved here, if you ever are interested in reading more on those issues…

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1 Comment

  1. July 14, 2008 at 8:25 am

    […] Another Falling Down on the Job! Almost two years after this interview, the new oral testhas been implemented June 16, 2008. AND! It has no resemblance with whatever was… […]


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