Research (Fox, 2004, 2009; Shohamy, 1993) highlights how policy makers use high-stakes tests as part of a testing regime to promote curricular innovation. In this dissertation, a testing regime is defined as a systematic approach to the use of assessment (often high-stakes tests) to impact curriculum and classroom practices. The influence of high-stakes tests on classroom teaching and learning is known as washback, and the beneficial influences of tests on teaching and learning is positive washback (Alderson & Wall, 1993). The present study explored washback as deeply contextual, arising from and influenced by a complex set of interrelated factors (e.g. stakeholders, power-relationships) within a testing regime. Specifically, it investigated whether a high-stakes test could be used to leverage positive washback in an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) program over time, and which factors were most influential.
This longitudinal case study examined washback from a newly introduced high-stakes test -the innovation- as evidenced in stakeholders' accounts: two administrators, 15 teachers, and 201 students, over a period of 20 months. The study drew on Hughes' (1993) principles of Washback, and Henrichsen's (1989) Hybrid Model of Diffusion/Implementation of Innovation, and was conducted in three phases: Phase 1 during the former testing regime; Phase 2 during implementation of the new testing regime (immediate washback); Phase 3 after three semesters (delayed washback).
Results indicate that EAP teachers mediated washback to the satisfaction of their students in both the former and new testing regimes. Although the new high-stakes test had the potential for positive washback, based on "an evidential link" (Messick, 1996, p. 247) for washback between the new test and classroom practices, other meta-contextual factors such as power relationships in the EAP program's testing regimes hindered this potential. It was problematic to use a stand-alone, high-stakes test to leverage positive washback over time.
Recommendations address stakeholder issues within the EAP research site, while calling for in-depth, longitudinal explorations in future washback research. Future studies can examine interactions between stakeholders' accounts and testing regime change contexts, in order to pinpoint specific factors that trigger positive or negative washback within such contexts.