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The development of the Teacher Knowledge Test
by
Mick Ashton and Clare Harrison, University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations
- 1

English language teachers are in demand worldwide. In such a rapidly growing field and with the range of experience and types of English teacher, how can institutions be certain of their quality?   And how do teaching professionals set themselves apart  and develop their careers?

Requests from government ministries and schools around the world has led to Cambridge ESOL creating the Teaching Knowledge Test (TKT), a new qualification focusing on the core professional knowledge needed by all teachers of English as a second language. TKT is intended to be accessible and relevant to teachers at any stage in their career, whatever their background and teaching experience, and is ideal for teachers who need to enhance their knowledge, as well as people aiming to enter the teaching profession.

TKT is a flexible test – created specifically to fit in with busy working lives. The three modules (Language and background to language learning and teaching; Lesson planning and use of resources for language teaching; Managing the teaching and learning process) can be taken together in one session or separately, as well as in any order. There is no compulsory course component or teaching practice in TKT: candidates can choose to prepare for the test through self-study or by following a guided course of study. Results are given in bands, with the opportunity for both inexperienced and experienced teachers to demonstrate their particular level of knowledge.

The range of teacher experience within the profession is huge. From new graduates with no training attracted to carrying out short stints of English language teaching in an overseas country, qualified teachers given new responsibilities for English, to the more experienced teachers working in many schools. How do you create a test for teachers which will be appropriate and valuable to the full range, no matter their situation, their level of English, the age group they are teaching, and the context in their country?

Developing TKT has been a major exercise in consultation and testing. In late 2002  , Cambridge ESOL sent out questionnaires to various teacher training institutions worldwide in order to gain reactions to the proposal to develop a new test for teachers which would be quite different in format and concept from the existing Cambridge ESOL teaching awards. The consultation provided a basis for Cambridge ESOL to develop TKT in such a way that it would have relevance to teachers working in different educational sectors in a wide range of countries.

A Working Group, consisting of Cambridge ESOL staff and external consultants with considerable experience in teacher education and test development was established in 2003. The group met regularly to develop the TKT syllabus and produce materials. Each version of the syllabus was sent out for review by teacher development professionals with experience of working in the countries where there had already been interest in TKT. Constant revisions to the syllabus were then made from the feedback, and materials writers were commissioned to start producing test items to fit with the evolving consensus over an ideal syllabus.   

During 2004, 1500 English language teachers in Europe, Latin America and Asia took part in TKT trial tests. The sample was representative of the target groups for TKT, involving both in-service and pre-service teachers, those working with different age groups and with a range of teaching experience. Several instruments were used during the trials. In addition to full versions of all three TKT modules, a language test was used to enable us to gauge the extent to which candidate performance on TKT might be affected by language proficiency. Questionnaires were also administered to key stakeholders and all participating teachers in order to gather feedback on the examination.

The major findings from this trial were that language proficiency did not appear to be an obstacle to performance by teachers. Also, age did not seem to be a factor in affecting how they did.

Feedback from the trialling has played an important role in the subsequent development of TKT. Positive feedback was received in terms of the coverage of TKT content, its appropriateness for different groups, interest for teachers and relevance to local contexts. Potential candidates saw sitting for an exam such as TKT to be a useful learning experience in itself. They welcomed the chance to reflect on their teaching practice and teaching knowledge.

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