Chinese secondary school teachers’ conceptions of L2 assessment: A mixed-methods study

Main Article Content

Maggie Ma
Gavin Bui


Teacher conceptions of assessment influence their implementation of learning-focused assessment initiatives as advocated in many educational policy documents. This mixed-methods study investigated Chinese secondary school teachers’ conceptions of L2 assessment in the context of an exam-oriented educational system which emphasizes English grammar, vocabulary and reading comprehension skills. For the quantitative part of the study, survey data were collected to gauge the conceptions of assessment held by 66 senior secondary EFL teachers from six schools in Eastern China. For the qualitative part, case studies of two teachers from schools with different rankings were conducted. Quantitative results showed that the teacher participants as a group agreed most with the view that assessment is to help learning. However, there was a strong association between two factors, that is, the assessment as accurate for examination and teacher/school control factor, and the assessment as accurate for student development factor. The strong association indicated that it may be less likely for the group of teachers to adopt the formative assessment initiatives emphasizing student development as promoted in the English curriculum reform. Qualitative findings further revealed individual differences in the two case study teachers’ conceptions and practices of assessment as well as the interplay among meso-level (e.g., school factor), micro-level (e.g., student factor), and macro-level (e.g., sociocultural and policy contexts) factors in shaping the teachers’ different conceptions and practices of assessment. A situated approach has been proposed to enhance teachers’ assessment literacy.


Download data is not yet available.

Article Details

How to Cite
Ma, M., & Bui, G. (2021). Chinese secondary school teachers’ conceptions of L2 assessment: A mixed-methods study. Studies in Second Language Learning and Teaching, 11(3), 445-472.
Author Biographies

Maggie Ma, The Hang Seng University of Hong Kong, China

Maggie Ma, PhD, is Assistant Professor at the English Department of the Hang Seng University of Hong Kong. Her research interests include formative assessment and second language writing. Her work has focused on metacognitive knowledge development of second language student writers, student perceptions of assessment practices in writing classrooms, and student feedback literacy.

Contact details: Department of English, The Hang Seng University of Hong Kong, Siu Lek Yuen, Shatin, New Territories, M423B, Hong Kong (

Gavin Bui, The Hang Seng University of Hong Kong, China

Gavin Bui, PhD, is Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics at the Hang Seng University of Hong Kong. His research interests include task-based language teaching and third language learning motivation. His recent publications appeared in Language Teaching Research (2018), International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching (2019), System (2019), and Applied Linguistics Review (2020). He is Co-editor of Asian Journal of English Language Teaching.

Contact details: Department of English, The Hang Seng University of Hong Kong, Siu Lek Yuen, Shatin, New Territories, M422A, Hong Kong (


  1. Berry, R., & Adamson, B. (Eds.). (2011). Assessment reform in education: Policy and practice (Vol. 14). Springer Science & Business Media.
  2. Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998, October). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(2), 139-149.
  3. Brown, G. T. L. (2004). Teachers’ conceptions of assessment: implications for policy and professional development. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 11, 301-318.
  4. Brown, G. T. L. (2011). Teachers’ conceptions of assessment: Comparing primary and secondary teachers in New Zealand. Assessment Matters, 3, 45-70.
  5. Brown, G. T., & Gao, L. (2015). Chinese teachers’ conceptions of assessment for and of learning: Six competing and complementary purposes. Cogent Education, 2(1), 993836.
  6. Brown, G. T., Gebril, A., & Michaelides, M. P. (2019). Teachers’ conceptions of assessment: a global phenomenon or a global localism. Frontiers in Education, 4(16).
  7. Brown, G. T. L., Hui, S. K. F., Yu, F. W. M., & Kennedy, K. J. (2011). Teachers’ conceptions of assessment in Chinese contexts: A tripartite model of accountability, improvement, and irrelevance. International Journal of Educational Research, 50, 307-320.
  8. Brown, G. T. L., & Michaelides, M. P. (2011). Ecological rationality in teachers’ conceptions of assessment across samples from Cyprus and New Zealand. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 26(3), 319-337.
  9. Brown, T. A. (2015). Confirmatory factor analysis for applied research. Guilford Publications.
  10. Bui, G., & Kong, A. (2019). Metacognitive instruction for peer review interaction in L2 writing. Journal of Writing Research, 11(2), 357-392.
  11. Chen, J., & Brown, G. T. (2016). Tensions between knowledge transmission and student-focused teaching approaches to assessment purposes: Helping students improve through transmission. Teachers and Teaching, 22 (3), 350-367.
  12. China Civilization Centre. (2007). China: Five thousand years of history and civilization. City University of Hong Kong Press.
  13. Chinese Ministry of Education. (2017). English curriculum standards for senior high schools. People’s Education Press.
  14. Creswell, J. W (2013). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches. Sage.
  15. Creswell, J. W. (2014). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Sage Publications.
  16. Fives, H., & Buehl, M. M. (2012). Spring cleaning for the “messy” construct of teachers’ beliefs: What are they? Which have been examined? What can they tell us? In K. R. Harris, S. Graham, & T. Urdan (Eds.), APA educational psychology handbook: Individual differences and cultural al and contextual factors (Vol. 2, pp. 471-499). American Psychological Association.
  17. Fulmer, G. W., Lee, I. C., & Tan, K. H. (2015). Multi-level model of contextual factors and teachers’ assessment practices: An integrative review of research. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 22(4), 475-494.
  18. Gan, Z., Leong, S. S., Su, Y., & He, J. (2018). Understanding Chinese EFL teachers’ conceptions and practices of assessment: Implications for teacher assessment literacy development. Australian Review of Applied Linguistics, 41(1), 4-27.
  19. Gao, L., & Watkins, D. (2001). Identifying and assessing the conceptions of teaching of secondary school physics teachers in China. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 71(3), 443-469.
  20. Hao, J., & Otani, M. (2016). English education in high schools in China: Its current status and problems. Memoirs of the Faculty of Education of Shimane University (Educational Science), 50, 65-73.
  21. He, Y., Levin, B. B., & Li, Y. (2011). Comparing the content and sources of the pedagogical beliefs of Chinese and American pre-service teachers. Journal of Education for Teaching, 37, 155-171.
  22. Kennedy, K. J., & Lee, J. (2008). Changing schools in Asia: Schools for the knowledge society. Routledge.
  23. Lam, R. (2019). Teacher assessment literacy: Surveying knowledge, conceptions and practices of classroom-based writing assessment in Hong Kong. System, 81, 78-89.
  24. Marton, F. (1981). Phenomenography – describing conceptions of the world around us. Instructional Science, 10 (2), 177-200.
  25. Miles, M. B., Huberman, A. M., & Saldaña, J. (2014). Qualitative data analysis: A methods sourcebook. Sage Publications.
  26. Pajares, M. F. (1992). Teachers’ beliefs and educational research: Cleaning up a messy construct. Review of Educational Research, 62, 307-332.
  27. Qi, L. (2004). Has a high-stakes test produced the intended changes? In L. Cheng, Y. Watanabe, & A. Curtis (Eds.), Washback in language testing: Research contexts and methods (pp. 147-170). Lawrence Erlbaum.
  28. South China Normal University Team. (2010, July). Teachers’ conceptions of assessment: Developing models for teachers in China [Paper presentation]. The International Test Commission Conference 2010, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin.
  29. Shang, H. (2007). Research on the middle school teachers’ conceptions of learning assessment (Unpublished master’s thesis). South China Normal University, Guangzhou.
  30. Stobart, G. (2006). The validity of formative assessment. In J. Gardner (Ed.), Assessment and learning (pp. 133-146). Sage Publications.
  31. Teng, F., & Bui, G. (2020). Thai university students studying in China: Identity, imagined communities, and communities of practice. Applied Linguistics Review, 11(2), 341-368.
  32. Wang, P. (2010). Research on the Chinese teachers’ conceptions and practice of assessment (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). South China Normal University, Guangzhou (in Chinese).
  33. Wenger-Trayner, E., & Wenger-Trayner, B. (2015). Introduction to communities of practice: A brief overview of the concept and its uses.
  34. Xu, Y., & Brown, G. T. (2016). Teacher assessment literacy in practice: A reconceptualization. Teaching and Teacher Education, 58, 149-162.
  35. Xu, Y., & Brown, G. T. (2017). University English teacher assessment literacy: A survey-test report from China. Papers in Language Testing and Assessment, 6 (1), 133-158.
  36. Yu, C., Wei, F., Li, L., Morrissey, P., & Chen, N. (2016). Social attitudes in contemporary China. Routledge.
  37. Zhang, Z., & Burry-Stock, J. A. (2003). Classroom assessment practices and teachers’ self-perceived assessment skills. Applied Measurement in Education, 16(4), 323-342.