The well-known which-comes-first conundrum of the poultry world is regularly applied to tricky relationships between objects and concepts in many other parts of life and the universe. Language assessment is no exception, as most teachers and learners know from first-hand (sometimes bitter) experience. Frustration can centre around not being tested on what you have learned, ormissing out on learning what you need because your time is spent preparing for an exam. 

On an individual level, the consequences of misaligned learning and testing can be devasting. From failing a test that could open up future opportunities for study, work or mobility to not having the necessary skills to deliver what your test score promises, the effects can hamstring personal plans and hamper organisations whose employees are simply not up to the job even though they have the certificate. 

At a wider societal level, misalignment of what is being learned, what is being tested, and what is needed to function well in the real world beyond the language test can stymie economic growth and devalue productivity asthe result ofan under- or irrelevantly-skilled population. Generations of test-wise, but life-skills-foolish, graduates.  

No wonder future-focused ministries are keen to reform curricula to meet the demands of an internationalised, technology-enabled future where citizens are empowered to compete at a global level. But whenit comes to engaging in large-scale educational reform, where do we begin? Which comes first – the learning content, or the test content? Which needs to be adapted first? Will changing the testing system result in students being unable to graduate with their deserved results? Or will changing the learning materials have little effect because the test is not aligned? 

As with the order of chickens and their off-spring, these are difficult questions. One of the key tenets underlying the themes and discussions in the New Directions in Language Assessment conference is that the problem needs to be dealt with in a holistic way, that teaching, learning and assessment are all in one basket, and that they cannot and should not be tackled in isolation, but as one whole, dynamic, interrelated system that requires equal attention. 

On the 9th and 10th December, we bring together key influencers in the areas of education and assessment to engage in discussion and debate around the role of assessment in educational reform and upskilling learners for the real world.Join us in breaking a few eggs – and some notions around testing – to make our conference omelette.