World Knowledge or Word Knowledge: The Influence of Content Schemata on the Formal Assessment of Reading Skills

Introduction

In a perfect world, we would like the assessment of our students’ L2 English language ability not only to be objective, but also to be fair. We would be loath to accept any form of discrimination in our assessment of our students, for example, discrimination that is based on the particular cultural background of our students. This paper reports on a survey where we investigated whether the cultural background of the student directly influences the student’s performance in a TOEFL reading comprehension test. Our first assumption is that the content schemata (defined below) that are available to the learner are, in a significant sense, determined by the cultural background of the learner. Given this assumption, we then investigated the degree to which unfamiliar content schemata influence a learner’s performance in TOEFL reading comprehension tests.

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