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International Education and Foreign Languages: Keys to Securing America's Future (2007)

Chapter: Appendix D A Brief History of Foreign Language Assessment in the United States

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Suggested Citation:"Appendix D A Brief History of Foreign Language Assessment in the United States." National Research Council. 2007. International Education and Foreign Languages: Keys to Securing America's Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11841.
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Page 360
Suggested Citation:"Appendix D A Brief History of Foreign Language Assessment in the United States." National Research Council. 2007. International Education and Foreign Languages: Keys to Securing America's Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11841.
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Page 361
Suggested Citation:"Appendix D A Brief History of Foreign Language Assessment in the United States." National Research Council. 2007. International Education and Foreign Languages: Keys to Securing America's Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11841.
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Page 362
Suggested Citation:"Appendix D A Brief History of Foreign Language Assessment in the United States." National Research Council. 2007. International Education and Foreign Languages: Keys to Securing America's Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11841.
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Page 363
Suggested Citation:"Appendix D A Brief History of Foreign Language Assessment in the United States." National Research Council. 2007. International Education and Foreign Languages: Keys to Securing America's Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11841.
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Page 364

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appendix D A Brief History of Foreign Language Assessment in the United States T his appendix presents a brief history of the development of foreign language proficiency assessments in this country over the past half- century to provide context for the current status of foreign language assessment. The dominant approach to language proficiency assessment in the United States is based on the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) (see http://www.utm.edu/staff/globeg/ilrhome.shtml) and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) oral proficiency interview (OPI) (see http://www.sil.org/lingualinks/languagelearning/otherresources/ actflproficiencyguidelines/ACTFLGuidelinesReadingIntermed.htm). This approach, which involves a face-to-face oral interview, was originally de- veloped at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in the mid-1950s. The notion of a scale of language ability from zero to total mastery was the brainchild of the linguist Henry Lee Smith, who was dean of the FSI Language School at the time. The idea was translated into a scale based on mastery of specific criteria in consultation with John B. Carroll, a psychometrician at Harvard University. From these two ideas—the linguistic idea of a range of lan- guage proficiency and a psychometric formulation of a criterion-referenced scale—came the now-familiar five levels of the ILR scale (0-5) which were developed for speaking (S) and listening (L) (Sollenberger, 1978). By 1968, the Defense Language Institute and Central Intelligence Agency were using the approach (Wilds, 1975); in 1969, the Educational Testing Service began administering oral interview assessments for the Peace Corps (Clark, 1978); and in 1973 ILR, comprising representatives from government agencies concerned with language teaching and testing, assumed primary respon- 360

APPENDIX D 361 sibility for the Oral Proficiency Rating Scale (Lowe and Stansfield, 1988). In the mid-1980s, several developments led to the adaptation of the rating scale for use with audiences outside the government. This involved a refine- ment of the distinctions at the lower end of the scale in recognition of a need to test individuals with lower levels of proficiency (Clark and Clifford, 1988, p. 132). Table D-1 is a comparison of the two rating scales. The table presents only the labels for the different scale levels. In addition to labels, each scale level has associated with it a much more fully specified description of the kinds of language use situations in which individuals at a given level can be expected to participate. Table D-2 is a comparison of the intermediate-mid ACTFL guideline and level 1 on the ILR scale for speaking and reading. The differences between the ACTFL and ILR scales are apparent in the specific wording of these scale descriptors, which reflect the adaptations made to the ILR scale to make it more appropriate to academic settings. Another, perhaps more significant difference between the ACTFL and ILR approaches is that, whereas government agencies use the same scale descrip- tors across all languages, ACTFL has developed different scale descriptors for different languages. The ACTFL scale and the OPI testing procedure were adopted by ACTFL in the 1980s and have been widely disseminated to the foreign language teaching profession since that time. In addition to the scales for listening and speaking that are obtained from an oral interview, ACTFL has also developed rating scales for assessing reading and writing; the latter is the ACTFL Writing Proficiency Test (see http://www.actfl.org/i4a/pages/ index.cfm?pageid=3642). These scales have also been adapted to specific languages so that there are now ACTFL scale descriptors for speaking in 48 different languages (see http://www.languagetesting.com/index.html). Furthermore, these scales are the basis for most current development of proficiency assessments, including those using computer and web technolo- gies. This includes the range of foreign language assessments that have been developed and that are currently under development at the Center for Ap- plied Linguistics (see http://www.cal.org/topics/ta/flassess.html) and various Title VI-funded efforts. REFERENCES Clark, J.L.D. (1978). Interview testing research at educational testing service. In J.L.D. Clark (Ed.), Direct testing of speaking proficiency: Theory and application (pp. 211-228). Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service. Clark, J.L.D., and Clifford, R.T. (1988).The FSI/ILR/ACTFL proficiency scales and testing techniques: Development, current status and needed research. Studies in Second Lan- guage Acquisition, 10(2), 129-147.

362 INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION AND FOREIGN LANGUAGES Lowe, P., Jr., and Stansfield, C.W. (1988). Introduction. In P. Lowe, Jr., and C.W. Stansfield (Eds.), Second language proficiency assessment: Current issues. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents. Malone, M.E. (2006). The oral proficiency approaches to foreign language assessment. Un- published manuscript, Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington, DC. Sollenberger, H.E. (1978). Development and current use of the FSI oral interview test. In J.L.D. Clark (Ed.), Direct testing of speaking proficiency: Theory and application. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service. Wilds, C.P. (1975). The oral interview test. In R.L. Jones and B. Spolsky (Eds.), Testing lan- guage proficiency. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics. TABLE D-1  Comparisons Between the ACTFL Guidelines and ILR Scale ACTFL ILR Superior 5 Native or bilingual proficiency 4+ 4 Distinguished proficiency 3+ 3 Professional working proficiency Advanced high 2+ Advanced mid 2 Limited working proficiency Advanced low Intermediate high 1+ Intermediate mid 1 Survival proficiency Intermediate low Novice high 0+ Novice mid 0 No practical proficiency Novice low SOURCE: Malone (2006).

APPENDIX D 363 TABLE D-2  Comparison Between the ACTFL and ILR Descriptors ACTFL: Intermediate-Mid ILR 1: Elementary Proficiency Speaking Able to handle successfully a Able to satisfy minimum courtesy variety of uncomplicated, basic, requirements and maintain very and communicative tasks and social simple face-to-face conversations on situations. Can talk simply about familiar topics. A native speaker must self and family members. Can ask often use slowed speech, repetition, and answer questions and participate paraphrase, or a combination of these in simple conversations on topics to be understood by this individual. beyond the most immediate needs, Similarly, the native speaker must strain e.g., personal history and leisure and employ real-world knowledge to time activities. Utterance length understand even simple statements/ increases slightly, but speech may questions from this individual. This continue to be characterized by speaker has a functional but limited frequent long pauses, since the proficiency. Misunderstandings smooth incorporation of even basic are frequent, but the individual is conversational strategies is often able to ask for help and to verify hindered as the speaker struggles to comprehension of native speech in face- create appropriate language forms. to-face interaction. The individual is Pronunciation may continue to be unable to produce continuous discourse strongly influenced by first language except with rehearsed material. and fluency may still be strained. Although misunderstandings still arise, the intermediate-mid speaker can generally be understood by sympathetic interlocutors. continued

364 INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION AND FOREIGN LANGUAGES TABLE D-2  Continued ACTFL: Intermediate-Mid ILR 1: Elementary Proficiency Reading Able to read consistently with Sufficient comprehension to read very increased understanding simple, simple connected written material in connected texts dealing with a variety a form equivalent to usual printing of basic and social needs. Such texts or typescript. Can read either are still linguistically noncomplex representations of familiar formulaic and have a clear underlying internal verbal exchanges or simple language structure. They impart basic containing only the highest frequency information about which the reader structural patterns and vocabulary, has to make minimal suppositions and including shared international to which the reader brings personal vocabulary items and cognates interest and/or knowledge. Examples (when appropriate). Able to read and may include short, straightforward understand known language elements descriptions of persons, places, and that have been recombined in new things written for a wide audience. ways to achieve different meanings at a similar level of simplicity. Texts may include simple narratives of routine behavior; highly predictable descriptions of persons, places, or things; and explanations of geography and government such as those simplified for tourists. Some misunderstandings possible on simple texts. Can get some main ideas and locate prominent items of professional significance in more complex texts. Can identify general subject matter in some authentic texts. SOURCES: American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, available: http://www.sil. org/lingualinks/languagelearning/OtherResources/ACTFLProficiencyGuidelines/ACTFLGuide- linesReadingIntermed.htm. [accessed April 2007] and Interagency Language Roundtable, available: http://www.utm.edu/staff/globeg/ilrhome.shtml [accessed April 2007].

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International Education and Foreign Languages reviews the Department of Education’s Title VI and Fulbright-Hays Programs, which provide higher education funding for international education and foreign language programs. This book offers a timely look at issues that are increasingly important in an interconnected world. It discusses the effect of the nation’s lack of expertise in foreign languages and cultural knowledge on national security and global competitiveness and it describes the challenges faced by the U.S. educational system and the federal government in trying to address those needs. The book also examines the federal government’s recent proposal to create a new National Security Language Initiative, the role of the Department of Education, and current efforts to hold higher education programs accountable. This book provides information and recommendations that can help universities, educators, and policy makers establish a system of foreign language and international education that is ready to respond to new and unanticipated challenges around the world.

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