A PRINCIPLED APPROACH
TO LANGUAGE ASSESSMENT
Considerations for the
U.S. Foreign Service Institute
Committee on Foreign Language Assessment for
the U.S. Foreign Service Institute
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
A Consensus Study Report of
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001
This activity was supported by contracts between the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Department of State Foreign Service Institute (award #19FS1A18C0002). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for the project.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-67548-2
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-67548-0
Digital Object Identifier: https://doi.org/10.17226/25748
Additional copies of this publication are available from the National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street, NW, Keck 360, Washington, DC 20001; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313; http://www.nap.edu.
Copyright 2020 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
Suggested citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2020). A Principled Approach to Language Assessment: Considerations for the U.S. Foreign Service Institute. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: https://doi.org/10.17226/25748.
The National Academy of Sciences was established in 1863 by an Act of Congress, signed by President Lincoln, as a private, nongovernmental institution to advise the nation on issues related to science and technology. Members are elected by their peers for outstanding contributions to research. Dr. Marcia McNutt is president.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences to bring the practices of engineering to advising the nation. Members are elected by their peers for extraordinary contributions to engineering. Dr. John L. Anderson is president.
The National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) was established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences to advise the nation on medical and health issues. Members are elected by their peers for distinguished contributions to medicine and health. Dr. Victor J. Dzau is president.
The three Academies work together as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation and conduct other activities to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions. The National Academies also encourage education and research, recognize outstanding contributions to knowledge, and increase public understanding in matters of science, engineering, and medicine.
Learn more about the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine at www.nationalacademies.org.
Consensus Study Reports published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine document the evidence-based consensus on the study’s statement of task by an authoring committee of experts. Reports typically include findings, conclusions, and recommendations based on information gathered by the committee and the committee’s deliberations. Each report has been subjected to a rigorous and independent peer-review process and it represents the position of the National Academies on the statement of task.
Proceedings published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine chronicle the presentations and discussions at a workshop, symposium, or other event convened by the National Academies. The statements and opinions contained in proceedings are those of the participants and are not endorsed by other participants, the planning committee, or the National Academies.
For information about other products and activities of the National Academies, please visit www.nationalacademies.org/about/whatwedo.
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN LANGUAGE ASSESSMENT FOR THE U.S. FOREIGN SERVICE INSTITUTE
DORRY M. KENYON (Chair), Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington, DC
DAVID DORSEY, Human Resources Research Organization, Alexandria, VA
LORENA LLOSA, Department of Teaching and Learning, New York University
ROBERT J. MISLEVY, Educational Testing Service, Princeton, NJ
LIA PLAKANS, College of Education, University of Iowa
JAMES E. PURPURA, Teachers College, Columbia University
M. “ELVIS” WAGNER, College of Education, Temple University
PAULA M. WINKE, Department of Linguistics and Languages, Michigan State University
STUART W. ELLIOTT, Study Director
JUDITH KOENIG, Senior Program Officer
NATALIE NIELSEN, Consultant
ANTHONY S. MANN, Program Associate
This page intentionally left blank.
This project resulted from a request of the U.S. Foreign Service Institute (FSI) to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to provide input related to the assessment of the language proficiency of Foreign Service personnel. Throughout the study, the committee was guided by its interactions with representatives of FSI, who explained the details and the context of FSI’s current assessment as well as their goals for the study. In particular, we held three extended discussions with representatives of FSI’s School of Language Studies, led by Ambassador Wanda Nesbitt, dean; James North, associate dean for instruction; David Sawyer, director, Language Testing Unit; and Benjamin Kloda, evaluation coordinator. We also appreciate Dr. Sawyer’s facilitation for members of the committee to take the current FSI assessment: some took the speaking test remotely, and some took the full test onsite.
In the course of planning the project and identifying prospective members of the committee, the National Academies received input from a wide range of researchers in language assessment and related fields. For their advice and insights during the early stages of the project, we thank the many individuals who helped us: Randy Bennett, Educational Testing Service; Rachel Brooks, Federal Bureau of Investigation; Carol A. Chapelle, Department of English, Iowa State University; Alister Cumming, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto; Sara Cushing, Department of Applied Linguistics and English as a Second Language, Georgia State University; Steve Ferrara, Measured Progress, Inc.; Neus Figueras, University of Barcelona; Glenn Fulcher, Department of English, University of Leicester; Luke Harding, Department of Linguistics
and English Language, Lancaster University; Okim Kang, Department of Applied Linguistics, Northern Arizona University; YouJin Kim, Department of Applied Linguistics and English as a Second Language, Georgia State University; Deirdre Knapp, Human Resources Research Organization; Antony John Kunnan, Department of English, University of Macau; Patrick Kyllonen, Educational Testing Service; Beth A. Mackey, National Cryptologic School, Central Intelligence Agency; Margaret E. Malone, American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages; Rodney A. McCloy, Human Resources Research Organization; John Norris, Educational Testing Service; Gary Ockey, Linguistics Program, Iowa State University; Lourdes Ortega, Department of Linguistics, Georgetown University; Frederick L. Oswald, Department of Psychological Sciences, Rice University; Carsten Roever, School of Languages and Linguistics, University of Melbourne; Steven J. Ross, School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, University of Maryland, College Park; Sun-Young Shin, Department of Second Language Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington; Xiaoming Xi, Educational Testing Service; and Rebecca Zwick, Educational Testing Service.
This Consensus Study Report was reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to make certain that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.
We thank the following individuals for their review of this report: Carol A. Chapelle, Applied Linguistics Program, Department of English, Iowa State University; Brian E. Clauser, Measurement Consulting Services, National Board of Medical Examiners; Alister Cumming, Centre for Educational Research on Languages and Literacies, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto; Luke Harding, Department of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University; Okim Kang, Applied Linguistics Speech Lab, Northern Arizona University; Patricia K. Kuhl, Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, University of Washington; Margaret E. Malone, Assessment, Research and Development, American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages; Frederick L. Oswald, Department of Psychological Sciences, Rice University; and Steven J. Ross, School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, University of Maryland, College Park.
Although the reviewers listed above provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the content of the report nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The
review of this report was overseen by Lorrie A. Shepard, Research and Evaluation Methodology, School of Education, University of Colorado Boulder, and Eugenie C. Scott, executive director (retired), National Center for Science Education. They were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with the standards of the National Academies and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content rests entirely with the authoring committee and the National Academies.
Throughout this project, I have had the privilege to work with the sterling group of colleagues who served as fellow members on the committee. All of them enthusiastically took time from their many professional commitments to work together to understand FSI’s testing program and consider how to present and highlight the important and relevant research and practice from the field of language testing. During our deliberations, the members were often reminded that our goal for the report was to distill the messages from the research literature in the field of language assessment into a form that we could discuss over lunch with our colleagues from FSI after the project concluded.
Our four meetings together were unfailingly intense and productive, with everyone contributing to advancing our common understanding and testing each other’s arguments. Between meetings, every member tirelessly and cheerfully drafted and critiqued text, tracked down details, and clarified points. I am also grateful for the support of the staff throughout the project, to provide the committee with a supportive environment for our deliberations and to challenge us to clarify our messages for FSI. It has been a great pleasure for me to work with such a wonderful group of committee members and staff over the course of this study.
In carrying out this project, the committee was impressed by FSI’s sensitive appreciation of the issues related to language testing and the agency’s desire to foster long-term improvement in its language testing program. We hope this report inspires FSI with a sense of opportunity and direction for its work ahead.
Dorry Kenyon, Chair
Committee on Foreign Language Assessment for the U.S. Foreign Service Institute
This page intentionally left blank.