Second Language Testing (Guest Speakers Abbas Mousavi and Jill Robbins, 4/30/13)

Jill Robbins and Abbas Mousavi from Second Language Testing, Inc spoke to us about second language testing and assessment. Dr. Robbins has worked on developing approaches to teach language, and Dr. Mousavi specializes in proficiency assessment (and is somewhat of an expert in Arabic calligraphy).

Their slideshows are available here.

NOTES (thanks to Megan Chao):

Language Testing

  • Field in applied linguistics

  • Determine growth/achievement by which success of a student can be evaluated

  • Way of quantifying an unobservable ability

  • Measure of usefulness of a particular teaching methodology, curriculum, approach, etc

  • Example: assessments

    • Formative (during study)

    • Summative (at the end of study)

  • Humongous tree showing purposes of language testing

    • Attainment (past)

      • Achievement

        • General

        • Progress

        • Mastery

        • Diagnostic

      • Proficiency

      • Knowledge

    • Prognostic (future)

      • Selection

        • Entrance

        • Readiness

        • Aptitude

        • Competition

      • Placement

  • Scoring is either criterion or norm-referenced

    • Criterion-referenced: Marking/interpreting test based on a well-defined criterion level of ability

    • Norm-referenced: Compare students against each other (i.e. on a curve)


    • Practicality: includes financial/logistic aspects, enough room/time/money, etc

    • Reliability: consistency of test scores across different times, test forms, graders, and other measurements

      • Taking the time on a different day

      • Different version of test

      • Different types of questions (multiple choice, essay, short answer, etc)

      • Different graders (grading on different days)

  • Validity: appropriateness of test/parts as measure of what purported to measure

    • A test may be valid for one purpose but not for other: it must “defend its name”

    • A math test should test math and not english

  • Using arrows + targets as an example!

    • Arrows go everywhere and wildly miss the center of the target, scattering in various degrees of horribly wrong -> test is neither reliable nor valid, and therefore irrelevant

    • Arrows all converge on one point which is decidedly not the center of the target -> test is reliable but invalid

    • Arrows all hit the center of the target -> reliable and valid

    • A test must be reliable before it can be valid

    • A valid test is by definition at least sort of reliable


Applying Native Language Learning Standards to Development of Assessments

  • First, some background on the Choctaw Language:

    • only 1% of speakers are actually fluent at the elementary school level

  • Five “goals” of SLTI (Second Language Testing, Inc) program:

    • Communication

      • Interpretive: listening/reading/viewing

      • Interpersonal: speaking/writing

      • Presentational

    • Culture

    • Connections

      • Transfer/apply knowledge to other disciplines of learning

    • Comparisons

      • Developing insights into the nature of language/culture

    • Communities

      • Participate in bilingual communities

  • What can be observed in testing context?

  • Miccosukee: only tribe w/o peace treaty w/ United States

    • SLTI worked on

      • Revision of Standards

      • Standards-based Assessments

      • Curriculum Maps Aligned to Standards

    • Didn’t encourage writing, so mostly oral standards

      • Can identify/say/segment/blend various units of speech sounds to make multi-syllable words

      • Follow simple directions

      • Sing the color song

      • Compare past/current culture

  • Where will Native languages be in 20 years??

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