Language Testing Bytes is a podcast to accompany the SAGE journal Language Testing. Three or four times per year, we will release a podcast in which we discuss topics related to a particular issue of the journal. This may be an interview with a contributor to the journal, or another expert in the field. You can download the podcast from this website, from ltj.sagepub.com, or you can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.
News: SAGE have decided to continue supporting Language Testing Bytes into 2016, but it will become a biannual production, rather than the 4 issues at present. Issue 22 is the final one for 2015, and the podcast will be relaunched in 2016. Stay tuned to this page for further details.
Diagnostic language assessment (DLA) is gaining a lot of attention from language teachers, testers, and applied linguists. With a recent surge of interest in DLA, there seems to be an urgent need to assess where the field of DLA stands at the moment and develop a general sense of where it should be moving in the future. The current article, as the first article in this special issue, aims to provide a general theoretical background for discussion of DLA and address some fundamental issues surrounding DLA. More specifically, the article (a) examines some of the defining characteristics of DLA and its major components, (b) reviews the current state of DLA in conjunction with these components, and (c) identifies some promising areas of future research and development of DLA where important breakthroughs can be made in the future. Some of the major obstacles and challenges facing DLA are identified and discussed, along with some possible solutions to them.
Alderson, Brunfaut and Harding (2014) recently investigated how diagnosis is practised across a range of professions in order to develop a tentative framework for a theory of diagnosis in second or foreign language (SFL) assessment. In articulating this framework, a set of five broad principles were proposed, encompassing the entire enterprise of diagnostic assessment. However, there remain questions about how best to implement these principles in practice, particularly in identifying learners’ strengths and weaknesses in the less well-documented areas of SFL reading and listening. In this paper, we elaborate on the set of principles by first outlining the stages of a diagnostic process built on these principles, and then discussing the implications of this process for the diagnostic assessment of reading and listening. In doing so, we will not only elaborate on the theory of diagnosis with respect to its application in the assessment of these skills, but also discuss the ways in which each construct might be defined and operationalized for diagnostic purposes.
Dynamic assessment (DA) derives from the sociocultural theory of mind as elaborated by Russian psychologist L. S. Vygotsky. By offering mediation when individuals experience difficulties and carefully tracing their responsiveness, Vygotsky (1998) proposed that diagnoses may uncover abilities that have fully formed as well as those still in the process of developing. This insight has led to numerous assessments, collectively referred to as DA, that have been pursued primarily in the domains of special education and general cognitive abilities measurement (Feuerstein, Feuerstein, & Falik, 2010; Haywood & Lidz, 2007). To date, L2 DA work has been primarily conducted in classroom settings (Ableeva, 2010; Lantolf & Poehner, 2011; Poehner, 2007, 2008). This paper discusses a recent project concerning the design of online multiple-choice tests of L2 reading and listening comprehension that leverage the principle that mediation is indispensable for diagnosing development. Specifically, each test item is accompanied by a set of prompts graduated from implicit to explicit. In this way, resultant diagnoses include not only whether learners answered correctly (their actual score) but also the amount of support they required (mediated score) during the test. We argue that the set of scores automatically generated by the tests, together with a breakdown of learner performance on items targeting particular component features of comprehension, provide a fine-grained diagnosis of their L2 development while also offering information relevant to subsequent teaching and learning.
One critical issue with cognitive diagnostic assessment (CDA) lies in its lack of research evidence that shows how diagnostic feedback from CDA is interpreted and used by young students. This mixed methods research examined how holistic diagnostic feedback (HDF) is processed by young learners with different profiles of reading skills, goal orientations, and perceived ability. HDF provides three learner profiles: learners’ current skill mastery levels; self-assessed skill proficiency; and goal orientations. It also has a section for plans for future learning. A total of 44 Grades 5 and 6 students (aged 11–12) from two classrooms, their parents and teacher received individually customized HDF reports. Students’ reading skill mastery profiles were determined based on the application of cognitive diagnostic modeling to their performance on a provincial reading achievement measure, while their perceived ability and goal orientation profiles were created by using self-assessment and goal-orientation questionnaires. Students and parents provided written responses to their HDF reports.
The study findings show the dynamic influence of young students’ profiles on the ways in which they perceive, interpret and use HDF. Students’ responses to diagnostic feedback did not differ substantially across reading mastery levels; however, psychological factors most strongly impacted the efficacy of learner feedback processing. Furthermore, the result that it was not students’ actual goal orientations but their perceived parent goal orientations that showed significant relationships with their skill mastery levels strongly indicates that young students’ responses to HDF are likely to be influenced by broader learning environments, and such influences are further filtered through their own perceptions. Understanding students’ interactions with diagnostic feedback is critical for maximizing its effect because their perceptions about ability and orientations to learning strongly influence the ways in which they process diagnostic feedback on their learning.
Two examples demonstrate an argument-based approach to validation of diagnostic assessment using automated writing evaluation (AWE). Criterion ®, was developed by Educational Testing Service to analyze students’ papers grammatically, providing sentence-level error feedback. An interpretive argument was developed for its use as part of the diagnostic assessment process in undergraduate university English for academic purposes (EAP) classes. The Intelligent Academic Discourse Evaluator (IADE) was developed for use in graduate EAP university classes, where the goal was to help students improve their discipline-specific writing. The validation for each was designed to support claims about the intended purposes of the assessments. We present the interpretive argument for each and show some of the data that have been gathered as backing for the respective validity arguments, which include the range of inferences that one would make in claiming validity of the interpretations, uses, and consequences of diagnostic AWE-based assessments.
The studies documented in the four articles in this special issue uniquely exemplify principles of design-based research as follows: by taking innovative approaches to significant problems in the contexts of real educational practices; by addressing fundamental pedagogical and policy issues related to language, learning, and teaching; and, in the process, by refining their claims and assessment systems. I analyze and compare the four studies in view of Anderson and Shattuck’s (2012) guiding principles of design-based research: real educational contexts, design and testing of a significant intervention, mixed research methods, multiple iterations, collaborative partnerships, and practical impact on educational practices. The four studies differ in numerous respects but are mutually informative about conducting systematic inquiry into diagnostic language assessments. The focus of their analyses on distinct aspects of language and communication relevant to particular educational programs and populations suggest that diagnostic language assessments tend more toward specific purposes assessment rather than general language proficiency testing.
Language Testing is an international peer reviewed journal that
publishes original research on language testing and assessment. Since
1984 it has featured high impact papers covering theoretical issues,
empirical studies, and reviews. The journal's wide scope encompasses
first and second language testing and assessment of English and other
languages, and the use of tests and assessments as research and
evaluation tools. Many articles also contribute to methodological
innovation and the practical improvement of testing and assessment
internationally. In addition, the journal publishes submissions that
deal with policy issues, including the use of language tests and
assessments for high stakes decision making in fields as diverse as
education, employment and international mobility. The journal welcomes
the submission of papers that deal with ethical and philosophical issues
in language testing, as well as technical matters. Also of concern is
research into the washback and impact of language test use, and
ground-breaking uses of assessments for learning. Additionally, the
journal wishes to publish replication studies that help to embed and
extend our knowledge of generalisable findings in the field. Language
Testing is committed to encouraging interdisciplinary research, and is
keen to receive submissions which draw on theory and methodology from
different fields of applied linguistics, as well as educational
measurement, and other relevant disciplines.
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Issue 22: Eunice Jang on Diagnostic Language Testing.
Issue 32(2) of the Language Testing is a special on the current state of Diagnostic Language Testing. While this has traditionally been a neglected use of language tests, there is currently a great surge of interest and research in the field. Eunice Jang from the University of Toronto joins me to discuss current thinking in testing for diagnostic purposes.
The assessment of aviation English has become something of an icon of high stakes assessment in recent years. In Language Testing 32(2), we publish a paper by Hyejeong Kim and Cathie Elder, both from the University of Melbourne, which examines the construct of aviation English from the perspective of airline professionals in Korea.
In this issue of the podcast Martin East describes an assessment reform project in New Zealand. We're reminded very forcefully that when assessment and testing procedures within educational systems are changed, there are many complex factors to take into account. All stakeholders are going to take a view on the proposed reforms, and they aren't necessarily going to agree.
Issue 19: Fred Davidson and Cary Lin of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign discuss the role of statistics in language testing.
The last issue of volume 31 contains a review of Rita Green's new book on statistics in language testing. We take the opportunity to talk about how things have changed in teaching statistics for students of language testing since Fred Davidson's The language tester's statistical toolbox was published in 2000.
Issue 18: Folkert Kuiken and Ineke Vedder from the University of Amsterdam discuss rater variability in the assessment of speaking and writing in a second language.
The third issue of the journal this year is a special on the scoring of performance tests. In this podcast the guest editors talk about some of the issues surrounding the rating of speaking and writing samples.
Issue 17: Ryo Nitta and Fumiyo Nakatsuhara on pre-task planning in paired speaking tests
The authors of our first paper in 31(2) are concerned with a very practical question. What is the effect of giving test-takers planning time prior to a paired-format speaking task? Does it affect what they say? Does it change the scores they get? The answers will inform the design of speaking tests not only in high stakes assessment contexts, but probably in classrooms as well.
Issue 16: Jodi Tommerdahl and Cynthia Kilpatrick on the reliability of morphological analyses in language samples
How large a language sample do we need in order to draw reliable conclusions about what we wish to assess? In issue 31(1) of Language Testing we are delighted to publish a paper by Jodi Tommerdahl and Cynthia Kilpatrick that addresses this important issue.
Issue 30(4) of the journal contains the first paper on eye-tracking studies to investigate the cognitive processes of learners taking reading tests. Stephen Bax joins us to explain the methodology and what it can tell us about how successful readers go about processing items and texts in reading tests.
Issue 30(3) commemorates the 30th Anniversary of the founding of the journal. We mark this milestone in the journal's history with a special issue on the topic of Assessment Literacy, guest edited by Ofra Inbar. A concern for the literacy needs of a wide range of stakeholders who use tests and test scores beyond the experts is a sign of a maturing profession. This issue takes the debate forward in new and exciting ways, some of which Ofra Inbar discusses on this podcast.
Issue 13: Paula Winke and Susan Gass on Rater Bias
Rater bias is something that language testers have known about for a long time, and have tried to control through training and the use of rating scales. But investigations into the source and nature of bias is relatively recent. In issue 30(2) of the journal Paula Winke, Susan Gass, and Caroly Myford share their research in this field, and the first two authors from Michigan State University join us on Language Testing Bytes to discuss rater bias.
Issue 12: Alan Davies on Assessing Academic English
In 2008 Alan Davies' book Assessing Academic English was published by Cambridge University Press. In issue 30(1) of Language Testing it is reviewed by Christine Coombe. With a strong historical narrative, the book raises many of the enduring issues in assessing English for study in English medium institutions. In this podcast we explore some of these with Professor Davies.
Issue 11: Ana Pellicer-Sanchez and Norbert Schmitt on Yes-No Vocabulary Tests
In this issue of the podcast we return to vocabulary testing, after the great introduction provided by John Read in Issue 5. This time, we welcome Ana Pellicer-Sanchez and Norbert Schmitt, to talk about the popular Yes-No Vocabuluary Test. Their recent research looks at scoring issues and potential solutions to problems that have plagued the test for years. Their paper in issue 29(4) of the journal contains the details, but in the podcast we discuss the key issues for vocabulary assessment.
Issue 10: Kathryn Hill on Classroom Based Assessment
Classroom Based Assessment is an increasingly important topic in language education, and in issue 29(3) of Language Testing we publish a paper by Kathryn Hill and Tim McNamara entitled "Developing a comprehensive, empirically based research framework for classroom-based assessment". The research in this paper is based on the first author's PhD dissertation, and so we asked Kathryn Hill to join us on Language Testing Bytes to talk about developments in the field.
Issue 9: Luke Harding on Accent in Listening Assessment
Issue 29(2) of the journal contains a paper entitled "Accent, listening assessment and the potential for a shared-L1 advantage: A DIF perspective", by Luke Harding. In this podcast we explore why it is that most listening tests use a very narrow range of standard accents, rather than the many varieties that we are likely to encounter in real-world communication.
Issue 8: Tan Jin and Barley Mak on Confidence Scoring
In Issue 29(1) of the journal three authors from the Chinese University of Hong Kong have a paper on the application of fuzzy logic to scoring speaking tests. This is termed 'confidence scoring', and the first two authors join us on Language Testing Bytes to explain a little more about their novel approach.
Mark Wilson delivered the Messick Memorial Lecture at the Language Testing Research Colloquium in Melbourne, 2006, on new developments in measurement models to take into account the complexity of language testing. In Language Testing 28(4) we publish the paper based on this lecture, and Mark joins us on Language Testing Bytes to talk about his work in this area.
Issue 6: Craig Deville and Micheline Chalhoub-Deville on Standards-Based Testing
Standards-Based Testing is highly controversial for its social and educational impact on schools and bilingual communities, and the technical aspects that rely to a significant extent on expert judgment. In issue 28(3) we discuss the issues surrounding Standards-Based Testing in the United States with the guest editors of a special issue on this topic. The collection of papers that they have brought together, along with reviews of recent books on the topic, and test review, constitute a state of the art volume for the field.
The journal has seen a flurry of articles on vocabulary testing in recent months, and issue 28(2) is no exception, with Marta Fairclough's paper on the lexical recognition task. It seemed like an appropriate moment to conisder why vocabulary is receiving so much attention, and so we turned to Professor John Read of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, to give us an overview of current research and activity within the field.
Issue 4: Khaled Barkaoui and Melissa Bowles on Think Aloud Protocols
In Language Testing 28(1), 2011, Khaled Barkaoui has an article on the use of think-alouds to investigate rater processes and decisions as they rate essay samples. The focus is not on the raters, but on whether the research method is a useful tool for the purpose. In this podcast he explains his findings, and their importance. We are then joined by Melissa Bowles who has recently published The Think-Aloud Controversy in Second Language Research, to explain precisely what the problems and possibilities of think-alouds are in language testing research.
Language Testing 27(4), 2010, contains an article by Carol Chapelle and colleagues on testing productive grammatical ability. We thought this would be an excellent opportunity to look at what is going on in the field of assessing grammar, and what issues currently face the field. Jim Purpura agreed to talk to us on Language Testing Bytes.
Language Testing 27(3), 2010, is a special issue guest edited by Xiaoming Xi on the automated scoring of writing and speaking tests. In this podcast she talks about why the automated scoring of speaking and writing tests is such a hot topic, and explains the possibilities, limitations and current research issues in the field.
In Language Testing 27(2), 2010, Mike Kane contributed a response to an article on fairness in language testing. We thought this was an excellent opportunity to ask him about his approach to validation, and how he sees 'fairness' fitting into the picture.