Examining Language Proficiency of Teacher Candidates-A Critical Issue in Teacher Preparedness. (Language Teaching & Learning)

Article excerpt

Abstract

Today's foreign/second language teachers need a wide range of information to facilitate successful learning in the communicative classroom of the 21st century. Teachers need a solid knowledge of the target language and culture, and they must also have the skills to reach all learners. Even with the current emphases on incorporating technology into the curriculum and meeting the diverse needs of all learners, language proficiency remains the core goal of foreign and second language classrooms. How do we ensure that students receive the highest quality instruction from models of the language? Language proficiency of teacher candidates is a critical issue in teacher preparedness and should remain an area of highest priority in foreign and second language teacher education programs. This article describes the efforts of one public university's teacher education program in identifying and assessing the oral and written language proficiency skills of its teacher candidates. This assessment process began five years ago. Preliminary results indicate that the locally-developed instrument is a helpful tool in determining the language proficiency of teacher candidates who are preparing for internships.

Introduction

The issues surrounding the study, the background of language proficiency testing in the US, and purpose of this project are described first in this article. The next section explains the research methodology, including the instrument, and the procedures for data collection and analyses used in this investigation. Finally, the authors provide a summary of results, a discussion of the findings, and a review of the implications of these outcomes.

Context

Goals 2000: Educate America (A Progress Report, 1996) elevated the status of foreign/second languages from a tangential subject to an integral component of the curriculum. The subsequent Standards movement that emerged from Goals 2000 emphasizes "Communication" as one of its five principle tenets. A rapidly changing student population, nationwide educational reform, and the development of National Standards for Foreign Language Learning are placing new demands on foreign language teachers (Peyton, 1997). The present study is based on the creation, pilot, and subsequent implementation of a contextualized proficiency assessment tool used to determine the oral and written skills of foreign/second language teacher candidates preparing to teach at the pre-K through grade 12 level.

Issues Surrounding the Study

Quite often, teacher licensure programs are at the graduate or post-baccaluareate level of study, rather being an undergraduate program housed jointly in a department of foreign languages. In these cases, teacher candidates receive a bachelor's degree in a foreign or second language at one institution of higher education and then enter another institution for teacher licensure (or certification). Admission requirements for graduate education programs do not always include assessment of written and oral language proficiency, and teacher candidates may not necessarily be required to take additional advanced coursework in the target language prior to licensure. Numerous teacher candidates find themselves placed in student teaching assignments in which they are unprepared to teach middle to upper level language classes in meaningful communicative settings. Our own institution finds itself in the described situation. Therefore, we undertook a research study whose aim was to address this situation in a purposefully meaningful way for our university. The objectives of the study were to create, design, and implement an assessment tool that would evaluate teacher candidates' foreign/second language proficiency (specifically, oral and written skills in the target language). The language assessment took place prior to student teaching to better ensure teacher candidates' language preparedness prior to internship, and subsequent university recommendation for state licensure. …