Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

The Impact of the Oral Proficiency Interview on One Foreign Language Teacher Education Program

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

The Impact of the Oral Proficiency Interview on One Foreign Language Teacher Education Program

Article excerpt

Introduction

The Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) is a nationally recognized, standardized test that assesses an individual's oral communication skills in a foreign or target language. The OPI was developed in the 1980s by ACTFL and is administered through ACTFL'sofficial testing office, Language Testing International (LTI). The OPI is offered as an in-person or telephonic interview between the test taker and either a certified ACTFL tester who has un- dergone rigorous training in the evaluation process or a computer with which interview- ees interact with a digital avatar (Oral Profi- ciency Interview by Computer; OPIc). Regardless of the means of testing, a record- ing of the interview is analyzed by two cer- tified ACTFL raters who independently assess the candidate's speaking proficiency based on the descriptors in the ACTFL Pro- ficiency Guidelines (ACTFL, 2012), result- ing in 1 of 11 profi ciency level ratings ranging from Novice Low to Distinguished. While approximately 3,000 individuals completed the OPI in 1996, 27,875 OPIs or OPIcs were administered in 2011, and in 2012, that number surpassed 30,000.1

Although individuals take the OPI or OPIc for a variety of different purposes, it is being used in increasing numbers in aca- demia for teacher certification purposes (Hammadou Sullivan, 2011; Malone & Montee, 2010). Currently, 23 states require aspiring foreign language teachers to com- plete an OPI. Sixteen of these states have adopted the ACTFL standard of Advanced Low or higher for teacher licensure in more commonly taught languages such as Spanish, French, and German, and the remaining seven have set the minimum standard at Intermediate High. With respect to less com- monly taught languages,2 all 23 states require a minimum score of Intermediate High.

In addition to foreign language teacher certification programs in these 23 states, pro- grams seeking national recognition by ACTFL and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation3 must also demon- strate that their teacher candidates achieve a minimum passing score on the OPI of Ad- vanced Low for commonly taught languages and Intermediate High for less commonly taught languages (Pearson, Fonseca-Greber, & Foell, 2006). Programs whose teacher can- didates do not meet this minimum score as outlined in Standard 1a of the ACTFL Pro- gram Standards for the Preparation of Foreign Language Teachers (ACTFL, 2002) must of- fer planned remediation experiences in order to help those candidates enhance their target language speaking skills. This national accreditation requirement has further con- tributed to the growing number of test takers: As of spring 2013, there were 242 foreign language teacher education programs in 119 institutions of higher education across 27 states and the District of Columbia that included the OPI as part of their licensure requirements (NCATE, 2013).

While these licensing requirements are now well established and have been widely implemented throughout the United States, little research has been conducted on the impact of the OPI requirement on foreign language teacher education pro- grams (Chambless, 2012; Glisan, Swender, & Surface, 2013). In light of Hammadou Sullivan's (2011) assertion that "the quality of teacher education programs is strongly tied to candidates' test scores" (p. 254), pro- gram directors of foreign language teacher education programs considering adoption of the OPI may, for instance, be interested in knowing what percentage of candidates they might expect to achieve Advanced Low. Further, they may question how im- plementation of this requirement will be perceived by teacher candidates and what effect it may have on enrollment. For example, might aspiring foreign language teachers balk at the additional fee and added stress of taking this high-stakes test and instead opt for an alternative licensure program that has less demanding require- ments or a traditional program that is not seeking national recognition? …

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