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

Abstract: The Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) has been increasingly used in academia. However, while multiple studies have documented the growth in OPI implementation across the United States and the proficiency rates of its completers, few have focused specifically on foreign language teacher candidates, and even fewer have investigated the impact that this proficiency assessment may have on language teacher training programs. To better understand the impact of the OPI on foreign language teacher education programs and help guide programmatic decision making, a case study was conducted of one such program that recently implemented the OPI as part of its licensure requirements. The results confirmed earlier research with respect to expected proficiency outcomes of foreign language teacher candidates. The results also suggested that the OPI requirement did not negatively affect program enrollment, nor did teacher trainees negatively perceive the OPI requirement. Finally, the study provided evidence of the positive impact the OPI may have on a foreign language teacher education program. Recommended practices for implementing the OPI in teacher training programs and ways to support foreign language teacher candidates who must complete the assessment are discussed.

Key words: case study, foreign/second language teacher preparation, language profi- ciency, native speaker/nonnative speaker status, teacher characteristics


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. …

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