Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Future Directions in Assessment: Influences of Standards and Implications for Language Learning

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Future Directions in Assessment: Influences of Standards and Implications for Language Learning

Article excerpt


In the United States and around the world, education and assessment are now, unequivocally, standardsbased (Glisan, 2012; Llosa, 2011). In the 1980s and 1990s, "pressure for accountability from the government, taxpayers, and policymakers initiated a systematic student outcomes assessment movement" (Ricardo-Osorio, 2008, p. 590), and the influence of that movement has now reached teaching and learning from the university level to the preschool level and across a range of academic disciplines, including the discipline of foreign and second language pedagogy. Language learning standards have streamlined and improved students' development by providing educators with "a common yardstick" (Bärenfänger & Tschirner, 2008)-that is, a shared pedagogical framework with theory-driven and evidence-based benchmarks and goals. The standards are educational road maps that were designed to help educators provide strong and effective learning opportunities for all learners, regardless of their geographic or socioeconomic context. But more important, as Bärenfänger and Tschirner pointed out, national and international language learning standards were designed as a pedagogical tool for educators so that they could reflect on their own programs and seek to improve their curricular practices and the outcomes stemming from them. The notion was that educators could use the standards to "perhaps even revolutionize language education," as described by Glisan (2012, p. 515).

As Foreign Language Annals concludes its 50th anniversary, it is fitting to review the past and peer into the future of standards-based education and assessment. We do this because the standards have not quite revolutionized language education, but they have improved much and certainly are, as Glisan (2012) noted, impacting language instruction, curricula, course design, and educational policy. In this article we reflect upon the somewhat nebulous issues in standards-based world language practices and assessments that will challenge the field over the next few decades. This is necessary because while language learning standards are accepted and not too controversial (compared to national standards in other subject areas, such as social studies or history; see Reagan & Osborn, 2002, pp. 7-8), they (and their use) are not entirely without controversy. Predicting the future is always dangerous yet forward thinking is critical, particularly, we think, when examining an issue as large and complex as the teaching and learning of world languages.


2.1| Assessments came first

As Echevarria, Short, and Powers explained (2006, p. 195, referencing Tucker & Codding, 1998), "[s]tandards and the assessments that are aligned with them have become the rallying principles for improved academic performance in schools," and the improvement is normally measured through assessments. Thus assessment is an integral part of the standards movement. As a strong player in the standards movement, ACTFL began developing and validating reliable, criterion-referenced assessments of speaking well before the standards movement began in the United States in the late 1980s and 1990s (Herzog, 2003; Menken, Hudson, & Leung, 2014). The speaking assessments, and now also the assessments of listening, reading, and writing, were at first designed with college and university students and even older learners in mind. They were based on earlier versions of the ACTFL (2012) Proficiency Guidelines, which in turn were based on the U.S. Civil Service Commission's 1952 Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) proficiency scale descriptors (see Herzog 2003), which themselves were created in response to real-world needs: specifically, the U.S. government's pragmatic need to appropriately assign language learners to foreign language-dependent jobs that required various levels of linguistic skill (such as jobs in the U.S. Foreign Service). Thus the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines were a precursor to the foreign and second language standards, and in actuality they spun off the ILR scale, which was made to fairly and accurately assess the task-based language ability and intercultural communication competency of (predominantly) Foreign Service officers. …

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