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The Development of a Common Framework Scale of Language Proficiency


Brian North

Scales describing language proficiency in a series of levels can provide orientation for educational programmes, criteria for assessment, and reporting to stakeholders. However, in most cases such instruments are produced just by expert opinion. A scale of language proficiency actually implies a descriptive scheme related to theory but usable by practitioners. It also implies a methodology for scaling content to different levels. This book describes the use of both qualitative and quantitative techniques to develop scales for the «Common Reference Levels» in the Common European Framework of Reference for modern languages. Short stand-alone descriptors were (i) developed and classified, (ii) refined and elaborated in workshops, and then (iii) scaled by analyzing the judgments of one hundred teachers on the English language proficiency of the learners in their classes.


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Preface xv


Preface This study is related to steps in Europe towards the development of a Common Framework for language teaching and learning. The project here described was undertaken primarily to serve two functions: Firstly to provide an empirical basis in a multi-lingual, multi-sector set- ting to the development of an illustrative bank of descriptors. These de- scriptors define at an ascending series of levels various aspects of profi- ciency related to the parameters specified in the Council of Europe Framework subsequently published in 1996. Secondly to test in a pilot project for English a methodology to estab- lish the difficulty level of descriptors and the ability level of learners on the same mathematical scale. This was in order to provide transparent descriptors of the foreign language proficiency of learners in the different sectors of the Swiss educational system. Put another way, the aim of the study was to refine a set of criterion de- scriptors of English language proficiency through workshops with teachers and then to calibrate those descriptors in relation to assessments by teachers of their learners, in order to provide a basis for the development of instru- ments for criterion-referenced teacher- and self-assessment in relation to a common reference scale. After the Introduction, Chapter 1 discusses existing scales of language proficiency and some of the particular problems involved in the develop- ment of a common framework scale. The vast majority of existing scales of language proficiency have been developed intuitively by a single author or small committee. \Vhilst one...

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