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The Development of a Common Framework Scale of Language Proficiency

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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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Introduction 1

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Introduction The study described in this book was undertaken as a PhD as part of a research project in Switzerland linked to the development of the Council of Europe Common European Framework for language learning and teaching (frim 1978; Council of Europe 1992; North et al 1992; Council of Europe 1996). The Swiss research project aimed to identify the range of language competence achieved at points at which learners switch educational sectors (Schneider and North 1999) and to develop a prototype "Language Passport" or "Language Portfolio" to record that achievement (Scharer and North 1992; Scharer ed. 1999). These initiatives were a follow up to the Council of Europe Intergovernmental Symposium hosted by Switzerland at Ruschlikon near Zurich in November 1991 entitled: "Transparen~y and Coherence in LAnguage Learning in Europe: oijectives, evaluation and rert{firation." The Swiss research project sought to make transparent teachers' "fuzzy" internalised norms and standards (1-Iurphy and Cleveland 1991) and to develop them into defmitions of expected performance levels for the learners concerned (Stern 1989: 214) in criterion statements presented both in scales of proficiency and in checklist form (Brindley 1989: 62-84), so that they could be used as an information network for criterion-referenced assessment by the partners in the language teaching and learning process (Richterich and Schneider 1992). This was an ambitious aim, because it entailed creating a common framework of reference which will be relevant to different language regions (German-speaking, French-speaking, Italian- speaking) and different educational sectors (lower secondary, upper secondary, vocational, adult) as...

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