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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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1. Language Proficiency Scales 9


1 Language Proficiency Scales Scales of language proficiency have become relatively widespread over the past decade as part of a general movement towards more transparency in educational systems, which places a higher value on being able to state what the attainment of a given level of language proficiency means in practice. \Vhereas 10 or 15 years ago, scales which were not directly or indirectly related back to the 1950s US Foreign Service Institute (FSI) scale (\Vild 1965) were quite rare, the 1990s saw quite a proliferation with, for example, the British National Language Standards (Languages Lead Body 1992), the Eurocentres Scale of Language Proficiency (North 1993c), the Finnish Scale of Language Proficiency (Luoma 1993) and the ALTE Framework (Association of Language Testers in Europe 1994). Many of these scales represent what Bachman (1990: 325-330) has described as the "real-life" approach to assessment in that they try to give a picture of what a learner at a particular level of attainment can do in the real world. Other scales take what Bachman describes as the "interactive-ability" approach focusing upon aspects of a performance in a particular test (e.g. Milanovic et al 1992/ 6; Fulcher 1993; Upshur and Turner 1995; Brindley 1998). The following extract from the mid range of the 10 band Eurocentres global scale is a fairly typical example of the "real life" approach. This scale, it should be stressed, is the pinnacle of an informacion pyramid with more detailed scales used for different purposes. The style of this particular...

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