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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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3. Measurement 131


3 Measurement The reason that both naive native speakers and language testing raters tend towards a holistic strategy is that evaluation is inevitably a comparative pro- cess, and hence: "Evaluations fall along the same continuum, allowing for meaningful com- parisons across persons, tasks, persons and the like. The universal nature of this general evaluation has been noted in several separate research lit- eratures .... The existence of a single and universal dimension implies that the consistent scaling of performance is at least theoretically possible." (Murphy and Cleveland 1992: 11 9-120) \\!hen Scriven, inventor of the term formative evaluation (Scriven 1967; cited in \\!iddowson 1990: 51), was asked if evaluation was always compara- tive, he is reported to have replied "No, only good evaluation is compara- tive" (cited in Glass 1978: 259). This is arguing against the simplistic divi- sion into master / non-master; competent / incompetent which has domi- nated thinking in criterion-referenced assessment: "knowing and being able to are not absolute, ali-or-nothing attributes" (Trim 1978: 51). Criterion-referenced Assessment An intuitive definition of criterion-referencing is that students' perform- ances are judged in relation to a defined standard and not in relation to their peers. The standard defines where the learner is on the continuum of learning. Thus as he/ she learns he/ she progresses through standards and makes visible progress even if his/her position in the class (e.g. 7th) remains unchanged. This is in opposition to norm-referencing, which defines a stu- dent's place in relation to his/her peers: rank in class...

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