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Task Equivalence in Speaking Tests

Investigating the Difficulty of Two Spoken Narrative Tasks

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Chihiro Inoue

This book addresses the issue of task equivalence, which is of fundamental importance in the areas of language testing and task-based research, where task equivalence is a prerequisite. The main study examines the two ‘seemingly-equivalent’ picture-based spoken narrative tasks, using a multi-method approach combining quantitative and qualitative methodologies with MFRM analysis of the ratings, the analysis of linguistic performances by Japanese candidates and native speakers of English (NS), expert judgements of the task characteristics, and perceptions of the candidates and NS. The results reveal a complex picture with a number of variables involved in ensuring task equivalence, raising relevant issues regarding the theories of task complexity and the commonly-used linguistic variables for examining learner spoken language. This book has important implications for the possible measures that can be taken to avoid selecting non-equivalent tasks for research and teaching.

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1. Introduction 13

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1. Introduction 1.1 Rationale of the Book Achieving high proficiency in the English language has become in- creasingly important in Japan as it is considered essential for Japanese people in order to participate in today’s globalised world where Eng- lish is used as a common international language (The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology [MEXT], 2003). In response to this situation, in 2003 MEXT has launched a large-scale action plan for better English education which aims to improve its Course of Study as well as curricula, teaching methods and teacher training, and to promote international exchange programmes in high schools so that the Japanese will acquire more communicative English proficiency with stronger productive skills, especially in speaking. Accordingly, it is of no doubt that there need to be test tasks which can reliably measure the English speaking proficiency of Japanese learners. What is vital for reliable English proficiency tests is to have equivalent forms, i.e. comparable test versions to give to a number of candidates over the years so that meaningful comparisons of scores are possible while maintaining test security. Nevertheless, establishing evidence of equivalence among different test forms or at the task level, especially in productive tests, are rarely carried out by test ad- ministrators (Weir, 2005: 250), which seriously threatens not only the reliability but also the validity and fairness of tests. Moreover, the same problem applies to previous studies on task complexity in task- based research, where equivalence of tasks is a prerequisite but has...

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