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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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2. Review of the Literature 19

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2. Review of the Literature 2.1 Introduction In this chapter, drawing on literature in the fields of language testing and task-based research, relevant previous research is reviewed for the purpose of identifying what needs to be considered as evidence of equivalence in spoken narrative tasks. The first half of this chapter mainly handles previous studies in language testing research, discuss- ing relevant aspects of validity and contextual factors of speaking assessment that should be controlled for (Section 2.2), related research on the equivalence of test forms and tasks (Section 2.3), and the meth- odological implications for this study. The latter half of the chapter summarises task-related research and explores how relevant aspects of validity can be operationalised in this study. It includes a review of models of speech production (Section 2.5.1) and a discussion of rele- vant task characteristics (Section 2.5.2) and linguistic variables to examine different aspects of spoken narrative performance, such as complexity, fluency and accuracy (Section 2.5.3), as well as task- specific variables (Section 2.5.4). Reviewing the variables for linguis- tic performance leads to the selection of appropriate rating scales (Section 2.6) for candidates’ performance. Finally, the research ques- tions are presented at the end of the chapter (Section 2.7). 2.2 Theoretical Framework This section reviews the theoretical frameworks on which this book is based. Firstly, it explains the models of speaking assessment by McNamara (1996), Skehan (1998) and Bachman (2002) in order to conceptualise the relevant factors involved in researching speaking 20 tasks. Secondly, with a...

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