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Evaluating Tests of Second Language Development

A Framework and an Empirical Study

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Khaled Barkaoui

The book introduces a framework for examining the validity of tests that aim to assess second-language (L2) proficiency development over time and/or in relation to L2 instruction. It also reports the findings of a longitudinal study that aimed to examine the sensitivity to change of a test of L2 proficiency development. Specifically, the study examined changes over time in Progress scores and the linguistic characteristics of essays written in response to Progress by learners who took the test before, during and after a period of L2 instruction in different countries. The book furthers our understanding of the nature of L2 proficiency as it develops over time and in relation to L2 instruction and provides a framework that can be used in future endeavours to design and validate tests of L2 proficiency development. The book is intended for graduate students, test developers, and researchers doing research in applied linguistics and L2 assessment.

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Chapter 1: Introduction

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Chapter 1Introduction

Recently, there has been a growing interest, in both applied linguistics and second language acquisition (SLA), in researching second language (L2) development longitudinally in order to understand how L2 proficiency develops over time, how long it takes L2 learners to attain proficiency in L2, what factors shape L2 development, and other related questions (e.g., Barkaoui, 2014; Ortega & Byrnes, 2008; Ortega & Iberri-Shea, 2005). Furthermore, there is an ongoing interest in SLA in evaluating the effectiveness of various L2 instructional approaches, strategies and materials (e.g., Norris & Ortega, 2000). Assessing the effectiveness of L2 instruction often relies on pretest/posttest research designs and L2 proficiency tests originally developed to assess L2 proficiency at one point in time (c.f., Norris & Ortega, 2000). There is an increasing awareness, however, that measures of L2 proficiency at one point in time may not be appropriate for measuring L2 development over time (Barkaoui, 2014; Ortega & Byrnes, 2008; Ortega & Iberri-Shea, 2005). A key limitation of current tests, as will be discussed in Chapter 2, is that, although they can detect differences in L2 proficiency across learners, they may not be sensitive to instructional effects or to changes in L2 proficiency over time.

There are almost no tests specifically designed to measure L2 development over time or in relation to L2 instruction. Most L2 tests, whether they are intended to be used for proficiency, achievement, placement, diagnosis, or other purposes, are designed to assess L2...

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