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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 2: Evaluating Tests of Second Language Development

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Chapter 2Evaluating Tests of Second Language Development

If one is to examine all published and large-scale second language (L2) tests, they will be hard pressed to find tests that are specifically designed to measure L2 development or progress over time. Instead, most L2 tests aim to assess L2 proficiency at one point in time whether for admission, placement, achievement, or other purposes. This is true for most tests in other fields as well (Deno, 1997; Meier, 2004). As Deno (1997) and Meier (2004) noted with reference to standardized tests in general, historically, the focus of such tests has been on distinguishing between individuals in terms of the construct being measured at one point in time, rather than monitoring student progress on the construct over time.

Similarly, most research on L2 proficiency adopts a cross-sectional approach to describe and explain inter-individual differences in L2 proficiency at one point in time. Studies that aimed to shed light on L2 development, often use a cross-sectional design to make claims about L2 development. Some studies, for example, compare students at different proficiency levels at one point in time and then use their findings to make claims about how L2 proficiency develops over time. However, findings from cross-sectional studies can shed little light on, and support claims about, L2 development over time. As noted by Singer and Willett (2003), differences between individuals at one point in time do not necessarily represent change. In other words, cross-sectional research...

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