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Validating Language Proficiency Assessments in Second Language Acquisition Research

Applying an Argument-Based Approach

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Anastasia Drackert

The book introduces the reader to an argument-based approach to validity as a way to improve test validation in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research. Motivated by the need for practical suggestions for raising proficiency assessment standards in SLA research, it exemplifies the approach by validating two distinct score interpretations for a new Russian Elicited Imitation Test (EIT). Two empirical investigations with 164 Russian learners in the USA and Germany were conducted to evaluate the accuracy of the score interpretations associated with two distinct test uses. The EIT proved to constitute a reliable and valid instrument for differentiating between a wide range of oracy skills. The proposed cut scores enabled prediction of several levels of speaking and listening proficiency. The author concludes with implications for using the argument-based approach for validating assessments in SLA research, for the use of the developed Russian EIT, and for future research on Elicited Imitation Tests in general.
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Chapter 1: Introduction

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CHAPTER 1:

INTRODUCTION

1.1  Assessment of second language (L2) proficiency in SLA research

Assessment of second language proficiency is done for many purposes. In educational settings assessments are used to make decisions about students, to inform classroom teaching and learning, and to improve, ensure, and demonstrate the quality of an educational program (Norris, 2013). Ideally, for all of these educational purposes, the use of an assessment instrument leads to a concrete action that has an appropriate implication for the individual, school, or language program. In comparison to educational assessment, second language acquisition (SLA) as a scholarly field employs assessments as instruments for collecting data with the goal of answering research questions about the linguistic, cognitive, social, or educational “factors that are hypothesized either to enable or inhibit the rate, route, and ultimate attainment of L2 acquisition” (Norris & Ortega, 2012, p. 573). In other words, no direct actions are involved concerning the individuals who are assessed.

In SLA research L2 proficiency assessments are mainly used for three purposes. First, assessments are employed for selecting participants into a study. Here, the use of L2 proficiency assessments helps to justify the sampling of participants into a study or assigning participants to distinct groups (Norris & Ortega, 2012, p. 580). Second, during the analysis, depending on the research question, it is necessary to include a measure of L2 proficiency as a covariate because proficiency can directly influence L2 learners’ performance on language-related experiments or interventions...

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