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ESOL-RESEARCH  July 2009

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Subject:

Research on language testing for ESOL and citizenship

From:

James Simpson <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

James Simpson <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 3 Jul 2009 08:49:58 +0100

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Hello all
There are a couple of papers in recent issues of the Cambridge ESOL publication Research Notes that might be useful for those interested in language testing for ESOL and for citizenship.

1. Papp, S. and M. Robinson (2009) A framework for migration and language assessment and the Skills for Life exams. Cambridge ESOL Research Notes 35, March 2009.
Available free online at www.CambridgeESOL.org/rs_notes<http://www.CambridgeESOL.org/rs_notes>
This is a Cambridge ESOL take on language testing for citizenship. Though broadly synpathetic or neutral towards UK immigration policy, it does include a critique of the Life in the UK test, pointing to the importance (and difficulty) of distinguishing between content (knowledge of life in the UK) and language skills in a citizenship or a language for citizenship test.
While I'm thinking about language testing for citizenship, a couple of other language testing publications come to mind. Papers in a recent edition of Language Assessment Quarterly (6/1, 2009) are devoted to this matter, and the way it is handled around the world. You can see the table of contents at http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~db=all~content=g908506704
If, by any chance, your institution has a subscription to this, it's a really useful issue to get your hands on if you have an interest in (language) testing for citizenship.
Melanie Cooke wrote a 'Research Digest' article in a recent issue of the NATECLA journal Language Issues ('every ESOL department should have a subscription' according to one fan), covering the main ground of language testing for citizenship: Cooke, M (2009) 'Research digest 2 (Language and citizenship).' Language Issues 20/1, 61-65.
And my own paper 'Differing expectations in the assessment of the speaking skills of ESOL learners' (Linguistics and Education 17/1, 2006) draws attention to why it is so difficult to make judgements about beginner ESOL students' communicative competence based on speaking tests. This paper is available online via the Research Projects page of the ESOL Research website: http://www.personal.leeds.ac.uk/~edujsi/research_projects.htm
Scroll down to 'ESOL Effective Practice Project'.  The direct link to the .pdf is http://www.personal.leeds.ac.uk/~edujsi/Linguistics%20and%20Education%20papers/Simpson.pdf
Incidentally we worked with Cambridge ESOL on the development of the before/after speaking test for the NRDC ESOL Effective Practice Project, modelling our test on the KET test.

2. Vidakovic, I. (2009) 'Profile of Skills for Life candidature in 2007-8.' Cambridge ESOL Research Notes 36, May 2009. Available free online at www.CambridgeESOL.org/rs_notes<http://www.CambridgeESOL.org/rs_notes>
This is a follow-up to a similar summary published in 2006; it offers some details on the people who took the Cambridge ESOL Skills for Life exams last year and the year before, as well as some useful contrasts with the 2006 snapshot. The paper is based on survey data from 41,475 students who took the Cambridge ESOL SfL writing exam in 2007-8. This is a huge number, six times higher than the original Cambridge ESOL estimate of 7000 for annual candidature for their SfL tests, made in 2004 just before the tests' first outing. It's no wonder that the washback effect of these tests into ESOL practice is so considerable these days. 69% of candidates were female, and 43% were aged 21-30. Of the top ten first languages reported by the test takers, Polish dominates hugely (23%, nearly one in four candidates) followed by (in order) Arabic, Spanish, Somali, Farsi, French, Portuguese, Bengali, Urdu and Slovak, with around 3-5% each. One other interesting point: although the lagrest age group overall is the 21-30 group, the largest group taking the Entry 1 exam is the 31-50 group (42%). On this point, the author states: 'it could be hypothesised that the deviation of the Entry 1 candidates from this general age pattern occurred because younger SfL candidates (21-30) have a better knowledge of English that (sic) other age groups and are, therefore, more likely to take exams at a level higher than Entry 1'. While probably correct, this 'hypothesis' lacks any insight. In Chapter 5 of the report of the NRDC ESOL Effective Practice Project, we go into some detail about why students at the beginner end of ESOL tend to be older. Cambridge ESOL should have a copy of this on their shelves they might like to dust off, having had a hand in its production. Otherwise it's available online at http://www.nrdc.org.uk/publications_details.asp?ID=89# Or they might like to fork out 20 for a copy of ESOL: A critical guide (Cooke and Simpson 2008, OUP) and take a look at Chapter 2.

One point of criticism: The Cambridge ESOL survey was only carried out on takers of the writing exams, not the speaking and listening ones. Details why this might be are not given (too difficult to administer a written survey to takers of a speaking/listening exam?), but Cambridge ESOL have missed out a possibly large and no doubt important sector of the ESOL test-taking population by limiting their survey in this way. Indeed it would be nice to know how many students altogether took any of Cambridge ESOL's (and other boards') exams.

But well done to Cambridge ESOL for producing these reports, which give us a bit of an insight into the wacky world of language testing. It's more than other exam boards do, as far as I know. Research Notes are free online at www.CambridgeESOL.org/rs_notes<http://www.CambridgeESOL.org/rs_notes>, or you can ask for a (free) subscription to the paper copy from the same URL.

Cheers!
James


Dr James Simpson
School of Education
University of Leeds
Leeds LS2 9JT
United Kingdom
+44 (0)113 343 4687
[log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>
http://www.education.leeds.ac.uk/people/staff.php?staff=39

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ESOL-Research is a forum for researchers and practitioners with an interest in research into teaching and learning ESOL. ESOL-Research is managed by James Simpson at the Centre for Language Education Research, School of Education, University of Leeds.
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