The journalist and scholar H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) once observed that “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” One would think that academic literacy, the ability to use academic language competently, would be the first and only language concern of the academic communities that make up the university. Such is the complexity of language problems, however, that not all solutions for them will have to do with making education and study more effective. Student communities may, for example, make language demands that are primarily politically inspired, and have little bearing on scholarship. When decision-makers yield to the politically expedient solution, that solution may be rationalized in many ways that might have the pretence of having to do with education, but that actually has no theoretical justification. There are at least two recent cases in South Africa where the language policies of universities were changed for reasons other than academic ones, with negative consequences that were foreseen, but ignored.
Simple but wasteful
So, solutions to language problems at university can be arrived at simply: through what is most expedient politically, or most conventionally appealing, or perhaps least costly. Those simple and apparently less costly solutions can, however, in the long run come to have substantial waste (and therefore cost) associated with them. Continue reading →
The Code of Ethics of the International Language Testing Association (ILTA) is a guide to language testers of how they should conduct their business in ways that are caring and compassionate, and at the same time deliberate and professional. It is complemented by locally formulated Codes of Practice. The Code of Ethics is already available in eleven languages.
A team of South African translators, Sanet Steyn and Gini Keyser, tasked by the Network of Expertise in Language Assessment (NExLA), did the initial translation of the Code of Ethics into Afrikaans. Then Colleen du Plessis, Albert Weideman, and language policy specialist Theo du Plessis produced a further two drafts. The fourth draft of the Code is now being presented to the language testing community at large, and has been placed on the NExLA website for comment. Continue reading →
Returning to the still unresolved issue of how best to conceptualize test validation and validity, I attempt to answer this question in a special issue of Language & Communication that commemorates the work of the late Alan Davies. In particular, I argue that responsible test design encompasses ethicality and accountability, and is a conceptually clearer way of thinking about the quality of a language test.
Elsevier, the publisher of the journal, has generously, though for a limited period, provided unlimited access to the article that I contributed to this commemorative issue. The final published version of the article, “Does responsibility encompass ethicality and accountability in language test design?” is available until 17 December to anyone who clicks on the following link: https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1Vy-wzlItpy~5. No sign up, registration or fees are required – you can simply click and read.
First, that it’s time for language test developers in South Africa to begin to evaluate the ethicality of their assessment practices with reference to international codes, and second, to consider what local and contextual conditions might further shape our design work.
Does the South African language testing community need a Code of Ethics? That need has just been brought into focus again by an invitation from Tineke Brunfaut, coordinator of a project of the International Language Testing Association (ILTA; http://www.iltaonline.com/) aiming to have the ILTA Code of ethics translated into more languages, to translate it into Afrikaans. Continue reading →
Is a theory of applied linguistics desirable? And if so, is it possible? My new book, Responsible design in applied linguistics: theory and practice (2017; Springer) proceeds from the thesis that applied linguistics needs a theoretical foundation. It is indeed possible to delineate its work (and specifically distinguish it from linguistics). Providing it with a theoretical foundation might additionally yield new insight into the principles that underlie applied linguistic designs. Those designs we encounter as the interventions that we call language courses, language tests and language policies. Continue reading →
Avasha Rambiritch of the University of Pretoria and I have just written a chapter for a book edited by John Read (Post-admission Language Assessment of University Students, Springer, 2016) that shows how making sufficient information available about the conception, design, development, refinement and eventual administration of a test of language ability — in other words “telling the story of a test” — is the first step towards ensuring accountability for such tests. The test in question, the Test of Academic Literacy for Postgraduate Students (TALPS), is used to determine the academic literacy of prospective postgraduate students. For the full reference, see the bibliography on this site. Continue reading →
The solutions proposed by applied linguists are defensible in two ways:
First, the designs must be justified with reference to theory – not only linguistic theory, but also those found in other disciplines, like psychology and pedagogy, and across disciplines.
Second, applied linguists are accountable to the public for the designs they produce. This is because their plans affect ever-increasing numbers of human beings. A bad and inappropriate language test may prevent one from earning a decent living or gaining legitimate access to a country or resources. An inadequate language course may stultify personal and professional growth. An ineffective and inappropriate language policy or arrangement can inhibit optimal performance within an institution or the workplace. Continue reading →