- Aligning Frameworks of Reference in Language Testing: The ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines and the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages by Erwin Tschirner (ed.)
In 2010, the Herder Institute of the University of Leipzig, the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG), and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) jointly hosted a conference for debating the (possible) alignment of the two major existing frameworks of learning, teaching, and assessing foreign language skills. This initiative appears particularly timely, and so does the related publication, Aligning Frameworks of Reference in Language Testing: The ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines and the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, edited by Erwin Tschirner.
On the two sides of “the pond,” two major tools have been created and used independently, without any empirical research to establish correspondence between them. This book tries to overcome this limitation by (a) presenting the underlying theoretical concepts in section I, Foundations, (b) analyzing both systems in depth in section II, Frameworks, and (c) presenting some empirical research in section III, Studies.
The down-to-earth choice in the theoretical conceptualization of the book proves very effective for readers as they navigate through the diversity of the 12 chapters. The use of different lenses provides a sense of the complexity of the domain and allows for a detailed exploration of its implications. Clifford appropriately uses the expression “complexity squared” when referring to “complex testing procedures […] applied to the complexities of language” (p. 49).
The aim is not to provide a straightforward, universally applicable solution, which proves unrealistic, but rather to help to understand the potential and the limitations of the comparison process, considering the nature and purpose of both systems.
The opening chapter of section one, by Kenyon, warns that constructs and definitions of proficiency levels are not “a law of nature.” Linking performances to proficiency levels is “a socially-moderated [End Page 268] endeavor” (p. 23). Standard-setting methodologies need to ensure that the outcomes are not arbitrary. Kenyon proposes using Bachman’s (2003) assessment use argument to systematically consider all issues involved. He also advocates the provision of multiple sources of evidence, coming from a sound internal study of both frameworks as well as from empirical studies. Later in this section, Chapelle adopts a pragmatically oriented perspective in “seeking solid theoretical ground for the ACTFL-CEFR crosswalk” (p. 35). Her exploration of theoretical approaches to language, construct definition, and language development of the two frameworks starts with a comparison of scales descriptors through which she questions the important notion of “score meaning.” The focus on score meaning provides access to theoretical approaches of language informing the different scales. It also facilitates access to construct information, in turn related to language development. She claims that although it is possible to use a statistical approach to align the ACTFL and CEFR scales, such an approach would not help understand the score meaning and its implications. Developing interpretative arguments to clarify the theoretical perspectives underlying construct meaning and research in the validity arguments of tests are priorities.
Clifford’s closing contribution to this section expands the perspective by highlighting four external factors that influence test results and explaining how each of them can help or hinder comparison of ACTFL- and CEFR-based test results. The alignment of such factors proves more effective, according to the author, then a simple alignment of the scales used.
In section II Saville provides an overview of the CEFR (pp. 57–69) that familiarizes readers with some major principles underpinning the document. This is complemented and expanded by Little’s contribution (pp. 71–82), which points at the partial—albeit important—impact of the CEFR so far. The analysis of features and implications of the action-oriented approach highlights the different perspectives adopted by the CEFR and the ACTFL Guidelines. The choice made by the CEFR of organizing language use into four modes instead of four skills is linked up with individual agency and empowerment, key notions in both an action-oriented...