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News from the Center for Applied Linguistics

No. 14 • June 2000

In This Issue

BEST Evolves to Meet New Needs
Board of Trustees
Strong Start for NAEP Language Assessment
Language and Learning
CAL Collaborates in Summer Institutes
New CAL Publications Available From CAL
New CAL Publications From Delta Systems
New Online Resources

BEST Evolves to Meet New Needs

The Basic English Skills Test (BEST) was developed in the early 1980s by the Center for Applied Linguistics with the cooperation of seven regional English as a second language programs. Funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (now part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), it was designed for adult learners of English as a second language at the survival and pre-employment skills level. Consisting of an oral interview section and a literacy section, the test made innovative use of authentic survival language situations, such as asking for directions, counting money, and telling time. When appropriately used, it was found to be particularly effective in measuring lower English proficiency levels.

The BEST continues to serve adult ESL programs nationwide as a standardized way of assessing oral and literacy skills. In 1992, the BEST was put on the U.S. Department of Education's list of approved tests that applicants without a high school diploma or recognized equivalent may take to demonstrate their ability to benefit from instruction in trade schools and other educational institutions. In 1993, staff at Clackamas Community College in Oregon developed a video and guide to train teachers to administer and score the short form of the oral interview section of the BEST. Members of CAL staff are frequently requested to facilitate staff development in the use of the short form interview.

However, the BEST has its limitations. Like a number of tests that have been used with the adult ESL population, it cannot adequately assess the full range of learner achievement. Tests currently used either are not sensitive enough to measure progress over short periods of time or don't contain enough items to permit learners to demonstrate fully their functional control of the language. At the same time, the need for a test that can be used with adult learners of ESL is greater than ever. Almost half of all students enrolled in adult education programs are English language learners, and many of those students have low literacy levels in their native language as well as in English. In addition, Title II of the Workforce Investment Act calls for more accountability from these programs.

An updated and improved BEST would better serve the needs of the students, the programs, and the government that funds those programs. Ideally, the test would meet these objectives:

For the past year, with funding from the Office of Vocational and Adult Education of the U.S. Department of Education, CAL staff have been at work on a prototype for a revised version of the BEST oral interview. The prototype is essentially a small-scale experiment to explore the feasibility of developing and administering a performance-based, computer-assisted instrument for oral proficiency assessment. An important issue is to balance two competing demands: a reasonable length of time for administering the test and an adequate sampling of the examinee's command of English. Using computer technology, it is possible to satisfy both these demands.

As the test is administered, the test items are presented to the interviewer on a computer screen. Any visual related to a test item also appears on the screen and is shown to the examinee. Since the prompt and response are both oral, the examinee is not required to read any items or type any answers. After hearing the examinee's answers, the interviewer enters the score. The computer program selects the difficulty of the next question based on the score entered. This adaptive process means that little time is spent on items that are too easy or too difficult for the examinee. More time is spent on items that allow the examinee to perform at his or her peak proficiency level. Field testing of the prototype exam has shown that both interviewers and examinees feel comfortable with the computer-assisted format.

The prototype exam is relatively limited with regard to the number of test items, the range of proficiency levels, and the variety of content domains. A fully developed test should contain sufficient items to cover a broad range of proficiency levels and a variety of content domains commonly taught in adult ESL programs. It should have an item bank large enough to prevent test memorization by students. As a further desirable feature, upon completion of the interview, the computer program would produce a variety of diagnostic reports. Scoring on the exam would be aligned with the proficiency levels of the National Reporting System of the Office of Vocational and Adult Education, thus making it easier for federally funded programs to meet accountability requirements.

In addition to the computer-assisted exam, CAL also envisions a print-based version of the instrument. The prototype project will be completed in June 2000. For more information, contact Dorry Kenyon at CAL (dorry@cal.org).

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Board of Trustees

Protase E. (Woody) Woodford, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Center for Applied Linguistics, was the 2000 recipient of the Annual Award for Outstanding Leadership in the Profession, presented by the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Mr. Woodford retired from the Educational Testing service after a distinguished 25-year career. Among the testing programs for which he was responsible are some of the most widely known of standardized tests, including the Test of English as a Foreign Language and the foreign language tests for the College Board Examinations, the Graduate Record Examinations, and the National Teacher Examinations. In the 1970s he began to argue for a "common yardstick," an assessment system for foreign language educators and their students. His work laid the foundation for the Proficiency Guidelines of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and for the proficiency movement in foreign language teaching. Mr. Woodford joined CAL's Board in 1994.

CAL welcomed two new members to the Board of Trustees. Gerry Bogatz and Anthony R. Sarmiento began three-year terms in January 2000.

Gerry Bogatz began her career at Educational Testing Service (ETS) in Princeton, NJ, where she served in a variety of positions over a period of 20 years. She directed national evaluations of Sesame Street and The Electric Company for Children's Television Workshop and was responsible for the development of achievement tests for grades K-12 distributed through Addison Wesley Publishing Company. For three years she was Executive Director of Corporate Planning and Development for ETS. Leaving ETS in 1985, she is now president of Gerry Bogatz Associates and MarketingWorks, Inc., two companies that she established to provide market research, business planning services, and direct marketing services for educational publishers and other organizations.

Anthony R. Sarmiento is director of Worker-Centered Learning for the Working for America Institute, the employment and training arm of the national AFL-CIO. He is on leave from his position as assistant director of the AFL-CIO Education Department, where he has worked on a wide range of educational policy issues. Among the special initiatives he has directed for the AFL-CIO, is the creation of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. He represents the AFL-CIO on the national advisory board of several organizations, including the National Institute for Literacy, the U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Vocational Education, and the American Youth Policy Forum. In 1991, he was awarded a lifetime membership in the American Association for Continuing Education in recognition of his efforts to promote lifelong learning in the workplace.

Leaving the board in 1999 was Benjamin O. Canada, Superintendent of Portland, OR Public Schools. His educational career spans elementary school through high school, and he has served as teacher or administrator in the school systems of seven states.

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Strong Start for NAEP Language Assessment

In 2003 the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) will for the first time measure foreign language achievement. The first phase in the development of this assessment, funded by the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), concluded in May 2000. The Center for Applied Linguistics, with its partners the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and the American Institutes for Research (AIR), led a consensus-building project to develop recommendations for the framework and test and item specifications. This effort called on the expertise of more than 50 individuals and several organizations that formed three working committees.

Once preliminary recommendations for the framework and specifications had been developed last fall, they were presented for public comment in a variety of forums: on CAL's Web site, in teacher focus groups, at meetings of state teacher associations, to a meeting of representatives of several government agencies, and at the November 1999 annual meeting of ACTFL in Dallas. On the basis of these comments, the working groups refined the framework and specifications and submitted them to NAGB.

In May, after a further round of commentary and refinement, NAGB unanimously approved the framework and specifications, commending CAL, ACTFL, AIR, and the members of the committees for their work in the development of the foreign language NAEP. In the next phase, the National Center for Education Statistics will contract for the development of items for the foreign language NAEP according to the framework and specifications established in the first phase.

In the proposed general framework, communicative ability in languages other than English will be assessed within three modes of communication: the interpersonal mode, which involves two-way, interactive communication; the interpretive mode, which relates to the understanding of spoken or written language; and the presentational mode, which involves creating spoken or written communication. Examinees will perform authentic communication tasks that are called for in daily life, school, and work. The tasks will reflect four interrelated goals that provide the basis for communication:

Performance will be evaluated on how well the student understands (comprehension) and can be understood (comprehensibility).

The foreign language NAEP will include a two-stage procedure. In the first stage, a language survey/background questionnaire will be administered to a representative national sample of 12th grade students to collect data on demographics, experiences with foreign language learning both in school and beyond, attitudes toward language study, and self-reported language abilities. This sample will include both students who have studied a foreign language in school and those who have not.

In the second stage, the focus will narrow as a Spanish version of the foreign language NAEP is administered to a sub-sample of students responding to the national survey. The sub-sample will consist of 12th grade students who have learned Spanish in a variety of ways and for different lengths of time.

Download a complete copy of the final framework from the publications page of NAGB's website. For further information, contact Dorry Kenyon at CAL (dorry@cal.org).

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Language and Learning

How does language impact children's ability to learn? This was the overriding question at a May congressional briefing sponsored by the Center for Applied Linguistics, the Consortium of Social Science Associations, and the Linguistic Society of America.

Donna Christian, President of CAL and moderator of the event, opened the briefing by noting that language is a hidden item in the agenda of schooling and that we must work to bring language learning out of the shadows. Presentations by other speakers stressed the need for the U.S. educational system to provide enthusiastic support for language learning, especially for children from diverse linguistic backgrounds. They also spoke to the need to improve the reading skills of students in inner-city schools.

Lily Wong Fillmore, Professor of Education at the University of California, Berkeley, asserted that teachers need to know a lot more than they presently do about language. She pointed out that virtually no attention is paid in schools of education to the importance of language in a child's educational success. Consequently, teachers may do a good job of educating children from mainstream backgrounds, but they do a poor job of educating children from low-income, ethnic minority, and immigrant families.

Maria Estela Brisk, Professor of Education at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, advocated bilingualism as a desirable educational outcome for those who speak English as a first language as well as for those who speak other languages. Research has shown that high levels of bilingualism correlate favorably with the ability to read and do math, to formulate scientific hypotheses, and to think abstractly about language and analyze linguistic input. However, becoming bilingual is a difficult process requiring much support from families, schools, and communities.

William Labov, Professor of Linguistics and Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, discussed the raising of reading levels in inner-city schools. A persistent problem in most large cities is that the majority of students in the inner city fail to achieve reading skills that are strong enough to enable them to advance their learning and improve their life chances. Low achievement is partly due to the fact that it is harder to learn to read in English than in many other languages. Differences between the language of the school and the variety of English spoken in the home may hamper the development of literacy. Children may also reject learning to read as a result of peer-group pressure. Labov advocated an approach to the teaching of reading that combines features of phonics and whole language.

John Baugh, Professor Education and Linguistics at Stanford University, closed by emphasizing the advantages accruing to those who have diverse linguistic abilities. It is a mistake, said Baugh, to tell children to abandon their home languages as they learn to speak "like Tom Brokaw or Jane Pauley." Linguistic diversity needs to be accepted.

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CAL Collaborates in Summer Institutes

This summer will find staff from the Center for Applied Linguistics participating in two institutes for educators, both jointly sponsored by CAL with other organizations.

CAL will join the University of California Los Angeles, the Education Office of the Embassy of Spain, the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, and the Mexican Cultural Institute to offer the Summer Institute for Teachers of Spanish to Spanish speakers. The six-week institute is designed for middle and high school Spanish teachers who have Spanish-speaking students in their classes. With financial support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the institute will be held on the UCLA campus, June 26 - August 4, 2000.

During the institute, teachers will review and develop curricula, assessments, and instructional strategies. In the following school year, they will pilot these materials and strategies, communicate with other teachers through an e-mail listserv, and serve as leaders in their schools and districts.

CAL's participation in the institute is another project in the Heritage Languages Initiativea national effort by the Center for Applied Linguistics and the National Foreign Language Center to develop the languages of heritage communities in the United States. An earlier project in this initiative was a conference held in Long Beach, CA in October 1999 that brought together nearly 300 participants interested in improving heritage language teaching in this country.

The second institute, Teaching English Language Learners: Effective Programs and Practices, will take place June 27-29, 2000 at the Storrs campus of the University of Connecticut. The institute, featuring plenary sessions, interactive workshops, and concurrent presentations, is jointly sponsored by the University of Connecticut, the Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence (CREDE), and CAL. Participants will include pre-service and in-service teachers at all levels, school and district administrators, and policymakers.

The institute will provide a forum in which CREDE researchers can disseminate the results of several years of research related to the education of English language learners. The presenterswho include practitioners and administrators as well as researcherswill work with participants to explore the application strategies needed to translate the research into practices that enable classrooms, schools, and districts to serve English language learners more effectively.

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New CAL Publications Available From CAL

Research Briefs and Digests are two-page publications that highlight a topic of interest in the field of education. They may be ordered from CAL free of charge, or the full text may be read on the Web at the indicated addresses. Educational Practice Reports and Research Reports may be ordered from CAL for $5.00 each, and some may be read on the Web at the indicated addresses. Other products may be ordered from CAL for the price given in parentheses following the title.

Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence

Research Briefs
www.cal.org/crede/pubs

Educational Practice Reports
www.cal.org/crede/pubs

Research Report
www.cal.org/crede/pubs

Other Products

ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics

Digests
www.cal.org/resources/digest

Resource Guides Online

National Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy Education

Digests

Refugee Service Center

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New CAL Publications From Delta Systems

The following publications may be ordered from Delta Systems Co., Inc. (1-800-323-8270) www.delta-systems.com

Access and Engagement: Program Design and Instructional Approaches for Immigrant Students in Secondary School, by Aída Walqui

This volume, the latest in the Topics in Immigrant Education series, provides valuable insights into problematic features of school structure that pose challenges for immigrant students in secondary schools: fragmented schools and instructional approaches, complex systems of courses and of graduation and college entrance requirements, and traditional placing and tracking methods. Presenting in-depth profiles of high schools and programs serving students of diverse backgrounds, the author derives 10 characteristics of schools and programs that can foster effective teaching and learning for immigrant youth. ($20.95)

Assessing Success in Family Literacy and Adult ESL, edited by Daniel D. Holt and Carol H. Van Duzer

Providing guidelines for assessment and evaluation, together with numerous examples of assessment tools, the authors illustrate how to develop alternative approaches to evaluation and assessment in adult English language programswhether in the context of family literacy, workplace and workforce literacy, or general language development. Surveys, interviews, observation measures, and performance samples yield accurate information that will meet the needs of students, program staff, and funding agencies. The book is an updated and revised version of Holt's Assessing Success in Family Literacy Projects. ($15.95)

Enhancing English Language Learning in Elementary Classrooms, by Allene Grognet, Judy Jameson, Lynda Franco, and Maria Derrick-Mescua

This is a comprehensive professional development program for elementary teachers of limited English proficient students. Designed to present strategies that develop LEP students' social and academic English and support their transition to U.S. culture and schools, it is appropriate for teachers in mainstream classrooms, self-contained ESL classrooms, bilingual programs, and others. The highly interactive program uses a variety of learning methods: trainer presentation, video observation, participant readings, and pair and small group work. Throughout the program, participants apply what they are learning to their own curriculums and materials. Similar in approach and format to Enriching Content for Secondary ESOL Students (Jameson, 1998), the ready-to-use set of materials consists of a trainer's manual, a participants' study guide, and a video (complete set $149.95; trainer's manual and study guide $125.00; study guide $9.95 each).

Foreign Language Instruction in the United States, by Nancy C. Rhodes and Lucinda E. Branaman

This is the report of a national survey of foreign language education in grades K-12 conducted by the Center for Applied Linguistics. Replicating an earlier study conducted by CAL, it shows trends over a ten-year period, as well as current patterns in the areas of enrollment, languages and programs offered, curricula used, teacher qualifications and training, and reactions to national reform issues. ($17.95)

Making the Connection: Language and Academic Achievement Among African American Students, edited by Carolyn Temple Adger, Donna Christian, and Orlando Taylor

Prompted by public debate on the educational role of Ebonics (the language variety spoken by many African Americans), the Center for Applied Linguistics and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Howard University convened a group of national leaders in language, education, and public policy to provide a coherent, informed response to the issues. The papers from that meeting form the chapters in this volume. They respond to widespread and fundamental misunderstandings about language diversity in U.S. schools and society in general with up-to-date, informative discussions about language variation among African American students that will help educators enhance their students' academic achievement. Topics include communicative style in classroom talk; language diversity and assessment; preparing teachers to teach linguistically and culturally diverse students; and infusing knowledge about language variation into the school curriculum. ($20.95)

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New Online Resources

The Center for Applied Linguistics is engaged in an ongoing effort to make information about language and education as widely available and accessible as possible. Most of CAL's digests, reports, newsletters, and databases are available online. Among the most recent additions to online resources are resource guides and a newsletter. In addition, another database has been made more useful by the addition of search capability.

ESL Standards Implementation Database

This searchable database includes survey information on states, districts, and schools that are using the ESL Standards for Pre-K-12 Students for curriculum, assessment, and professional development purposes. This information is intended to facilitate communication among practitioners working on standards-based educational reforms that include English language learners.

Resource Guides Online

From the ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics (ERIC/CLL), each resource guide focuses on a particular topic in language education and provides information about and links to a wide range of related resources. Each guide also includes a short annotated bibliography of ERIC documents on the topic.

ERIC/CLL Language Link

This quarterly electronic newsletter is distributed free of charge to subscribers via e-mail. Each issue includes a feature article, reviews of journals and books related to the article, and other useful information.

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