Center forLanguage Acquisition

students watching instructor
Computerized Dynamic Assessment of Language Proficiency in French, Russian and Chinese
students and lecturer

Computerized Dynamic Assessment of Language Proficiency in French, Russian and Chinese

Principal Investigators:

Funding Agency:  International Research and Studies Program, U.S. Department of Education

Funding Award Amount: $321,000

Project Description: 

  • Duration: 3 years (2008-2011)
  • Status: Completed

The purpose of this project is to develop formal assessments of language proficiency for learners of Chinese, French, and Russian that provide a more sensitive and fine-grained perspective of learner abilities than other assessments by taking account of learner responsiveness to mediating support. This approach is known as Dynamic Assessment (DA) and is based on Vygotsky’s theory of development, according to which observation of learners’ independent functioning reveals only a part of their capabilities.

Specifically, solo performance indicates abilities that have already fully formed while an individual’s capacity to benefit from support points to abilities that are still in the process of developing. Learners who require relatively implicit mediation – for instance, a prompt to focus on an aspect of a task – are closer to autonomous functioning than learners who need more explicit support, such as explanations of principles underlying task solution. By including mediating hints and prompts during the assessment, DA expands the evidential basis of learner abilities that can be used to make instructional decisions, such as placing students in an appropriate course and attuning pedagogy to their emergent abilities.

This project begins with existing and recognized measures of language proficiency – the Advanced Placement (AP) Tests in Chinese and French and the Test of Russian as a Foreign Language (TORFL) – and designs mediation to be included in the administration of the exams. To achieve optimal standardization, the exams and accompanying mediation are computerized and made available through the CALPER website, Penn State University’s Title VI NFLRC. These computerized dynamic assessment (C-DA) language exams assess learner listening and reading comprehension abilities through multiple-choice questions taken from previously used versions of the AP and TORFL tests. The computerized administration allows scoring to be carried out automatically. In addition to a score on the C-DA exam, learners also receive a verbal profile detailing performance on each section, general level of mediation required, and recommendations for continued pedagogical support.