Accountability, Accreditation, and Assessment in Foreign Language education

Following are papers from the AAAL 2009 invited colloquium "Critical issues at the interface between assessment and U.S. language education policy." Presentations discuss the implications of various kinds of accountability-driven assessment in tertiary foreign langauge education.

aaal 2009 invited colloquium

Critical issues at the interface between assessment and U.S. language
education policy


Convener: John M. Norris, University of Hawai‘i at Manoa

Colloquium overview

John M. Norris


Accreditation, accountability, certification, and related impetuses are accompanied increasingly by demands for specific assessment practices which, intentionally or not, may be acting to determine the nature and value of language education in the United States. For example, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation mandates that all states must assess certain aspects of academic achievement and the English language development of English language learners in K-12 schooling. Federal programs that support foreign language education in colleges (e.g., Title VI, Fulbright-Hayes) require language proficiency assessment of students who are recipients of these funds. To become professionally certified, language teachers must be assessed on a variety of competencies. Through the regional accreditation process, college language educators must state and demonstrate the valued learning outcomes that ensue from their programs.


This colloquium illuminates mandated roles such as these that are being played by assessment in the contemporary U.S. educational landscape, and it explores the degree to which diverse assessments may be enacting language education policy in both explicit and implicit ways. Presenters address critical issues at this interface—between mandated assessments of language and other competencies and the implications for how language is (and is not) being taught and learned—from the perspectives of distinct English-language-learning and foreign-language-learning contexts. Implications are drawn for the essential contributions to be made by applied linguists, language testers, and language educators in shaping the ultimate consequences of policy-related assessment practices in the United States.



• "The contribution of standards to assessment and language education policy" [view powerpoint]


Margo Gottlieb, Illinois Resource Center


Summary: Standards and assessment have been a driving force in shaping language education policy that impacts elementary and secondary schools with English language learners. With federal mandates increasing national exposure of this burgeoning student population, educators now need to be proactive in shaping effective, data-driven language education programs. This segment of the symposium scrutinizes language education policy in light of standards and assessment, and it encourages educational agencies to synchronize policy reform through state and local accountability systems.



• "Limits of English proficiency assessments and sociocultural issues" [view powerpoint]


Richard Duran, University of California Santa Barbara


Summary: Educational language proficiency assessment policies and practices under NCLB oversimplify the nature of language competence. The belief that learning achievement of English language learners (ELLs) in English is primarily constrained by limited English proficiency, given the ways it is currently assessed, needs to be unpacked. English language proficiency tests at best can only yield a limited view of how academic communicative functioning is influenced by the background of ELLs and by the sociocultural contexts of classroom learning.


• "Mandate and reality in New Jersey K-8 world language education"[view powerpoint]


Linda Forrest, Center for Applied Second Language Studies


Summary: Since 1996, New Jersey has mandated world language instruction in all grades K-12 and specified student learning outcomes in terms of proficiency. From 2005 through 2008, New Jersey Department of Education conducted its first statewide proficiency testing of Grade 8 students as part of a research study. This presentation shows the results of that study and discusses issues raised about the consequences of mandating and assessing foreign language learning outcomes in U.S. public schools.



• "The consequences of accreditation and outcomes assessment for college foreign language programs" [view powerpoint]


John M. Norris, University of Hawai‘i at Manoa

Judith Liskin-Gasparro, University of Iowa


Summary: Foreign language (FL) programs in U.S. universities are required to state and assess student learning outcomes for institutional accreditation purposes. In this presentation, we explore how mandated outcomes assessment affects teaching and learning within FL programs, as educators struggle to implement appropriate assessment models and methods, and as assessments are put to use by diverse stakeholders. We also suggest ways to enhance the value of language education by designing outcomes assessments with their consequences in mind.



• "Accountability and assessment in adult ESL education" [view powerpoint]


Dorry M. Kenyon, Center for Applied Linguistics


Summary: Federal mandates regarding accountability in adult education through the National Reporting System (NRS) have affected the assessment and teaching of adult English language learners (ELLs) in federally funded programs in the United States. This presentation provides background on the requirements of the NRS, document some of the effects of the NRS on language assessments designed for adult ELLs, and explore the implications at state and program levels for the language education of this population.


Discussant: Mary McGroarty, Northern Arizona University


©2007 John Norris, Yukiko Watanabe, Marta Gonzalez-Lloret & Hye Ri Joo