4th Annual CLIC Conference: Beyond Validity - Social and Ethical Consequences of Assessment

The 4th Annual CLIC Conference focuses on the analysis of the social and ethical consequences of assessment practices in second language education, ranging from macro-level perspectives, such as language ideology, to micro-level perspectives, such as classroom interaction.

Second language tests are often designed with the expressed purpose of eliminating the influence of contextual factors to generalize findings about test takers beyond the specificity of the testing situation. By limiting the effect of contextual factors, however, we may create mismatches between test outcomes and actual language use and between test purposes and test uses. More specifically, many scholars (Fulcher, 2004; Hill & McNamara, 2011; Kunnan, 2004; McNamara & Ryan, 2011; Shohamy, 2001) have proposed to purposefully include the role of context in tests to examine the social and ethical consequences of assessment.

Proposals are invited to address work on language assessment in the following broad thematic divisions:

a) Theoretical frameworks for assessing social and ethical consequences of assessment;
b) Advantages and limitations of incorporating various layers of social context into the theoretical construct of L2 ability;
c) Social and ethical issues when tests use decontextualized language data, with limited regard to the actual language use by the target language communities;
d) Practical adaptations required to make general assessment frameworks (e.g., ACTFL, CEFR, TOEFL, Cambridge exams) viable for the evaluation of language ability at the local level
e) Political connotations of the specific tests based on contextualized views of L2 competence;

“The way we view abilities and contexts – whether we see these as essentially indistinguishable or as distinct – will determine, to a large extent, the research questions we ask and how we go about investigating these empirically” (Bachman, 2007, p. 41). The proposed theme of the 2019 CLIC conference will address the theoretical, practical and ethical challenges prompted by assessing an expanded construct of L2 competence which incorporates socio-interactional aspects of communication.

Currently, most assessment models of L2 communicative abilities have relied primarily on the frameworks developed by Bachman and Palmer (1982) and Canale and Swain (1983). These models were based on a cognitive view of language ability that ascribes L2 competence primarily to the individual. Contextual factors were regarded as confounding factors that
should be isolated and controlled to observe invariant abilities that can be generalized to all social and interactional contexts. The emphasis on assessing invariant L2 competence renders decontextualized and finely designed assessment instruments, such as carefully tailored multiple-choice questions, which cannot be found in natural usage in the target language. Later models argue for a larger and stronger role of the socio-interactional aspects to describe and define the theoretical constructs of L2 competence (e.g., Chalhoub–Deville, 2003; He & Young, 1998; Kramsch, 2006, 2009; Lantolf & Pohener, 2004; McNamara & Roever, 2006; Pohener, 2014; Purpura, 2016). Also, the uses of high-stakes tests (with their emphasis on achieving generalizability of findings across contexts) needs to be analyzed in detail.

The theoretical limitations of L2 assessment instruments that eschew the contribution of socio-interactional content/context has had concrete consequences that cannot be ignored. For instance, previous research has shown that the limited incorporation of various levels of social contextualization into traditional tests of L2 competence has risked test validity in regard to predicting mundane interactions in L2 (Grabowski, 2013; McNamara & Roever, 2006). Furthermore, the saliency of the sociolinguistic situations brought up by multilingualism and transnationalism and the impact of multigenerational families (Byram, 1997, 2014; Duff, 2006, 2015; García & Li, 2014) demonstrates the complex identity of multilingual speakers. Lastly, the effect of contextual factors for the design of assessment instruments is also relevant for the evaluation of fairness and justice in the use of high stakes testing (e.g., Fulcher, 2004; Hill & McNamara, 2011; Kunnan, 2004; McNamara & Ryan, 2011; Shohamy, 2001a; 2001b). Along similar lines, language learners with higher socioeconomic status tend to more familiar with decontextualized test instruments. On the other hand, L2 speakers, who are often from immigrant families, may lack the testing exposure; and the lack may lead to lower test scores which further enhancing the societal stigma attaching to the minority group.

For proper conceptualization of L2 competence, construct validity of L2 assessment requires careful analysis and examination of potential consequences coming with intended and unintended test-uses, especially the high impact on test-users and the society (Messick, 1989; Shohamy, 2017). The proposed theme of the conference invites papers examining social and ethical consequences of L2 assessment, papers providing potential solutions to mitigate adverse consequences of decontextualized L2 assessment, and papers investigating the positive effect of L2 assessment instruments which incorporate socio-interactional competence as an L2 construct. To that effect, the Center of Languages and Intercultural Communication has invited two world-renowned scholars in the area, Dr. Glenn Fulcher and Dr. Elana Shohamy, as the keynote speakers to generate impactful discussions among the conference attendants.

Dr. Glenn Fulcher is a Professor of Applied Linguistics and Language Assessment at the University of Leicester, United Kingdom. He served as the President of the International Language Testing Association (ILTA) in 2006, and the Editor of the journal Language Testing from 2006 to 2016. He has extensively published in the field of language assessment, and his books include Testing Second Language Speaking (2003), Language Testing and Assessment (Routledge, 2007), and Practical Language Testing (Hodder, 2010). In 2016, the Routledge Handbook of Language Testing (Routledge, 2012), and Language Testing Re-examined (Routledge, 2015) were jointly awarded the SAGE/ILTA Book prize. His research interests are diverse, and the topics range from social, political, and ethical test-uses to issues in validity and reliability. For the conference, he is planning to give a speech on “alternative validity worlds.” His speech will discuss a number of validity models and propose an alternative approach to validity and validation, which in turn can motivate “effect-driven” language assessment.

Dr. Elana Shohamy is a Professor of Language Education at Tel Aviv University, Israel. She is also the Editor of the journal Language Policy, and the winner of the 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award granted by the ILTA. Her work in language assessment focuses on the power and misuses of tests in education and society. Two of her books related to critical language assessment are the Power of Tests: A Critical Perspective of the Uses of Language Tests (2001), and Language Policy: Hidden Agendas and New Approaches (2006). For the conference, she is planning to discuss on incorporating expanded dimensions of “language” for increasing construct validity. Her speech will argue assessment should position test-takers in a multilingual, translanguaging, fluid, and semiotic context, so the test results would reflect the natural language-use of the multilingual speakers in their daily lives.

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