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Sunday, September 11, 2011

New Computerized LPEs for Critical and High-Enrollment Languages

This year, hundreds of students of critical and popular less commonly taught languages will have access to the same computerized proficiency exams as students of French, German and Spanish. Exams for the following languages have recently been developed: Arabic, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and a second version of Spanish.

In late summer 2010, Monica Frahm, Testing Director, received an initial Title VI grant from the Institute for Global Studies (IGS) to begin development of new computerized Language Proficiency Exams (LPEs) for critical and high-enrollment languages. Prior to this major development project, computerized tests were only available to students of Danish, Dutch, French, German, Norwegian, Spanish, and Swedish. Since summer 2010, additional Title VI grant funding has been received, as well as funding from other sources, to continue development in multiple languages.

The LPE is one method that students can use to complete their second language requirement, and this test has several other purposes as well. It can be used to place students into upper division courses, and some language programs integrate the test into their curriculum and use it as their class final exam. Students who pass the LPE receive a text line on their transcript endorsing their language proficiency, and they can receive other documentation of language proficiency upon request.

There are four sections of the LPE: Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. The LPE Development Team has created tests for the first three sections. The Speaking section for all languages is generally administered as a one-on-one Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI), and it was not revised through this project. In most cases, development of the Writing and Listening sections went faster, and they were ready for piloting first. The Reading was generally completed last, as it is the most time-intensive section to develop.

In the past, LPEs were developed over the course of years and were often the product of a single, deeply committed instructor. The current project was different, because it formed a development team of instructors working on multiple languages simultaneously, under the direction of a single coordinator. The team, called the LPE Development Team, was able to collaborate and share resources. They also worked on a similar development schedule and with the same level of technical assistance and resources. This process allowed development to progress very quickly, while maintaining a high level of supervision and quality control.

Development has not always been easy, and with different schedules and the requirements of different funding sources, few developers have been able to stay with the project from start to end. However, the contributions of developers from different backgrounds, and with different skill sets, may have resulted in better tests for students.

All of the LPEs feature authentic materials, such as culturally-appropriate readings and audio recorded by native speakers, often in multiple dialects. The tests target the appropriate language level, and the test items cover a range of tasks, topics, and linguistic functions. The teams created the tests using a common test blueprint and are consistent with the programming used by other LPEs.

In addition to tests developed for languages listed above, the paper-based Hmong LPE has been incorporated into a computerized format for two modalities, and the third is under development this semester. There is also a new Finnish LPE in progress.

The LPE Development Team has been led by Coordinator Gabriela Sweet, who for over a year has corralled a rotating team of developers and juggled multiple languages, cultures, schedules, and deadlines. In addition to managing the development team and keeping the entire project on target, she has conducted stakeholder sessions with departments, taken advantage of any opportunity for piloting, managed to be friendly and cheerful, and amazingly enough, consistently greeted everyone in their native language.

The other core team member has been Lindsey Lahr, AV Tech, who has recorded and edited the listening sections, as well as completed all the multimedia work. Lindsey has been invaluable to the project in providing additional reviews and keeping teams on track and on schedule. Her creativity has given the new Reading exams, in particular, a very professional look.

Diane Rackowski, Technical Coordinator, has made an important contribution to the team's work by providing data after each piloting session, sometimes as quickly as twenty minutes after the session finished! Having these data enabled developers to analyze the performance of individual items and the test as a whole, and to then make informed decisions toward revision.

This project has been possible because of a large team of developers and instructors willing to review tests and contribute to piloting. A full list of developers is included at the bottom of this article.

As part of the piloting process, the team has surveyed students on their reactions to the tests. Students have reported that they enjoy taking the tests on the computer. From a survey after one of the new Reading tests: "I really like the way this test was set up and, in general, I feel the vocabulary was that which we had exposure to." And another comment: "I like the variety: some of the readings are articles, and some are actual pieces of literature."

Language instructors will have an opportunity to learn more about the the new tests at the upcoming Language Center Fall Open House, scheduled for Tuesday, September 27 at 1:30 PM.

LPE Development Team

Core Team:Gabriela Sweet, Coordinator
Monica Frahm, Principle Investigator
Lindsey Lahr, AV Tech
Diane Rackowski, Technical Assistance

Language Developers:
Arabic: Hisham Khalek, Sondes Wooldridge
Chinese: Ka Po Chow, Hao Ji, Liu Ya, Quan Jiahong, Andie Fang Wang, Zhen Zou
Finnish: Dan Karvonen, Jaana Viljakainen
Hmong: Maxwell LeYang
Italian: Cristina Cocchi, Anna Olivero-Agney
Japanese: Hiroe Akimoto, Michiko Buchanan, Sachiko Horii, Liu Ya
Russian: Sachiko Horii, Kateryna Kent, Marina Posse, Maria Schweikert
Spanish: Adriana Gordillo, Joanne Peltonen, Gabriela Sweet, Naomi Wood
Cross-language validation team: Kateryna Kent, Xinyi Wu, Xi Yu

Special Thanks to:
Instructors from the Department of Asian Languages and Literatures; Department of German, Scandinavian, and Dutch; Department of French and Italian; Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures; Department of Spanish and Portuguese

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