Assessing Second Language Academic Reading from a Communicative Competence Perspective: Relevance for the TOEFL® 2000 Test

Hudson, Thom
Publication Year:
Report Number:
RM-96-06, TOEFL-MS-04
Document Type:
Subject/Key Words:
English (second language) reading ability communicative proficiency validity


This paper examines issues involved in the assessment of academic reading from a communicative proficiency perspective, particularly these issues as they are involved in the context of the TOEFL® test (Test of English as a Foreign Language™) project. The first part of the paper presents the areas that concern the assessment of academic reading ability by briefly examining notions relevant to communicative competence and how these notions might relate to academic reading. This discusses the ways in which models of communicative competence have broadened the view of what knowledges are necessary in order to use a language and language skill areas such as academic reading. The paper notes that the frameworks that have evolved have included such areas as grammatical competence, organizational competence, illocutionary competence, and pragmatic competence. Such views of competence and performance are important in language assessment in that in addition to broadening views of language and language ability, they offer some means for explaining the extent to which a person might vary in language performance across tasks or contexts. The stress in communicative competence perspectives on language use reflects an emphasis on the importance of viewing language in context. The paper employs a broad view of academic reading that includes key aspects of (a) automaticity in word and sentence processing, (b) content and formal background knowledge, (c) strategic and metacognitive skill application, and (d) reading purpose and context. By acknowledging the important role played by each of these aspects, the paper proposes that future assessment take the ecology of academic reading into account. In short, reading simultaneously involves both psychological and sociological processes. The paper concludes with implications for academic reading assessment, paying particular attention to the four validity components of (a) construct validity, (b) value implications, (c) relevance/utility, and (d) social consequences. The implications involve the potential needs to (a) expand beyond the multiple- choice or other selected-response formats, (b) incorporate some multiple-choice or other selected- response formats in order to balance general and context-specific tasks, (c) view reading assessment as, at least in part, task based, (d) involve thematically based texts and develop adaptive types of tests, either via computer or through selection of texts and tasks by the examinee, (e) view score reporting and interpretation as reflecting real-world academic reading tasks, and (f) integrate reading assessment with other language skills based on the "literacy" task that is being encountered.

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