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Enhancing the Interpretation of a Norm-Referenced Second-Language Test Through Criterion Referencing: A Research Assessment of Experience in the TOEIC Testing Context ESL TOEIC

Wilson, Kenneth M.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
RR-89-39, TOEIC-RR-01
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
English as a Second Language (ESL), Listening Comprehension Tests, Criterion Referenced Tests, Norm Referenced Tests, Test Interpretation, Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC)


This study was undertaken to develop guidelines for making interpretive inferences from scores on the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), a norm-referenced test of English-language listening comprehension (LC) and reading (R) skills, about level of ability to use English in face-to-face conversation, indexed by performance in the language proficiency interview (LPI) situation. LPI performance, rated according to behaviorally defined levels on the LPI/ILR/FSI quasi-absolute proficiency scale, was treated as a context-independent criterion, using the familiar regression model in an apparently novel application (for such criterion-referencing purposes) in the context of a large-scale ESL-testing program. The study employed TOEIC/LPI data-sets generated during operational ESL assessments in representative TOEIC-use settings (places of work or work-related ESL training) in Japan, France, Mexico, and Saudia Arabia, involving samples of adult, educated ESL users/learners in or preparing for ESL-essential positions with companies engaged in international commerce. The pattern of TOEIC/LPI concurrent correlations was consistent across samples and there was relatively close fit between sample LPI means and estimates from TOEIC scores, especially TOEIC-LC, using combined sample regression equations. Theoretical and pragmatic implications of the findings are discussed. General guidelines are provided for making inferences about LPI-assessed level of oral English proficiency from TOEIC scores. Directions are suggested for further research and development activities in the TOEIC testing context.

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