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The Case for a Comprehensive, Four-Skills Assessment of English Language Proficiency

Powers, Donald E.
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TOEIC Compendium
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Subject/Key Words:
Can-Do Statements English as a Foreign Language (EFL) English as a Second Language (ESL) English Language Proficiency English Language Skills Self-Assessment Speaking Skills Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) Test-Taker Performance Theories of Communicative Competence Validity Writing Skills


SUMMARY: This paper explains how four-skill language testing is the best way to evaluate whether someone can communicate in English, and explains how this approach can: ?result in a fairer way of assessment for test takers ?improve the quality of test users' decisions ?create more positive impact for decision makers, teachers and learners For example, a number of studies have shown that testing can have an impact on teaching and learning — a so-called "washback" effect — and assessing four skills not only provides more information for better decisions, but sends a powerful message to teachers and learners about the importance of communicative competence. ABSTRACT: This paper makes an argument for testing all four language skills (listening, reading, writing, and speaking), as opposed to testing more selectively. It is the broader trait of communicative competence, not specific individual skills, that is critical in most academic and workplace settings and of most interest to users of tests like the TOEFL and TOEIC tests. It is important, however, to test for each of these four skills individually because each is a critical aspect of communicative competence. When test scores are used to make consequential decisions, the use of several sources of information yields better decisions than does a more selective use of information. Moreover, assessment is fairer to test takers if they are allowed to demonstrate their skills in multiple ways — with different tests, different methods, and different question formats. Comprehensive testing also encourages broader and more generalizable teaching and learning of language skills by test takers. All of the reasons given here are consistent with the trend toward more comprehensive, integrated testing of language skills as seen in many prominent language testing programs. This paper is part of the Research Foundation for TOEIC: A Compendium of Studies, published by ETS in 2010.

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