Proficiency vs. Performance: What Do the Tests Show?

  • Fernando RubioEmail author
  • Jane F. Hacking
Part of the Educational Linguistics book series (EDUL, volume 37)


Research has shown consistently that after two semesters of instruction, students in post-secondary institutions show only Novice levels of proficiency as measured by the ACTFL scale. Even after four semesters, proficiency does not always reach the Intermediate level, especially in listening. These findings are troubling both for students and for practitioners. Although pedagogical or curricular weaknesses could explain these results, this chapter explores an alternative explanation that revolves around the nature of the tests used. We argue that the nature of the existing proficiency tests makes them inadequate for Novice learners since they measure a type of linguistic competence that is inconsistent with what language learners at the lower levels are able to do. We also argue that the lackluster results observed in listening may be due to a problem of test validity. The existing tests of listening proficiency may not be the right tools to measure the multi-modal processes involved in real-life listening comprehension.


Assessment Validity Task-based Testing Proficiency Performance Language 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Second Language Teaching and Research CenterUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA
  2. 2.World Languages and CulturesUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA

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