Avant STAMP and the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines

STAMP was originally developed by the Center for Applied Second Language Studies(CASLS) at the University of Oregon to meet the need for an online proficiency assessment that was based on the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines. The “STA” in STAMP stands for the “Standards” in the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines.

Why Avant STAMP Does Not Add Levels To The ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines?

Avant STAMP continues to hold true to the main ACTFL Proficiency Guideline levels of Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced and the three sublevels of Low, Mid, and High. The Proficiency Guidelines are the standards that are used to establish the World Language learning standards in virtually all of the states in the US. We believe it is important to maintain the integrity of the three sublevels as defined by ACTFL. Avant does not believe it is appropriate or psychometrically justifiable to create additional sublevels without substantially lengthening the assessment and publishing the specific criteria or details that would differentiate these micro-levels. However, the field has asked for a way of providing more granular levels than the three sublevels the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines define. In order to address this need, Avant has generated scaled scores of 200 to 800 for the Listening and Reading sections based on psychometric analysis of testing data. We believe that this approach is more scientifically valid than artificially adding sublevels that do not exist in the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines 2012, and that do not exist in any of the other major proficiency scales, ILR or CEFR

  • Distinguished: At the Distinguished proficiency level an individual can communicate highly complex concepts and global issues in a culturally appropriate manner. They are educated, articulate and can customize their language to a situation and audience.
  • Superior: At the Superior proficiency level an individual is fully participatory and communicates with accuracy and fluency. An individual at a superior level can extensively discuss abstract topics with supporting opinions and structured arguments.
  • Advanced: At the Advanced proficiency level an individual can narrate and describe in past, present and future time frames. They can communicate in paragraphs on complex situations or topics and can handle an unexpected complication with grammatical accuracy and fluency.
  • Intermediate: At the Intermediate proficiency level an individual can create original strings of sentences by recombining learned material. They can ask and answer questions about familiar topics as well as handle simple transactions.
  • Novice: At the Novice proficiency level an individual is limited to communicating with short memorized phrases at the word level. It may be difficult for novice language learner to communicate with native speakers unaccustomed to non-native language.
Graphic of the ACTFL Proficiency Levels

How STAMP Aligns With The World Readiness Standards For Language Learning

Some people in the field have raised the question of whether Avant STAMP is aligned with the World Readiness Standards for Language Learning. These, just like the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines, are defined as having three sublevels of Low, Mid, and High for each of the levels of Novice, Intermediate and Advanced. The World Readiness Standards for Language Learning list three categories of skills:

·      Interpersonal (speaking-listening or writing-reading)

·      Interpretive (reading, listening, viewing)

·      Presentational (writing, speaking, visually representing)

Indeed, STAMP is directly aligned to these levels and all Avant STAMP reports use this language to assist in identifying test taker ability.

Interpersonal Communication – What Is It? Can It Be Assessed In A Computer-based Assessment?

In the speaking section of Avant STAMP, students produce language after reading or listening to prompts from a conversational setting. We do this because our research has shown that this is the most effective way to obtain responses that are sufficient in length to demonstrate the higher-level language skills defined in the intermediate and advanced levels according to the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines. Some people have told us that they think Avant STAMP does not align with these standards because STAMP does not include an Interpersonal Speaking section. To answer that question we must first ask – what is Interpersonal Communication?

What Is The First Descriptor Of Interpersonal Speaking From The World Readiness Standards For Language Learning?

“Interpersonal Communication – Interact and negotiate meaning in spoken, signed, or written conversations to share information, reactions, feelings, and opinions.”

I have underlined “Negotiate Meaning” because that is the essence of interpersonal communication. Even with an avatar or mock interview it is just not possible to negotiate meaning in a computer-based test with today’s technology, meaning it is not possible to assess Interpersonal Communication with a computer-based assessment. Avant agrees that Interpersonal Communication is a critically important skill, but true Interpersonal communication can only be assessed through a human-to-human interview or synchronous exchange of writing (text messaging for example).

How Valid Is Avant’s Rating Of STAMP Speaking And Writing Responses?

The measure of quality in assessing the productive skills of Speaking and Writing is the consistent and accurate rating of student responses. Avant’s rater training processes, certification, and rater management software are core to the quality of Avant STAMP. Avant has developed both the software and the rater training expertise over the 15 years we have delivered STAMP. We believe that our rating quality is equal to or better than any assessment organization. For more detailed information about this process please refer to our blog post on our rating system. How does Avant Rate Speaking and Writing Responses?

Avant is fully committed to assessing language based on the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines and reporting test taker skills on that scale. We welcome your thoughts and comments.

About Avant Assessment

Avant’s mission is to improve the teaching and learning of language in the US and around the world through effective language proficiency testing and professional development. Our products are not only for educators but also for business and government agencies that see the significant positive impact from bilingual team members.

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