Language Assessment

American Councils develops national testing systems in other countries to institutionalize merit-based education admission systems. We have worked with several governments to establish national systems of higher education admissions that are based on principles of openness, transparency, and meritocracy. In each case, special effort is placed on public awareness (ensuring support from the populations at large) and self-sustainability (to promote economic viability). American Councils has likewise engaged in numerous educational system assessments as well as teacher evaluation and training programs.

Assessment Development

Our assessment team is currently developing foreign language proficiency tests under the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) language proficiency guidelines for use in the Flagship program, a national foreign language educational initiative sponsored and funded by the National Security Education Program (NSEP).

These tests, offered in reading, listening, writing, and speaking skills, are currently used for language proficiency assessment in:

Arabic (MSA), Chinese, Hindi, Korean,  Persian-Farsi, Portuguese, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu.

The proficiency levels in these tests range from L0+ to L4 on the ILR scale. The Flagship program tests are used for qualification, pre-departure, and post-return assessment levels for participants in the Flagship program.

Additionally, the Assessment Department develops and administers several foreign language proficiency tests based on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Proficiency Guidelines, ranging in levels from Novice Mid to Distinguished. Tests developed under the ACTFL scale are used for pre-program and post-program testing for study abroad programs that American Councils administers, such as the Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program (RLASP) and the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y). Language assessments for these programs measure proficiency in Arabic, Chinese, and Russian.

Finally, the National Examination in World Languages or NEWL®, is an online proficiency-based language assessment available in several critical languages: Arabic, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, and Russian. NEWL is intended to provide students an opportunity to demonstrate their language skills and to earn credit and/or placement into a college level language program. 

The Assessment Department has taken the lead in the development of an innovative set of online tests, which measure students’ functional abilities in the target language. Using best practices in the field of high-stakes testing, American Councils provides reliable assessments and detailed score reports that assist students, program directors, academic advisors and funders as they seek to better understand areas of student strengths and weaknesses in language ability.

Psychometric Analysis

Our psychometric team analyzes test data to ensure the reliability and validity of the tests developed by American Councils:

  • Reliability is the degree by which an assessment is consistent, e.g., how closely the scores from two parallel forms are correlated with each other. 
  • Validity is the degree by which an assessment reflects the performance or proficiency, which it is supposed to measure. For instance, students with more language education should usually score higher on related language assessments. Psychometricians collect response data for newly developed test items and test forms under field test and operational conditions, analyze these data with statistical and psychometric models, and conduct item review meetings and standard setting workshops with language specialists, stakeholders, and educational measurement experts. Both classical test theory and item response theory approaches are used. 

Besides working on assessments, psychometricians also conduct educational research, analysis and policy studies, build software for psychometric and statistical analyses, and provide analytical support to their colleagues at American Councils.

Testing Development

American Councils' language testing initiatives are powered by an end-to-end online testing system called ACLASS (American Councils Language Assessment Support System). ACLASS was developed and is maintained by American Councils and has been in operation since 2006. It features support for version-controlled item development, test form creation, registration and scheduling, exam administration and monitoring and score reporting. To date, ACLASS has been used to administer more than 12,000 online language exams.