“Language proficiency tests and the prediction of academic achievement,” University of Cape Town, 2000.
The study investigates the ability of English proficiency tests (1) to measure levels of English proficiency among learners who have English as the medium of teaching and learning, and (2) to predict long-term academic achievement (Grade 7 to Grade 12). The tests are “discrete-point” tests, namely, error recognition and grammar tests (both multiple-choice tests), and “integrative” tests, namely, cloze tests, essay tests and dictation tests.
The sample of subjects consists of two groups: (1) those taking English as a First Language subject and those taking English as a Second Language subject. These groups are given the familiar labels of L1 and L2. The main interest lies in the L2 group. The main educational context is a high school in the North West Province of South Africa.
The empirical investigation is divided into four parts:
(1) A description of the battery of English proficiency tests. (Chapter 3). These tests were given to Grade 7 school entrants.
(2) An examination of the validity and reliability of the battery of the English proficiency tests . (Chapter 4). High correlations were found between all of the tests and a substantial difference in English proficiency was found between the L1 and L2 groups.
(3) A longitudinal investigation of predictive validity, where the English proficiency tests were used as the predictors, and academic achievement (Grades 7 to 12) as the criterion. (Chapter 5). The main interest of the longitudinal investigation lies in long-term prediction. It is generally believed that low English proficiency is a major cause of academic failure. The longitudinal study corroborates this belief empirically and also shows that very high English proficiency is a good predictor of success. The matriculation exemptions of the L1 group, scored substantially higher on the English proficiency tests than the L2 group, were three times higher than those of the L2 group.
(4) A longitudinal investigation of the predictive validity of the Grade 6 reports. (Chapter 5). These Grade 6 reports served as the main criterion for admission to Grade 7 at the high school. Almost all of the Grade 6 reports of the L2 group emanated from former Department of Education and Training (DET) schools. Most of the Grade 6 reports of the L1 group emanated from a “feeder” school in close proximity to the high school. The L1 Grade 6 reports were found to be good predictors, while the L2 Grade 6 reports were found to be poor predictors. A probable reason for the poor predictions of the L2 Grade 6 reports was that these reports were inflated, and therefore unreliable.
The outline of the chapters is as follows:
Chapter 1 describes the scope of the study.
Chapter 2 deals with theoretical issues in the testing of language proficiency and academic achievement. The chapter comprises a review of the literature on language testing and a discussion of germane concepts such as ability, competence, proficiency, authenticity, norm-referenced tests, discrete-point tests, integrative tests, assessment, validity and reliability.
Chapter 3 describes the sample of subjects and sampling procedures, and the structure and administration of the tests.
Chapter 4 presents the results of the English proficiency tests and discussion. Included in the chapter is an investigation of rater reliability among a group of educators of teachers of English.
Chapter 5 deals with the prediction of academic achievement, investigates the reliability of the Grade 6 reports from previous schools, summarises the findings and examines the generalisability of the findings.
Chapter 6 discusses the implications of the study for English testing and presents the conclusions. The four main implications dealt with are: (1) the viability of the distinction between English first language and English second language, (2) the kind of English proficiency tests or tasks that should be used, (3) the problem of rater reliability, and (4) the necessity of psychometric measurement. Woven into the discussion of the implications are a few contemporary initiatives to improve language testing in South Africa and elsewhere.