Next-generation Placement Tests

An online language skill placement platform made for the modern era

Project number: 2020-1-HR01-KA204-077724

Project category: cooperation for innovation

Project outcome: development of adaptive digital placement tests for languages

Brief summary:

Adult education is a key issue on the EU’s agenda. So is the promotion of second and third language acquisition, which is held to be a critical skill enabling EU citizens to widen their access to employment, professional development, and the pursuit of leisure activities such as travel and tourism. The EU has invested significant financial resources in the development and promotion of the Common European Framework of Reference for languages, while publishers and exam boards across the continent have dedicated comparable resources to developing professional materials for language learning, as well as a vast array of formal course assessments. One key area that has been under-resourced until now is the development of next-generation tools designed to assess the level of language learners before they start a course. In most language schools, both private and public, pre-course assessments are typically carried out using traditional methods such as multiple-choice tests of discrete grammar and vocabulary items, sometimes combined with tasks designed to assess other skills (reading comprehension, aural comprehension, etc.) but often in an imprecise and archaic fashion. A good proportion of such pre-course assessments are still performed on paper. The inevitable consequence is that students are often assessed incorrectly and then assigned to a course that is inappropriate to their level. When this happens, students quickly lose the motivation to continue their studies, and the drop-our rate spirals, making courses less economically viable for the teaching organizations concerned and less engaging for the teachers and students that remain.

The main objective of this project is to develop a computer-based pre-course assessment tool that will accurately measure the current level of European adult language learners. In the first instance, this tool will be available to learners of six languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Russian. The key characteristics of this next generation pre-course assessment tool are that it will be adaptive. In other words, it will select items to present to students from a large database of options, depending on their previous responses. This will avoid the need to answer questions that are either too hard or too easy and home in on each student’s actual level. Another key characteristic is that it will be available online, on computers or mobile devices, with a user-friendly interface featuring instructions in a range of languages. Data from the test results will be immediately accessible both by the test takers and by the institutions organizing the courses.

The project will be carried out by five partner organizations. The lead organization, Amber, is a provider of Web-based software for language school administration and has all the necessary expertise in software development. The other partners are all organizations from the language teaching industry, working in four different countries. Collectively they have decades of experience providing language courses and assessments to tens of thousands of adult learners.