An overview of the ACTFL proficiency interview:
|"the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines have a strong effect on the content and the teaching methodology of many foreign language courses."|
[ p. 2 ]If the interviewer is satisfied with the testee's sustained performance, an attempt will be made to discover the 'ceiling', i.e. to elicit response at the higher level. 'Probes', thus, makes the testee reveal a pattern of weaknesses. A 'role-play' serves as an additional check, to help the interviewer confirm the testee's level. The 'wind-down' brings the interviewer down to a level comfortable for the testee so as to end the OPI on a positive note. The entire interview lasts about 15 minutes in the case of a novice, and can be as long as 35 minutes if a series of probes and level checks are necessary. The interview is taped and a decision is made if the interviewer and a second rater agree on the level. In the case of disagreement, the tape is sent to a third rater. It costs $120 to take the ACTFL OPI. If the testee resides in an area where no certified OPI rater is available, the interview will be conducted by telephone. The same procedure applies.
[ p. 3 ]To become a certified OPI rater a candidate must already be rated as 'superior' or 'native' in the language. The candidate must first attend a four-day workshop organized by ACTFL. The first day is devoted to the general explanation of the Oral Proficiency Interview, its intended purpose and generic assessment criteria. All subsequent sessions are language specific, i.e. candidates are grouped according to the language of their expertise. During these training sessions mock interviews are conducted with volunteer testees. Each interview is approximately 15 minutes long, and followed by a discussion of the strong and weak points of the tester's behavior. The workshop participants will be guided by the group leaders (typically experienced raters from ACTFL) in rating each sample according to the guidelines.
. . . a standardized procedure for the global assessment of functional speaking ability or oral proficiency. (Ch. 1-1)Nowhere in the text, however, is the definition of the 'oral proficiency' provided. If we do not know exactly what it is the OPI tests, then any claim of its usefulness as an accurate evaluative mechanism is highly suspect. Van Lier (1989) goes as far as to suggest the following, somewhat facetious, yet defensible definition:
oral proficiency consists of those aspects of communicative competence that are displayed and rated in oral proficiency interviews. (p. 493)
[ p. 4 ]While an exaggeration, this definition points to the problem of identifying the abilities which are subsumed under the nebulous heading of 'oral proficiency'.
|"the OPI can hardly claim to be a 'natural conversation in the target language'".|
[ p. 4 ]Procedure of an ACTFL OPI
[ p. 5 ]Role-play situations also present a problem. While they are considered an additional level check, the very nature of this activity demands some acting ability. Cultural as well as personal resistance to assuming a role may interfere with the intended purpose of this speech elicitation device. It is, therefore, important to ensure that the type of behavior called for in a role-play is not incompatible with the sociocultural and personal parameters of the interviewee.
- the guidelines should include a working definition of 'communicative language proficiency'.
- the rating scale should be based on this definition with a separate score for each component, i.e. discourse, sociolinguistic competence, etc.
- content and context areas should be omitted in the criteria. Scales should be defined in terms of components of communicative language proficiency, e.g. cohesion, grammar, sensitivity to register.
- OPI scales should be defined in terms of control and range by the testee.
- tester training manual should include a section on the content and context areas which could be exploited for soliciting a speech sample.
[ p. 6 ]OPI: Definitional Approach vs. Principled Approach
[ p. 7 ]In 1988 Raffaldini wrote an article discussing the ACTFL OPI in relation to current models of communicative skills, arguing that the OPI fails to evaluate important aspects of the communicative abilities of learner. To its credit, the OPI does allow a thorough assessment of grammatical competence, but it provides only a partial assessment of discourse competence. The learner in an OPI is dependent upon the tester. Exchanges are initiated by the tester, and the learner never gets a chance to initiate and react to the tester's responses. Thus the OPI only assesses how the learner answers tester-initiated questions.
ValidityIn 1988 Bachman examined how the ACTFL OPI (as embodied in the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines) provided valid indicators of the ability to communicate through speaking. He concluded that validation was impossible because traits and test methods are confounded in the design of the interview and in the interpretation of the ratings. The confounding of function, content, and structure is a fundamental flaw which makes validation impossible.
|"The confounding of function, content, and structure is a fundamental flaw which makes validation [of the ACTFL OPI] impossible".|
[ p. 8 ]