Given how important spoken English is in a corporate environment for employees to be successful, it is essential to talk about standardized measures that are currently being used to measure these skills. The ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview, or just “ACTFL OPI®” is a holistic criterion-referenced assessment, because it measures a test candidate’s functional speaking proficiency in a given language on a range of tasks according to a specific set of criteria, and it does this within the context of a real-life exchange. The criteria used during testing and rating of ACTFL OPIs® are the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines, which identify five major levels of proficiency: Distinguished, Superior, Advanced, Intermediate, and Novice, the last three of which are divided into three further sublevels (High, Mid, and Low).
Since the focus of the ACTFL OPI® is on functional proficiency, and given its adaptive nature, the test does not focus on any set of content items that need to be covered, as with traditional testing formats. Instead, topics stem from the actual interaction between the candidate and the ACTFL-certified tester. ACTFL-certified testers are thoroughly prepared to ask questions purposefully to elicit the particular functions associated with each level of the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines. This is done following a standardized structure consisting of four phases:
- Phase 1: The warmup — During the first four to five minutes, testers use conversation openers and open-ended questions that invite candidates to share general information about themselves.
- Phase 2: The level checks — These are questions targeting the functions and content areas that candidates can handle most comfortably, demonstrating the ability to sustain the assessment criteria while doing so.
- Phase 3: The probes — These are questions targeting the functions and content areas of the next higher major level that result in linguistic breakdown. They establish the ceiling or level where performance is no longer consistent and the assessment features associated with that level are no longer sustained.
- Phase 4: The wind down — This is the last phase of the ACTFL OPI®. It signals the end of the interview and allows candidates to regain a comfortable level to leave the interview on a positive note.
The scores reported to candidates follow the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines 2012 – Speaking, which, as mentioned above, describe language proficiency along a continuum from the very top (Distinguished: highly articulate speakers of the language) to the very bottom of the scale (Novice: little or no functional proficiency)The current ACTFL OPI® only tests through Superior (general professional proficiency), and this is the highest rating candidates can receive, even if their performance surpasses the criteria for Superior. Therefore, the full range of possible scores reported to candidates includes: Superior, Advanced High, Advanced Mid, Advanced Low, Intermediate High, Intermediate Mid, Intermediate Low, Novice High, Novice Mid, and Novice Low. It is important to mention here that the ACTFL OPI® rating scale assumes that proficiency in the language increases substantially within the various global functions and throughout a hierarchy of those functions, rather than growing linearly in an additive fashion.
The ACTFL OPI® being a proficiency-oriented assessment with no recommended cut scores, means that it should result in a description of a candidate’s spontaneous, unrehearsed language abilities. This is important to underscore, because interactions in a corporate environment will not always be such where an employee gets time to think and then speak. Most of the interactions will be casual and in a collaborative setting. Thus, being able to measure spontaneity when it comes to language assessment is a significant positive.
The ACTFL OPI® is easy to use and convenient for candidates, who, while scheduling their test, can choose three possible time slots during which they are available to take the test. The ACTFL OPI® is delivered remotely and multiple proctoring options are available to meet any organization’s or individual candidate’s needs.
Devyani Mahajan is an Industrial Organizational Psychologist, and her research interests include psychometric scale development, selection and assessment, and quantitative data analysis. She has a doctorate from Kansas State University and has worked with organizations in developing and validating selection assessments and has also enabled better decision making by utilizing standardized assessment methods.