As discussed in previous blogs, being able to speak English is not the only skill that employees who work in a global corporate environment need to have; being able to communicate by writing is also essential to remain competitive and gain success. A measure such as the ACTFL Writing Proficiency Test (WPT), administered exclusively through Language Testing International (LTI), is a valid and reliable assessment that measures how well a person spontaneously writes in a required language by comparing their performance in four to five specific writing prompts to the criteria stated in the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines 2012—Writing. Topics included in the WPT range from practical to social and professional that are usually encountered in both formal and informal contexts. The language proficiency level for this test is measured from Novice to Superior.
The ACTFL WPT is usually administered online. In cases where internet access might not be available, or for script/character based languages that present keyboarding challenges, a fixed form paper/pencil booklet is also available. In order to ensure an individualized assessment, candidates complete a Background Survey and a Self-Assessment. While the Background Survey provides information related to the candidates’ work, school, home, and personal activities to aid in identifying appropriate content areas, the Self-Assessment asks candidates to select one of six descriptions they feel most accurately describes their writing ability. Once these details are obtained, the computer then generates a WPT that is customized to each candidate’s experience, background, and self-assessed proficiency level. The computer can generate any of the three possible forms:
- Form 1 targets Novice and Intermediate tasks and may be rated Novice Low to Intermediate Mid.
- Form 2 targets Intermediate and Advanced tasks and may be rated Novice Low to Advanced Mid.
- Form 3 targets Advanced and Superior tasks and may be rated Novice Low to Superior.
Even though the paper-pencil booklet does not include the Background Survey and Self-Assessment, the tasks do increase in complexity throughout the test, just as they would in the fixed-form option, ranging from simple informative writing to descriptive, narrative, and persuasive writing.
While the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines are comprised of five major levels of proficiency – Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, Superior, and Distinguished, the WPT only tests proficiency through Superior. The major levels of Advanced, Intermediate, and Novice are divided into High, Mid, and Low sublevels. There are no sub-levels for Superior. The description of each major level is representative of a specific range of abilities. They also present the limitations that candidates encounter when attempting to write tasks at the next higher major level.
In assessing the writing ability of newly hired employees, or while making important hiring decisions, having an assessment that is not only standardized but also provides individualized evaluations is highly valuable. The process of selection and hiring is one that usually requires a number of resources, not just in terms of time but also in terms of how the new hire will benefit the organization in the future. Upon hiring an employee, organizations are deciding to invest in that new incoming employee, therefore it is important that they have all the necessary information to make that decision. The ACTFL WPT, a standardized measure of an applicant’s writing ability in a given language, will enable organizations to make that decision. Prior to implementing a testing program, many clients undergo an LTI Task Analysis through which LTI works with a group of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) nominated by the client to participate in a series of data collection activities to identify the communication tasks and functions; range of content/context areas; level of accuracy; and degree of elaboration needed to perform the bilingual position in question. This allows clients to set fair and appropriate, legally defensible minimum proficiency levels, as well as confirm/identify the necessary skills to be tested for the position. Given the increasingly globalized corporate environment that we live in today, employees that are proficient in multiple languages are more important than ever.
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.