HumRRO Vice President David Dorsey, Ph.D., had the honor of serving on the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Committee on Foreign Language Assessment and contributing to its recently published report, A Principled Approach to Language Assessment: Considerations for the U.S. Foreign Service Institute (FSI), which is available to download for free.

FSI provides intensive language instruction and formally assesses Foreign Service Officers’ language proficiency before they take on a country assignment that requires the use of a language other than English. The U.S. Department of State uses FSI assessment results to make decisions related to certification, job placement, promotion, retention, and pay.

View Report: A principle approach to language assessment

To help FSI keep pace with current developments in language assessment, the State Department asked the National Academies to convene an interdisciplinary panel to review the strengths and weaknesses of the latest research and current scientific consensus for assessing language proficiency that FSI could apply in its context.

The committee considered the relatively new “principled” approaches for designing and developing language assessments that have been growing in use in the measurement field. These approaches are grounded in the principles of evidentiary reasoning that connect the design for assessment tasks to the performances that those tasks are intended to elicit from a test taker, to the scores derived from those performances, and to the meaning of those scores that informs their use.

Given its charge, the committee specifically focused on possible changes that would address goals for improvement related to the construct assessed by the test, and the reliability and fairness of its scores. The committee also noted potential instructional and practical considerations related to these possible changes.

“In addition to serving as a solid treatise for how to conduct assessment development in general, I believe the report details interesting ideas about the future of language assessment that are useful to other organizations with language testing programs, for both government language testing and the larger community,” noted Dorsey.

Founded more than 150 years ago, the National Academies convenes interdisciplinary panels to investigate critical scientific and technological issues and challenges, offering independent and objective advice to the government. HumRRO is proud of its many contributions to the National Academies over the years.