Proficiency-Based Second Language Assessment

The College of Liberal Arts (CLA) at the University of Minnesota has long been involved in proficiency-based assessment in second languages. CLA established an entrance standard for students entering the college and a target level standard for students seeking a bachelor of arts degree. Entrance proficiency tests are administered in French, German, and Spanish--languages commonly taught at the secondary level. At present, language proficiency examinations are administered in most languages to determine a proficiency level upon completion of the language requirement.


In 1986, the University of Minnesota's College of Liberal Arts instituted a new foreign language requirement based on language proficiency. Prior to that time, students fulfilled their language requirement by completing a proscribed number of language courses or a combination of language courses and civilization/culture courses. The 1986 language requirement began with French, German, and Spanish, the languages most commonly taught in secondary institutions in the State of Minnesota. The language teaching professionals who initiated the new language policy at the University of Minnesota did so in part hoping to create a paradigm shift to a proficiency-oriented approach to language instruction at the K-12 level throughout the state.

To assess and improve the quality of the CLA language proficiency tests, the Second Language Assessment Team at the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) performed qualitative and quantitative analyses of the French, German, and Spanish tests in use since 1986. This was the first step in an ongoing effort to improve the University of Minnesota's assessment instruments.

The results of the Second Language Assessment Team's investigation lay the groundwork for decisions made by CARLA and the Minnesota Articulation Project (MNAP). CARLA and MNAP collaborated on the development of new French, German, and Spanish assessment instruments at the entrance level, and made the decision to raise the standard to the Intermediate-Low level on the ACTFL scale in all modalities (speaking, writing, listening, and reading). To date, new instruments have been developed, and extensively field tested, in speaking, writing, listening and reading. The instruments are grouped under the name Minnesota Language Proficiency Assessments (MLPA).

To fulfill the CLA language requirement, CLA language policy required students to pass a battery of proficiency tests developed in accordance with the proficiency guidelines published by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Students who intended to complete their language requirement in French, German, or Spanish, were required to pass entrance tests in reading, writing, and listening (or start in a first-semester course) and pass graduation tests in reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

The original entrance tests were developed to assess students' reading and listening proficiency at the Intermediate-Low level, and writing proficiency at the Novice-High level. In 1996, the Intermediate-Low level was adopted for all three modalities for entrance. The French, German, and Spanish graduation tests assess students' reading and listening proficiency at the Intermediate-High level, and writing and speaking proficiency at the Intermediate-Mid level.

Presently, to fulfill the second language graduation requirement for CLA, students must either earn at least a C- or S in a fourth-semester language course or pass the Language Proficiency Exam (LPE), the former graduation proficiency test. Students who pass the LPE in their respective languages, can request the proficiency notation on their transcripts.

Students entering the College of Liberal Arts who have previously studied French, German, or Spanish must pass the entrance tests, if they wish to enroll in second year courses in those languages. If they receive a score below the passing cutoff, they must enroll in a first year course.



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Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) • 140 University International Center • 331 - 17th Ave SE • Minneapolis, MN 55414