Alabama Adult Education educator helps align national tests with new federal guidelines

Over the last year, Dawn Saint, an Adult Basic Education Local/Regional ESL/Bilingual Resource instructor at Northeast Alabama Community College (NACC), was part of several national committees that worked to set proficiency level scores for three of the nation’s leading tests of English-language proficiency for adult learners.

Saint recommended passing scores and suggested updates to the Tests of Adult Basic Education (TABE) Complete Language Assessment System—English™ by reviewing and discussing the English-language skills expected of students in each of six proficiency levels centered on students listening, speaking, reading, and writing the English language. To do so, the educators engaged in the Bookmark Standard Setting Procedure™, one of the most frequently performed standard setting techniques currently in use in large-scale educational assessment. Data Recognition Corporation, who publishes the TABE, is expected to use the educators’ recommendations to establish passing scores for the next version of TABE Clas-E.

Previously, Saint participated in other standard setting studies for the BEST Plus™ 3.0 and BEST Literacy™ 2.0 tests, published by the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL). The educators used the Bookmark method for reading and the Body of Work method for writing, listening, and speaking, both widely-used techniques backed by extensive research. Using the Body of Work method, Saint and the other experts reviewed copies of students’ writing and recordings of students’ speaking tests. After each, the experts worked independently and as a group to determine the proficiency level of a student who could successfully answer the given test item. CAL’s staff used these judgments to calculate the cutoff score for each EFL (English Functioning Level) on the new BEST tests.

Saint said updates to the functioning levels of these tests give ESL (English as a Second Language) students a more streamlined pathway from ESL classes to college and career-ready opportunities. One example of the more rigorous type of questions found in the BEST Plus ™ 3.0 includes an opportunity for test takers to listen to someone providing an opinion in English language before the test taker summarizes the stated opinion, as well as explains their personal opinion with supporting details.

“As we pulled apart the updated, more-rigorous standards, and compared the test questions with these standards, I especially enjoyed justifying my recommended levels in interactive discussions with my colleagues as we compared each question with the specific standards,” Saint stated.

“ESL encompasses multiple aspects of learning, and this experience has given me more insight into the needs of my students related to the NRS EFL level descriptors and their individual student performance levels. I’m excited to see how the updated tests will reflect the increased rigor of the new standards.”

According to Data Recognition Corporation, the standard setting in which Saint participated was conducted online over a four-day period. Educators participated from across the United States, including from Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, and Wisconsin. The Center for Applied Linguistics also held their sessions virtually. Each session was three days long and involved participants from ten states, including Alabama, Virginia, Texas, Utah, and Rhode Island.

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