Can Data Really Measure Language Gains?

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1 thought on “Can Data Really Measure Language Gains?”

  1. Gee Ben…it doesn’t take much to get you started. :o) Let’s be honest. I have NO pedagogical background in the measurement of language proficiency. I don’t read journal articles about measurement, I didn’t study measurement in college; empirical data and I do not have a comfortable relationship. I am blatantly against quoting statistics to make a point because I truly believe that numbers can be framed in a million ways in order to make a point. I am not anti-science. I am not anti-research. But I am anti-limited-data-driven-decision-making…and that is not a popular stance in this day and age.
    So….those with a stronger theoretical background in educational stats will have many arguments to use against me. I really do not care. Analysis does not evaluate. Analysis EXPLORES. Analysis IDENTIFIES. It may quantify, but it cannot qualify. The VALUE of language renders it beyond the bean-counting tactics applied by esoteric statisticians.
    It is why, I have to admit, that I gave up word counts a long time ago. I really could care less how many words they write. That has little to nothing to do with their language abilities. It’s a handy visual but it tells me diddly-doo-doo.
    First of all, each of our students comes to us at a certain level of expressive verbal/written competence…in his/her first language. How can we accurately measure where their second language production should be when no one has any idea where they “measure” in their first language?
    How well does their verbal expressive language convey their depth of emotion? How well does their expressive language convey their ability to form conclusions and make hypotheses? How well does their expressive language serve them in acquiring information? Do they know how to ask questions in their L1? How often have they ever had to do that? When we ask students to “perform” these functions in L2 we are not only asking them to draw on and express language abilities, we are asking them to put personal and social skills into action THAT THEY MAY HAVE NEVER EVEN USED IN L1. And that is what we use to evaluate their speaking abilities in L2 on many standardized tests.
    False. False. False.
    Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
    Many years ago, when middle school language programs were added, we convinced our school district to allow us to keep the Regents exam in the 11th grade for our students…instead of moving it to 10th grade as many other districts did. We truly believed, and in the years since have seen it to be true over and over again, that the extra year of maturity, not the extra year of instruction, was what enabled our students to be highly successful. We slowed down instruction so that we added nothing more to the curriculum…only time.
    Language acquisition is not language learning. Perhaps learned language is well-served and well-measured with standardized formats and formulas. I doubt it. But I KNOW FOR CERTAIN that acquired language is not. Acquired language is not an independent variable that can be measured in a data-testing-cup. Acquired language grows and develops as it connects with a student’s cognitive, emotional, physical and psychological world. Try catching that in a cup.
    with love,
    Laurie

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