Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Ordinate tests

I received this e-mail recently:
I am the assessment teacher of the Calgary Board of Education. My job is to assess the English level of new immigrants from all over the world who come to Canada and then recommend a grade level for them to attend school. Last year our department (of 2 teachers) assessed over 2 thousand students! We have about one hour or so for each student. Can you suggest some "quick and dirty" assessment tools for elementary and / or secondary students?
I asked around and John H.A.L. de Jong suggested what seems to be the closest thing to a solution: Ordinate's Versant test (keep in mind that John works for Pearson Language Assessments, the competition [In 2008, Pearson acquired Ordinate, so John likely had his eye on the acquisition at the time of his recommendation.]). This 10- to 12-minute test is done over the telephone or using a computer and is automatically scored. It is designed for K-12. Although there is likely to be a lot of skepticism about it, there has been a lot of research gone into validating the test (though I can't find any validation data for anyone under age 12) and it has been adopted by the Dutch government, which has concluded that in its use there is "no difference between human and machine scoring".

I remember seeing Jared Bernstein, Ordinate's president, explain his products at a JALT conference about six years ago. Everyone in the room wanted desperately to believe him, but most of us couldn't really bring ourselves to do so. When I actually tried out their PhonePass test, though, I was quite impressed with the results.

Bernstein said at the time that they had a longer version of the test, but it was no more accurate than the shorter version. Still, they made it available as a security blanket. The other odd thing that I remember about it was that the scores were out of some odd number like 13 (that may not be right). Their current tests report scores in the range from 20 to 80, but it seems to me that score users would prefer scores out of 100.

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