Global universities will collaborate on language assessment research

February 05, 2013

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State liberal arts and education faculty will be partners in the new World Universities Network (WUN) Language Assessment Research Network (LARN), along with six other universities from China, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia. WUN is providing major funding, with matching support from each participating university, for a total of nearly $70,000.

The participating faculty are James Lantolf, director of The Center for Language Acquisition and the Greer Professor of Language Acquisition and Applied Linguistics, in the College of the Liberal Arts; and Matthew Poehner, assistant professor of world languages and applied linguistics, in the College of Education.

LARN will be the first research network on language assessment in the world that brings together research-intensive universities at this scale. The member institutions will collaborate on a wide range of research areas, practices and outreach in the study of language assessment, which requires expertise in linguistics, statistics, psychology, psychometrics, human learning and instruction, and assessment technologies, just to name a few.

According to estimates, nearly 4 million students are enrolled in universities and colleges outside of their home country, with 42 percent enrolled in major English-speaking countries. China is the leading country of origin for international students, with the number of Chinese students rising substantially in recent years.

“As a well-established, but highly debatable, global practice, most universities use students’ English language proficiency level as one of the most important admission criteria,” explained Lantolf. “The students’ English language test scores then become a gatekeeper or door opener for them. Consequentially, we witness the booming use of English language tests for university admission purposes. But we often hear academic tutors lament that some students’ actual language skills are much lower than their test scores would suggest. There are abundant cases of mismatches between students’ English language proficiency and their academic performance, which raises a host of fundamental questions that have been continuously challenging the field of language assessment: what, how and why to assess, for example.”

Lantolf added, “Although English language proficiency is not the only determiner of academic success or failure, there is an urgent need for universities to better understand international students’ English language and academic skills and to adapt their policies to the challenges posed by the increasing number of international students in order to provide them with appropriate and effective language and academic support so that they may maximize their academic potential.“

Other LARN members are Universities of Auckland, New Zealand; Bristol, U.K.; Chinese University of Hong Kong; Sydney and Western Australia; and Zhejiang, China. The inaugural meeting of network members will take place this July at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China.




Last Updated February 08, 2013