Answers to some frequently asked questions about UKALTA are listed below. If you have any questions that are not listed here please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Are we interested in the assessment of languages other than English?
Historically, UKALTA’s roots lie in the field of teaching and learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL) and much of our focus has been on L2 English assessment, including English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and English as an Additional Language (EAL). Nevertheless, our interests and concerns extend beyond English to include modern foreign languages (e.g. French, Spanish, Arabic) and other national languages taught or spoken in the UK (e.g. Welsh), as well as less widely taught or spoken languages, including heritage and community languages.
UKALTA is eager to contribute to research and discussion on the assessment of a broad range of languages in the UK, and to learn from scholars already working in those areas. We seek to share knowledge and collaborate with other UK-based organisations and stakeholders focusing on language education issues, including academics, policymakers, teachers and test providers (e.g. BAAL, UCML, WJEC).
UKALTA collaborates actively with peer testing and assessment organisations in Europe, including the European Association of Language Testing and Assessment (EALTA) and the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE), both of whom represent the range of languages spoken across the European continent and are committed to the principles of multilingualism and plurilingualism. For example, UKALTA is currently working closely with British Council, EALTA and ALTE to develop accessible procedures for aligning language education with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
2. Why are language skills important in the UK?
The strategic importance of language skills in the UK has recently been acknowledged at the highest level, particularly in the wake of Britain’s exit from the EU and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Good communication, including additional/foreign language skills and intercultural competencies, is considered essential to the solving of global as well as national challenges. Language skills enhance employability, enabling people to navigate multicultural environments, be sensitive to cultural difference, and thus be better at conceiving events and issues from multiple viewpoints. Languages are also sociocultural resources to be cherished and nurtured; recognition and support for the languages of minority and indigenous populations is critical to creating multilingual societies as well as for effective cross-cultural communication.
In 2020 the development of a national languages strategy was proposed as a way of halting the drastic decline in UK language teaching and learning in schools and universities over recent years and reviving language education from early years through to adulthood.
3. Why are language testing and assessment important?
A holistic, system-wide approach that will reverse the current decline and revive language education in the UK for the future must include attention to the ways in which language teaching and learning are assessed, i.e. classroom-based assessment practices and learning-oriented assessment (LOA), as well as standardised language testing and the integration of language within professional and vocational qualifications (e.g. for the health professions or the aviation industry). Fair, valid and meaningful assessment of linguistic ability is crucial as a means to demonstrate ability and encourage further learning, as well as open the door to educational and employment opportunities. A recent recommendation for increased partnerships across the language education and skills community matches well to UKALTA’s aims and aspirations as a professional association, particularly with regard to matters of language assessment in school-based and vocational settings. One aspect of this is the creation of an accessible UK-wide cross-sector framework for language competence and qualifications.
As a discipline and a field of professional practice, testing and assessment should contribute to a society where quality data is gathered to inform sound decision-making for the common good and where opportunities are awarded on the basis of talent, effort and achievement rather than wealth, class or other social categorisation (i.e. race, gender, disability). But tests can also be used as a convenient political tool to show that something is being done, or to achieve policy objectives beyond what a test was originally designed to assess. So the role of assessment within a socio-political landscape, including language tests used for high-stakes purposes such as professional registration or migration/citizenship, needs to be well understood and effectively monitored.
UKALTA is keen to contribute positively to a better understanding of the principles and practice of language assessment in education, employment and public policymaking. We are also committed to assisting with the development of language assessment tools that are fit for purpose and adhere to the values of fairness and justice, as well as to ensuring that their use is appropriate and enhances the common good.