Curriculum Innovation, Testing and Evaluation: Proceedings of the 1st Annual JALT Pan-SIG Conference.
May 11-12, 2002. Kyoto, Japan: Kyoto Institute of Technology.

Tokai University's Foreign Language Center

by Deborah Bollinger

Why was streaming adopted?

The Dean of Instructional/Student Affairs believed that streaming would raise the level of competitiveness of Tokai students in the current job market by improving their English proficiency. Although many teachers, both Japanese and native-English speaking faculty, favored streaming in the past, logistical considerations hampered their efforts to promote it. However, in part, due to improved computer capabilities that facilitate the process of streaming and prompted by decreasing enrollment and new Monbusho guidelines, along with current market trends, the administration found ways to overcome logistical difficulties, and streaming was implemented in 2001.

How has the process evolved?

All first year students took an in-house placement test and were streamed into basic, intermediate and advanced levels for required English courses. In 2002, 1st year students continue to be streamed based on placement test scores. Results from the 2001 placement test were used to place 2nd year students.

What kind of placement test is used?

The 90-minute placement test, modeled after the TOEFL®, consists of 100 multiple-choice questions, included in three sections: structure, listening comprehension, and reading comprehension.

What were some considerations in selecting a placement test?

The committee that was formed to select a placement test considered using the results of the English section of an in-house basic knowledge test, which is given to all incoming students. Although the questions were modeled after the TOEFL®, it lacked a listening comprehension component. Subsequently, the committee considered using a practice TOEFL®, TOEIC Bridge® or a Berlitz placement test. With 6000 incoming students, both the practice TOEFL® and the TOEIC Bridge® were viewed as too costly. Moreover, official versions of the institutional TOEFL® have to be scored by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in New Jersey, and this process could not be completed during orientation week. The Berlitz placement test was deemed inappropriate. Therefore, the committee decided that an in-house placement test should be created.

How does the placement process work?

The placement test is given at the beginning of orientation week. Tests are scored on computer, and a list of students' scores (from highest to lowest) is sent to members of the FLC Scheduling Committee, who use the list to place students in advanced, intermediate and basic level classes. Teachers are then informed of which section, within the range of classes at a particular level, they will be teaching.

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What other changes ensued the decision to begin streaming?

A list of approved textbooks for each proficiency level in the four required courses was compiled. Curriculum guidelines and assessment criteria were devised for the three proficiency levels in each of the four required courses. Criteria were also established for eligible students to place out of required English courses.

What structures are in place to deal with students who are improperly placed?

During the first two classes of the semester, diagnostic activities are used to ascertain whether students are appropriately placed. Based on the results of the diagnostic activities and class participation, teachers make recommendations of students to be moved to another level. Ideally, teachers meet with the students in question at the end of the second class to discuss level changes. Recommendation forms are completed and passed to members of the scheduling committee, who place students in different classes and provide the names of these students to their new teachers prior to the third class. Students are provided with the name of their new teacher and the new classroom. By the third class of the semester, all students should be placed in classes appropriate to their proficiency level.

How do teachers assess the overall effectiveness of streaming?

Feedback from teachers regarding streaming has been quite positive. Due to the similarity of proficiency levels within a given class, students are able to work more consistently, both in terms of pace and level of comprehension. This, in turn, serves to create a more positive class dynamic and allows for more productive use of class time.

What changes have been implemented to improve the process?

Class size was reduced from 40 to a maximum of 35 students. This year an effort was made to further reduce the size of advanced and basic classes.
In response to feedback from teachers, the cut-off score on the placement test for the advanced level was raised and for the basic level was lowered. In 2001, some students' levels were changed the second semester based on grades and teacher recommendations. However, it was decided that second year students would again be placed based on their placement test results. The period during which students can change levels was shortened, from the first six classes to the first three classes.
Initially a student's consent was required to change to a different level. However, some students who were inappropriately placed resisted switching to a different level. Therefore, it was decided that level changes would be based solely on teacher recommendations.
Students are instructed to wait until the third class of the semester to purchase textbooks due to possible level changes. This is printed in English and in Japanese on the course syllabus.

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What other changes have been implemented to improve the quality of English instruction?

In 2000, a new English curriculum was devised which includes required courses in speaking and listening for all 1st year students and required courses in reading and writing for all second year students. This, in effect, doubled the number of required English courses for all students (from four to eight credits). Certain departments such as Business Administration now require ten to twelve credits of English. The new curriculum also established English minor and Business English minor programs.

2002 Pan SIG-Proceedings: Topic Index Author Index Page Index Title Index Main Index
Complete Pan SIG-Proceedings: Topic Index Author Index Page Index Title Index Main Index

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