Questions and answers about language testing statistics: Overall English proficiency (whatever that is)

Article appearing in Shiken 23.2 (December 2019) pp. 43-47.

Author: James Dean Brown
University of Hawai'i at Manoa

As more and more language tests are developed, typically language teachers often want to know how the scores on new tests relate to more familiar tests scores. This seemly particularly true among tests which claim to measure general English ability...can we say with confidence that there is, in fact, such a thing as general English ability?

This is a question that I have been wrestling with for my whole career in language testing, and now, you seem to be having doubts about it too. What you are referring to as general English ability is also sometimes called overall English ability (or ELP), which is how I will refer to that idea here. From as far back as 1977, whenever I have said the words overall English ability, I have added (soto voce) whatever that is, which comes out something like "overall English proficiency (whatever that is)." Recently, I've been working on a number of papers circling this issue, but now I'm writing one that focuses directly on this topic. As a result, I have been doing a fair amount of thinking about the issue. Let me share some of my preliminary thoughts with you now in the hope that they will help answer your question and entice you into later tracking down the larger paper that I will eventually publish.

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