ALTA’s Writing Test Protocol

ALTA performs many writing language tests each year using a process that consists of several important elements to assure that the result reflects the candidate’s capability to write the language.

Identification of the Performance Levels

There are no worldwide standards on defining performance in writing in a language. The first step is to identify the performance levels. ALTA has developed a twelve-level scale that identifies reading and writing performance over the complete range of capability. The ALTA performance or skill levels are shown below:

  • Total Beginner (Skill Level – 1): The candidate has no knowledge of the language whatsoever.
  • Beginner (Skill Level – 2-4): The candidate can communicate in a simple way in specific situations but makes many grammatical and spelling (or character) errors.
  • Intermediate (Skill Level – 5-7): The candidate can handle successfully a limited number of task-oriented social and business communications, but does not use advanced tenses, makes some spelling (or character) errors and has limited advanced vocabulary.
  • Advanced (Skill Level – 8-10): The candidate can handle successfully a variety of communicative tasks feeling comfortable enough to write business letters using advanced tenses, but still makes a few grammatical and spelling (or character) errors with some imprecision in vocabulary usage.
  • Nearly Fluent (Skill Level – 11): The candidate can initiate and sustain a wide variety of communicative tasks with finesse, but makes occasional spelling (or character) errors and minor grammatical errors.
  • Fluent (Skill Level – 12): The candidate writes at the level of a native speaker.

Identification of the Assessment Categories

The ALTA evaluation process assesses the level of skill in writing as shown below:

  • UNDERSTANDING – How well does the candidate comprehend the question or situation to which a response is requires? Note: Depending on how the question or situation is presented (in writing or verbally) to the candidate, this is indicative of reading or oral comprehension.
  • SPELLING – What percentage of errors are made in spelling? For non-alphabetical languages (e.g. Mandarin or Japanese) this is what percentage of improper characters are used.
  • EXPRESSION – How well does the candidate express ideas both in clarity and complexity?
  • GRAMMAR – How well does the candidate use the grammar of the language.
  • VOCABULARY – How extensive and precise is the candidate’s vocabulary?

Determining a Candidate’s Performance in Each Category

ALTA uses a testing procedure that uses prepared questions or situations in the target language that are either written or verbally recorded by a native-speaking evaluator. The questions and situations are based on the specific needs of the client and are designed to cause the candidate to use the full range of the target language in responding. Two examples are:

  • If you had to select a supervisor, what qualities would you look for an why?
  • How do you think that the internet has changed the job for which you are testing?

Five questions or situations are posed. The candidate simply responds to each question or situation. The candidate has thirty minutes to complete the test.

Following the test, the administrator sends the candidate’s performance to ALTA. A trained, native evaluator then scores the test by determining the skill level of the candidate in each category. ALTA has developed specific criteria that guide the evaluator in placing a candidate’s performance at the proper level. An example of these criteria are below:

Expression – How well does the candidate express ideas both in clarity and complexity?

  1. Candidate is unable to express anything in the language.
  2. Candidate is able to write only isolated words and phrases expressing only the simplest ideas.
  3. Candidate is able to write only isolated words, phrases and very simple sentences.
  4. Candidate can express many words and some sentences but with no elaboration.
  5. Candidate is able to express simple ideas with no elaboration.
  6. Candidate uses most of the common language structures to express ideas, but no advanced structures.
  7. Candidate uses common language easily to express ideas, but almost no advanced structures.
  8. Candidate uses common language easily to express ideas and some advanced structures although with many mistakes.
  9. Candidate uses common language easily to express ideas and uses advanced structures although with many mistakes.
  10. Candidate expresses ideas clearly but has some difficulty with long, complex structures, idioms and subtleties.
  11. Candidate expresses ideas clearly with few exceptions and makes only occasional errors in usage.
  12. Candidate expresses ideas clearly and uses whatever degree of complexity that is needed.

Category scores are calculated and an overall score is assigned by the evaluator.

Score Reporting and Management

All scores are entered during the scoring process into ALTA’s database. Only ALTA management personnel have access to the database. The test results are provided directly from the ALTA database to the organization’s administrative contact by email or fax the next business day. Results are not provided directly to the candidate by ALTA.

ALTA keeps a record of every evaluation including the candidate’s information (name, etc.), test date, language tested, the questions asked, the evaluators name, the score reported, the evaluator comments, and an archival record of the scored test.

Score Review Procedure

Occasionally there is a request by the administrative person of the funding organization to review the test score because there was a complaint that the score was too high or too low. A specific review process is initiated. The review process is performed by ALTA at no charge to the requesting organization.

The review process consists of a review of the recorded evaluation session by two evaluators. If possible, one is the original evaluator, who rescores the performance versus the criteria. A second evaluator also reviews the recorded session and independently scores the performance. Any differences in score are resolved and the reviewed score is reported to the administrative contact. Reviews normally take two business days.

Additional Comments

If your organization must meet the U.S. Government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection (Part 1607) and intends to do language testing, the above description should meet the requirements under Section 1607.15, B., (4).

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