Assessing and developing English Language Proficiency: A pilot project at Curtin University Sydney

You are here

Research and Development in Higher Education Vol. 39: The Shape of Higher Education

July, 2016, 391 pages
Published by
Melissa Davis & Allan Goody

Driven by perceptions in the community that Australian graduates are lacking the levels of English Language Proficiency (ELP) required for employment, universities are exploring ways of integrating ELP strategies within disciplinary curricula. However, without a standardised measure of the outcomes of ELP strategies, there are limited incentives for lecturers and tutors to redeploy their time from activities that are more readily measureable, such as research. Furthermore, students have less of an incentive to engage in ELP activities or take a developmental approach if prospective employers cannot request a transcript of their progress in ELP. A simple, non-intrusive and efficient way of measuring ELP that is independent of the commitment of lecturers and tutors, or even the interest level of students, is to have English language experts assess existing assignments for ELP with the results and feedback carried forward to benchmark future assignments. This would provide a foundation for measuring the impact of ELP strategies as well as encouraging students to take an interest in their ELP from entry to exit. In this paper we report results from a pilot project to assess the first leg of such an approach. The ELP of 27 students across three units (postgraduate and undergraduate) is assessed using the IELTS writing assessment criteria. While students are able to accurately assess themselves overall, they significantly under-estimate their lexical resources while significantly over-estimating their grammatical range and accuracy. Student evaluations of the exercise indicated improved awareness of ELP proficiency and support for using a unit assignment to assess their ELP.

Keywords: English language proficiency, integrating language and discipline skills, assurance of learning