The National Language Service Corps (NLSC) announces the approval and release of industry standards for assessing language proficiency by ASTM International, one of the largest voluntary standards development organizations in the world.

The NLSC established the sub-committee that developed these standards. As part of this effort, the sub-committee has moved out from under the Consumer Products committee (which covers products ranging from baby carriages to wall coverings) to be its own committee on Language Services and Products. This new committee is responsible for standards on language teaching, translation and interpretation.

The ASTM foreign language proficiency sub-committee, organized by the NLSC, developed the standards over a 15-month period. The standards address such aspects as test creation (planning, development, acceptance), use (administration and scoring), as well as test maintenance and updates.

Testing standards are expected to improve effectiveness throughout the industry by establishing common expectations among all involved. Government agencies or businesses that need new tests for languages can require that test developers use the standards. Those who administer the tests can understand the quality of tests that adhere to the standards and can trust that results will be comparable across tests that cover the same language. This means that as long as a person took a test designed to the standards, it shouldn’t matter who developed it. The ASTM standards should benefit both industry and government. “[The standards] will meet a long-felt need for detailed guidance on development and employment of language proficiency test vehicles, test content, and use of test results”, according to Glenn H. Nordin, Foreign Language and Area Advisor in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence. “As a reference within a contract for test development, it will serve to focus buyer and supplier concentration on essential components of test development and use.”

Dr. Charles Stansfield, President and Founder of Second Language Testing, Inc., agreed. “For years, government agencies have tried to create their own tests. This has not worked out for a variety of reasons.” He added that “Often the tests simply were not completed. Other times, they were not developed and reviewed carefully enough. Within and across agencies, there was inconsistent rigor, because there was no set model that people were following.” Stansfield said that the ASTM standards change all of that. “The government and the language industry have collaborated to produce standards that can be used by either to develop language tests based on the government's scale of language proficiency. This will allow the government to issue contracts for test development and to evaluate the products for adherence to the relevant ASTM standards. This will mean much more work for those companies involved in language testing and most likely new companies will feel that they can enter the picture.”

Nordin commented that when promulgated by ASTM and widely employed in test development, “it will make a significant contribution to the national framework essential to building the US professional cadre of language workers. This Standard Practice joins the ASTM guidance on language teaching, translation and interpretation in the base documentation essential to improving the US capabilities in world languages to meet the global communicative needs of the future.”

The standards are available from the ASTM web site for a fee.

The National Language Service Corps is part of the National Security Education Program.

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