Language, levels and learning: Unit standards and the assessment of foreign languages

Roger Peddie
Vol 16, Number 2, p.135
This article examines the conceptual basis and the practicality of a unit standards approach to the assessment of foreign languages in a school setting. It first presents a brief historical account of the commonly found goals of foreign language teaching, then analyses the possible expression of these goals in terms of a unit standard approach. This analysis suggests that there are several approaches through which learning outcomes for foreign languages may be \"arranged\", and that all of these potentially offer a reasonable degree of reliability in both assessment and subsequent reporting. The article then demonstrates that each of the approaches has problems relating to curriculum definition and to validity, particularly when communication skills are seen as a major goal of a foreign languages programme. The article concludes by arguing that, while a unit standards approach for foreign language learning can be developed, it will almost inevitably represent a conventional learning sequence and/or an agreed progression of learning outcomes, both of which have little to do with what were initially claimed as the advantages of a unit standards approach. At the same time, the article notes that other methods of setting assessment goals for foreign languages tend to suffer from most of the same weaknesses as those exposed here.