Original Research

Diversity, variation and fairness: Equivalence in national level language assessments

Albert Weideman, Colleen du Plessis, Sanet Steyn
Literator | Vol 38, No 1 | a1319 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v38i1.1319 | © 2017 Albert Weideman, Colleen du Plessis, Sanet Steyn | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 25 June 2016 | Published: 30 March 2017

About the author(s)

Albert Weideman, Office of the Dean, Humanities, University of the Free State, South Africa
Colleen du Plessis, Department of English, University of the Free State, South Africa
Sanet Steyn, Centre for Academic and Professional Language Practice, School of Languages, North-West University, South Africa


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Abstract

The post-1994 South African constitution proudly affirms the language diversity of the country, as do subsequent laws, while ministerial policies, both at further and higher education level, similarly promote the use of all 11 official languages in education. However, such recognition of diversity presents several challenges to accommodate potential variation. In language education at secondary school, which is nationally assessed, the variety being promoted immediately raises issues of fairness and equivalence. The final high-stakes examination of learners’ ability in home language at the exit level of their pre-tertiary education is currently contentious in South Africa. It is known, for example, that in certain indigenous languages, the exit level assessments barely discriminate among learners with different abilities, while in other languages they do. For that reason, the Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education, Umalusi, has commissioned several reports to attempt to understand the nature of the problem. This article will deal with a discussion of a fourth attempt by Umalusi to solve the problem. That attempt, undertaken by a consortium of four universities, has already delivered six interim reports to this statutory body, and the article will consider some of their content and methodology. In their reconceptualisation of the problem, the applied linguists involved first sought to identify the theoretical roots of the current curriculum in order to articulate more sharply the construct being assessed. That provides the basis for a theoretical justification of the several solutions being proposed, as well as for the preliminary designs of modifications to current, and the introduction of new assessments. The impact of equivalence of measurement as a design requirement will be specifically discussed, with reference to the empirical analyses of results of a number of pilots of equivalent tests in different languages.

Keywords

assessering van taal; konstruk; hoë impak-eksamens; regverdigheid; ekwivalensie

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