A theoretical justification for the design and refinement of a Test of Advanced Language Ability (TALA)
The emphasis on political equality among the official languages of South Africa makes equivalence in the instruction and assessment of these languages at school level an important objective. The results of the National Senior Certificate (NSC) examination signal a possible inequality in the measurement of language abilities between the set of Home Languages (HLs) offered, as well as in the measurement of First Additional Languages (FALs). This necessitates action on the part of applied linguists to find a viable instrument for equivalent assessment. In order to do so, one must first find common ground among the various languages on the basis of which one can then derive a generic set of abilities that form part of an advanced language ability in any of these languages. As components of an overall ability, these will inform an idea of advanced language ability on which the further articulation of a construct for such a test should be based. This study explores the assumption that there are certain functions of language that all languages have in common, even though these different languages may not necessarily operate equally well in all material lingual spheres of discourse. Using as a theoretical basis the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS), as well as current thinking about language teaching and assessment, this study not only provides a definition and further explication of advanced language ability but also describes the design of an assessment instrument to test this ability, the Test of Advanced Language Ability (TALA), that operationalizes the components of this construct. This test could potentially be the basis of a new, generic component of the NSC examination for Home Languages that might provide us with an instrument that can be demonstrated to be equivalent in terms of measurement, should it prove possible to develop similar tests across all the Home Languages. The study concludes with an evaluation of this instrument, a critical look at the limitations of the study and an overview of the potential utility of both the instrument and the findings of this investigation beyond its original aims.
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