Academic literacy, Transformation

How justifiable are language assessment and intervention at tertiary level?

man reading a book

Kabelo Sebolai will present the case at the Language Testing Research Colloquium (LTRC 2019) in Atlanta

At this upcoming conference in Atlanta in March NExLA’s chairperson will offer a South African perspective on the measurement of students’ preparedness to handle the demands of academic discourse. While academic literacy is taken for granted by language teaching professionals, the tendency is for non-language teaching academics in disciplines that are traditionally less associated with language processing to be sceptical of the role of language assessment and intervention in academic performance. Not only has this been the case in South African higher education in general, it is also a challenge faced by language departments in other parts of the world. 

Dr Sebolai’s report will be about whether predetermined standards of performance on the school-leaving English examination and a standardised test of academic literacy relate positively with the academic performance of students at Stellenbosch University. The results of the investigation he will report on show that the performance standards set for the standardized test of academic literacy associated positively with first year academic performance, while the scores on the levels of performance set for the school leaving English examination, which traditionally is used as a determination of academic language ability, did not. That justifies the language interventions that are often motivated by and follow a standardised test of academic literacy, and is a confirmation of the role that this assessment plays in ensuring access with success, and ultimately in promoting social justice.

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