Proficiency refers to the ability to do, to function. Language proficiency refers to ones ability to use language for real world
purposes to accomplish real world linguistic tasks, across a wide range of topics and settings. ACTFL Proficiency Tests reflect and measure these real world tasks.
Differing from an achievement test that measures knowledge of specific information (what a person knows), a proficiency test
targets what an individual can do with what one knows. As in a driver’s test, an achievement test would represent the paper and pencil questions that one answers, while a proficiency test determines how well the person can drive the car. The language proficiency test is an evaluation of how well a person can use language to communicate in real life.
ACTFL proficiency tests compare a person’s unrehearsed ability against a set of language descriptors – the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines. The ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines describe proficiency along a continuum from the very top (full professional proficiency) of a scale
to the very bottom (little or no functional ability). Each of the ten descriptions contained in the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines describes language
ability in terms of tasks, text type, accuracy and content areas. A rating on the proficiency scale does not depend upon how many semeste4rs or years someone has been learning a language, what textbooks or other materials one has used, or even on a speaker’s knowledge of grammar – but rather solely on the speakers demonstrated ability to use language to accomplish real life tasks. Achievement tests, in contrast, typically focus on what an individual has learned based on the specific content or subject matter of what has been taught, and tend to be limited in scope to a specific text book or curriculum.
Unlike an achievement test, in which it is possible to “get all the answers right,” a proficiency test does not allow for a “perfect score”, nor does it compare the results of the test to other test takers. In proficiency tests, the performance is compared to a set of criteria, as defined in the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines. Click her to view the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines.