Assessing multilingual competencies: Adopting construct valid assessment policies

Elana Shohamy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


All assessment policies and practices are based on monolingual constructs whereby test-takers are expected to demonstrate their language proficiency in one language at a time. Thus, the construct underlying these assessment approaches and/or scales (e.g., the CEFR) is of language as a closed and finite system that does not enable other languages to "smuggle in." This view is in stark contrast to the current understanding of multilingual competencies for which various languages and aspects "bleed" into one another in creative ways as manifested by a growing number of users, especially immigrants, who are born into one language and acquire additional language(s), resulting in multilingual competencies. This is manifested in codeswitching and in the simultaneous use of different language functions (e.g., reading in one and speaking in another in the process of academic functioning). Yet, this multilingual functioning receives no attention in language testing practices. Further, multilingual users who rarely reach language proficiency in each of the languages that is identical to that of their monolingual counterparts are always being compared to them and thus receive lower scores. Consequently, they are penalized for their multilingual competencies, sending a message that multilingual knowledge is a liability. Given the current policies of cultivating multilingualism in schools and societies as expressed in the articles in this special issue, I critique the current monolingual assessment approaches within a political and social context. I argue that these approaches are rooted in nation-state ideologies that are still attempting to promote national collective agendas of "wishful thinking" and ignore the reality of how languages are being used. This is followed by empirical data pointing to the cost of the continued use of monolingual tests for individual students, especially those who are bilingual, as is the case with immigrants. All of these will lead to initial proposals and examples for the adoption of different types of multilingual testing and assessment policies and practices in various contexts. These approaches, I argue, are more construct valid, as they enable the manifestation of fuller knowledge in integrated ways, thus highlighting the advantages, rather than the problems, that multilingual users possess.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)418-429
Number of pages12
JournalModern Language Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2011


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