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2019 International AALA Keynote Speakers


(listed in alphabetical order by the speaker's last name)

Professor Barry O’Sullivan
Dr Nick Saville


Professor Barry O’Sullivan


Professor Barry O’Sullivan is the Head of Assessment Research & Development at the British Council. He has undertaken research across many areas on language testing and assessment and its history and has worked on the development and refinement of the socio-cognitive model of test development and validation since 2000. He is particularly interested in the communication of test validation and in test localisation. He has presented his work at many conferences around the world, while almost 100 of his publications have appeared in a range of international journals, books and technical reports. He has worked on many test development and validation projects over the past 25 years and advises ministries and institutions on assessment policy and practice. This work included designing and developing the Aptis testing service for the British Council.

He is the founding president of the UK Association of Language Testing and Assessment (UKALTA) and holds honorary and visiting chairs at a number of universities globally. In 2016 he was awarded fellowship of the Academy of Social Science in the UK, and was elected to Fellowship of the Asian Association for Language Assessment in 2017.

Title: A theory of everything (well not quite EVERYTHING!)

Abstract: A comprehensive learning system (CLS) is driven by an explicitly described approach to learning and progression in language. This approach is operationalized through its influence on all decisions around curriculum design, the delivery of the curriculum in and associated with assessment practices. The CLS is also very much driven by the context within which it is developed. The socio-cognitive (SC) approach also acknowledges the importance of context, recognizing the centrality of the test taker as the primary stakeholder. Both the CLS and the SC approach rely on explicitly described models of the cognitive and social aspects of language development and use.

Where a test is introduced into a learning system, there must be clear evidence that it is appropriate both in terms of content and cultural approach. In other words it must be shown to fit philosophically with the CLS into which it is to be introduced. Without evidence of such fit, there is a significant risk of misfit, significantly threatening the stability of the system. In order to reduce the risk of this happening, the test should be either built locally or shown to fit either through a linking project or through localisation. 

In this presentation, I will demonstrate how the thinking behind the comprehensive learning system is reflected in the socio-cognitive model of test development and validation, which in turn is the primary driver behind the concept of localisation. Since the success of any learning system is dependent on appropriate decisions being made by well-informed policy makers, it is critical that we find ways of conveying these ideas to such people. Otherwise, public education systems will continue to fall out of sync with the needs of the stakeholders for which they are intended to serve.

Dr Nick Saville

Dr Saville image.jpg

Dr Nick Saville is Director of the Research and Thought Leadership Division for Cambridge Assessment. He is Secretary-General of the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE), on the Board of Trustees for The International Research Foundation for English Language Education (TIRF), a Board member of Cambridge University’s Institute for Automated Language Teaching and Assessment (ALTA), and a visiting professor for the ICT-Assisted Interpreter Training Project at Xiamen University, China.
He was a founding associate editor of the journal Language Assessment Quarterly and is currently joint editor of the Studies in Language Testing (SiLT, CUP), previously with the late Prof Cyril Weir, and editor of the English Profile Studies series (EPS, CUP). He co-authored a volume on Learning Oriented Assessment (LOA) with Dr Neil Jones (SiLT 45).


Title: Principles, policies and practices in multilingual language assessment

Abstract: Current evidence suggests that language policies and practices are failing to improve school-based language learning and  that  proficiency standards are not being raised to meet  policy goals.  

My key message is that system thinking, of the kind proposed by Bronfenbrenner (1979), is needed to bring together principles and policies in order to create effective ecosystems of learning in local contexts.  I argue that policy makers at the macro level need to take into account contemporary theories of language and learning combined with relevant theories of action to ensure that improvements can be made in practice in the micro contexts where teaching and learning takes place.

With regards language policy, the languages to be learned in school are traditionally based on a standard variety (English, French, Chinese etc.). However, when viewed through the lens of plurilingualism, the aim should be to develop a learner’s entire linguistic repertoire, including L1 and all other varieties and dialects.  This definition of plurilingualism is used in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)’s, recently revisited in the CEFR’s Companion Volume (2018) that has two new sets of descriptors - plurilingual comprehension and building plurilingual repertoires.

So how can these notions be built into our ecosystems of learning and what role does assessment play?

Language learners in schooling should be supported to develop plurilingual competences to enable them to communicate effectively in a multilingual world. Appropriate principles of language learning and assessment should inform educational policies and enable reform programmes to be put into practice. A range of pedagogic practices  have recently emerged based on these heteroglossic principles (Blackledge & Creese, 2010), but to date they have not impacted language assessment (Schissel et al 2018).  As assessment professionals we now have the opportunity to influence assessment policies based on such principles leading to better learning and better outcomes.

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