On behalf of the International Language Testing Association, I am pleased to announce the ILTA Best Article Award 2015. The award goes to Charles Alderson, Tineke Brunfaut and Luke Harding for the following paper:
Alderson, J. C., Brunfaut, T., & Harding, L. (2015). Towards a theory of diagnosis in second and foreign language assessment: Insights from professional practice across diverse fields. Applied Linguistics, 36(2), 236-260.
The committee prepared the following citation:
The 2015 ILTA Best Article Award Committee considered 26 articles published in 16 different peer-reviewed journals to evaluate their contribution to the field of language testing, or to the interface between language testing and other areas of enquiry. Following shortlisting, Alderson, Brunfaut & Harding’s (2015) article on diagnostic assessment, published in Applied Linguistics, emerged as the clear winner. This groundbreaking study exemplifies a data-driven approach to theory development by using semi-structured interviews to characterize how diagnosis is practiced in numerous professions not normally given ‘voice’ within the confines of the same study. The professional fields represented are wide-ranging and broadly include car mechanics, IT systems support, medicine, psychology, and education. The domain experts’ accounts of what constitutes diagnosis and how it is carried out in their respective fields is then used as the basis for extracting themes based on commonalities to develop a preliminary theory of diagnosis that can be applied to different L2 assessment contexts. In this way, the study models how an understanding of aspects of the field of language testing can be informed by insights from outside the field.
Based on the interviews, the authors present a set of five tentative principles of diagnostic language assessment, with high potential to influence further work. The study is well-executed and well-argued and the implications, conclusions, and recommendations for future research are convincing. We appreciated the authors’ acknowledgement that diagnosis tends to focus on weaknesses but that they do not wish to pathologize language learning difficulties. Taken together, the study enriches our understanding of fundamental issues in this relatively uncharted area within assessment, including considerations of how we diagnose language proficiency within the broader areas of applied linguistics and second language learning and, equally importantly, how we act on that diagnosis. Straddling theory and practice, the research adopts a pragmatic, common-sense approach to diagnosis yet is data-driven, appealing to a wide readership. The article is also eminently readable and enlightening and, as such, not only makes a significant contribution the field of language testing (and applied linguistics more generally), but is accessible to all members of it, including students and practitioners. The article regularly appears in the list of the most-read papers in the journal, Applied Linguistics. At the time of writing this citation, Google Scholar revealed over 20 citations of the article, attesting to the wide reach of this framework to guide diagnostic assessment in the short period since publication. This article is likely to continue to shape research and practice in diagnostic language assessment and to spur further interest in this area in the years to come.
The ILTA 2015 Best Article Award Committee congratulates the team of authors of the article at Lancaster University for their important and timely contribution to the field of language testing.
The award will be presented at the banquet at LTRC in Bogota.
The 2015 ILTA Best Article Award Committee:
Talia Isaacs (Chair), Scott Crossley, Claudia Harsch, John Pill, Alan Urmston