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2017 ILTA/Cambridge English Language Assessment Distinguished Achievement Award

Friday, April 21, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: John de Jong
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2017 ILTA/Cambridge English Language Assessment Distinguished Achievement Award

It is with great pleasure that I announce that, based on nominations received from the ILTA membership, the Award Committee has chosen Sauli Takala (1941 – 2017) as recipient of the 2017 ILTA/Cambridge English Language Assessment Distinguished Achievement Award.

Sauli Jaakko Takala was emeritus professor of the University of Jyväskylä, Doctor of Philosophy honoris causa and Doctor of Education honoris causa. Sauli retired from his professorship in applied linguistics in 2002, but this may have passed unnoticed given his tireless dedication to the field of applied linguistics and specifically language testing continued as ever before. In the weekend just before his tragic death on February 15, 2017 he had co-organized with Neus Figueras the 4th CEFR EALTA SIG in London (11-12 February).

Sauli was awarded an MA in Philosophy at the University of Jyväskylä in 1970, obtained a ‘Qualified Language Proficiency Degree (English)’ in 1974 and went on to obtain his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA in 1984. His dissertation was entitled: “Evaluation of students' knowledge of English vocabulary in the Finnish comprehensive school”. From 1964, he worked as a teacher of Swedish and English at secondary schools in Finland and filled research positions at educational research institutes of the University of Jyväskylä. In 1994, he was appointed Professor of methodology at the Institute of Educational Sciences of the University of Jyväskylä and in 1998 obtained the position of Research Professor at the Department of Applied Language Studies at the same university, a position which he held until his retirement.

For 15 years Sauli was a member of the Finnish Matriculation Examination Board and was the key figure in the introduction of modern quality assurance mechanisms (e.g., item analysis, standard setting) in that examination which was very traditional in its approach to testing at the time when he joined the board. He also had an active role in setting up and revising language examinations in Finland. Over the course of his career Sauli published more than 150 research reports and articles in Finnish, Scandinavian and international journals (see: He supervised a number of doctoral dissertations and acted as the faculty-appointed examiner for dozens of doctoral theses in Finland and other Nordic countries.

Sauli’s research activity focused on assessing language proficiency, language planning and policy and curricula. His publications cover the assessment of all four skills, the development of learners’ vocabulary and grammar. Since the 1970s he was involved in numerous international projects. He participated in the IEA's six subject study , co-ordinated the IEA International Study of Writing, contributed to the EU DIALANG project and the Council of Europe's Language Project.

Sauli was founding member of EALTA (European Association for Language Testing and Assessment) and was President of EALTA from 2007 to 2010. Sauli was committed to the values of the Council of Europe and was heavily involved in Council of Europe developments in language education over several decades. He participated in developing the Manual for Relating Language Examinations to the CEFR and most recently was member of the expert group for the development of additional CEFR descriptors. In addition, he was consultant to the European Centre for Modern Languages (ECML).

He served as editor for the Finnish Journal of Educational Research, as co-editor of the Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, and as a member of the editorial board of Language Testing.

Sauli was a great friend, mentor and colleague, and those of us who have had the pleasure of working with him, have enjoyed his scholarship, his gentle attitude and genuine love for the fields of language teaching and assessment. He made a tremendous contribution to the assessment community in his unique considerate way, drawing on his wealth of knowledge and experience. He was always active for language assessment professionals world-wide, always willing to share his wisdom and his vast collection of books, materials and articles. He had an open mind, a warm heart and a winning personality.

His heart was also with the learners and he had a profound understanding of what communicative language teaching entails. In an interview published in the newspaper Vasabladet of 28 September 2016 Sauli said: ”It is important to treat students as language users, not as language-learning individuals.”

It is on the basis of these numerous and clear testimonies of excellence that the Award Committee has unanimously decided to grant the 2017 award to Sauli Takala.
My thanks go to the many ILTA members who have taken time to put forward their nominees and support their nominations with well-wrought and substantial evidence.
My thanks also go to the members of the Award Committee, Cathie Elder, Micheline Chalhoub-Deville and Nick Saville, for a smooth process in selecting the final candidate.

John de Jong
Chair, 2017 Cambridge/ILTA Distinguished Achievement Award

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