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LTRC 2018: Symposia (4)
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The role of language tests for immigration, integration and participation – from critical analyses to inclusive approaches

Claudia Harsch (Chair); Luke Harding, Kamran Khan, Cathie Elder, Ute Knoch, Lorenzo Rocca, Peppi Taalas, Anika Müller-Karabil, Ofra Inbar-Lourie


The use of language tests for political purposes, as gatekeeping devices to limit access of certain groups to participation, integration and society, has long been criticized (e.g. Davies, 1997; Shohamy, 2001). Yet language testers and researchers are not always in a position to influence policy and practices. This symposium strives at bringing together critical contributions from around the globe that illustrate how policies and practices can be analyzed, underlying political agendas revealed, and inappropriate language test usage addressed. At the same time, the symposium aims at showcasing appropriate language test tools and assessment usage for inclusive, supportive purposes that open access to participation, particularly for displaced and vulnerable groups of migrants.

We will open the symposium with a broad perspective on the contribution of security studies to uncover conflations of language testing with border security concerns. Two case studies will illustrate the intertwinedness of language tests and security concerns, a critical perspective that is much needed to better understand the contributions language testing research can make towards revealing, informing and influencing political agendas that may otherwise lead to inappropriate language test usage.

The second paper highlights the influence community activism can exert on national policies aiming at tightening security. A proposed change in Australia to tighten language requirements as prerequisite for citizenship tests was faced by severe community opposition. While the proposed changes allegedly served to promote integration and to tighten national security, a thematic analysis of data from a Senate Enquiry and ensuing presentations and debates revealed the potentially divisive impact of the proposed language testing policy and showed a high level of community awareness of issues such as fairness and equal access. This contribution illuminates the values underpinning community activism, and highlights the need for researchers to better understand such values, so that cases of inappropriate language test use can be counteracted.

The third contribution examines the role of the Council of Europe, the continent’s leading human rights organization, in its endeavor of supporting the linguistic integration of migrants. This paper shows how the Council and its language policy units can exert beneficial influence on theoretical aspects such as ethical recommendations for appropriate uses of the CEFR, as well as on practical aspects such as the development of a language evaluation toolkit for volunteers working with displaced vulnerable groups of migrants. The toolkit will be showcased, as will be a recommendation on ethical test use for policy makers by the Council’s Language Policy Unit.

Staying in the realm of linguistic integration, the final paper introduces two programs in Finland and Germany to prepare refugees for entering higher education. The two programs will be outlined in their language, content and assessment approaches, with a particular focus on inclusive test use. Furthermore, the paper will present first results from the evaluation research accompanying both programs in order to monitor whether the needs of this particular group of migrants are met.

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