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Published March 16, 2009

The On-line ESL Placement Test (TCALS)

The TCALS98 test for placing students according to their abilities in English has become widely used throughout the province, but more and more out-of-synch with current technology. A booklet graded using optical scanning equipment, the test wasted administrative manpower and student time.

With the goal of enabling on-line testing, MELS (le ministère de l'Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport) published a call for projects with the title 'Modernisation du test de classement en anglais langue seconde' on August 26, 2008. CCDMD made a proposal which was accepted by MELS on October 14, 2008. As a result, a team of teachers and educational technologists, with the goal of producing an adaptive test that can be easily updated from one year to the next, will have a three-year mandate to renew TCALS 98.

TCALS 98 - An Online Version for March 2009

An on-line version of the current TCALS98 using the platform that produced Netquiz Pro and NetSondage will be programmed using PHP code and a MySQL database. As both the code and database are shareware, there will be no additional fees for their use. Quebec college network schools will be able to use the site http://www.tcals.ca (available as of March 20) to access the test, avoiding the problems involved in managing the test on their own server.

This first version on the web will produce secure and confidential test results. The platform will allow an easy and secure transfer of data to college servers for purposes of course placement and record-keeping. Students should be able to access their test using the same password as they have for their student accounts.

Results will be accessed by a password-protected web-based content management system. A test administrator will be able to transfer results to student folders directly. In a future version of the test, this operation will be completely automatic. For this to occur, a common key must be found to enable entry into the varied academic management software systems in use across Quebec. A possible solution would be to develop TCALS 2010 to be SCORM compliant.

TCALS 2010 - Adaptive Placement

A psychometric expert will be working with CCDMD to design an algorithm which will allow rapid student placement without every student answering each question. The test will present questions to students based on the validity of their prior answers.

Such an adaptive test will allow easier validation of new items for future years. A student classed in level 2 after 25 questions would be asked to respond to additional questions to validate the appropriateness of the questions for that level at a future date.

The production of an adaptive TCALS is scheduled for the second year of development. A test which changes about a quarter of its content annually, in effect, completely changing all questions every four years will result.

The list below illustrates project stages and their target dates:

Production Schedule
Project Stages Target Date
Pedagogical and programming production team meeting to establish production schedule November 2008
College network needs assessment of the and financing study January 2009
Programming current version of TCALS 98 Late March or Early April 2009
Algorithm development for item adaptability and renewal testing June 2009
New version production with the necessary characteristics for adaptability and renewal March 2010
New item production and sound recording (50% of items) March 2010
New item production and sound recording (25% of items) March 2011
New item production and sound recording (25% of items) March 2012

Network Participation and External Financing

MELS and CCDMD will undertake the initial development of TCALS programming. Currently, approximately 20 schools use TCALS. If offered to the entire college network, this number could increase given the lure of the new online feature and the adaptive placement of students in 2010 version. Future financing could be negotiated with colleges using the test on a fee-per-student-tested basis to cover development and maintenance costs over the long term.

Ongoing modernization is the real challenge of TCALS. This is an opportunity make this test adaptive in such a way that it remains psychometrically accurate, allowing English as a Second Language Departments to reduce testing cost in favour of the tools, resources and attention necessary for English mastery.

Share your opinions on this important development with your colleagues.

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