Avant SHL Test Section Descriptions

Avant SHL Docs

Self Assessment

Test takers answer a series of CanDo statements in the five modes of Communication:

  • Interpersonal (Person-to-Person)
  • Presentational Speaking (Spoken Production)
  • Presentational Writing (Written Production)
  • Interpretive Listening
  • Interpretive Reading

The self-assessment results are presented in the report to provide additional insights into the individual student’s language profile, but are not included in the scoring.

Lexical Recognition

Test takers are presented with 100 words and asked if they know the meaning of each word. If they check a real word they get a point credit. If they check a pseudo word they lose a point. They are not penalized if they say they do not know a word.

This section is used to measure a student’s vocabulary knowledge, which has been demonstrated in research to be a good indicator of overall proficiency. The section is based on A Frequency Dictionary of Spanish: Core Vocabulary for Learners (Davies 2006), which lists the five thousand most frequent words in Spanish. The words are selected to represent general Spanish vocabulary that is used across the spectrum of Spanish dialects. It includes both real words and pseudo words to control for guessing.

After this section test takers who have not scored at a high enough level are exited.

Dictation

In this section, students fill in the blanks in a single sentence as they listen to the sentence being read.

Correct spelling in Spanish constitutes a major challenge for heritage learners, especially for those at the lower levels of the language proficiency continuum, since most of their schooling has been in English. Research indicates that dictation can be a powerful learning tool for heritage learners, because there is a great gap between their speaking and writing proficiencies (e.g., Campbell and Rosenthal 2000; Colombi 1997; Peyton, Lewelling, and Winke 2001).

The dictation section in this test is based on an analysis of the errors made by heritage learners from the spelling sections of initial paper-and-pencil version of the test, which in turn had been selected from common mistakes in students’ compositions at the University of Houston. The paper-and-pencil test showed a high percentage of spelling mistakes. To measure spelling accuracy, a dictation section was created by using the best items from the paper-and-pencil test.

Partial Translation

In this section students select the best option from a list of three Spanish translations of an English sentence that would be clearly understood by a Spanish speaker who does not speak English.

Research in the area of Heritage Spanish in the United States indicates that one common tendency among its speakers is code mixing, which can be observed in the frequent appearance of loans, calques (a word or phrase borrowed from another language), etc. in their speech (e.g., Lipski 1985; Muysken 1995;Romaine 1995; Sankoff and Poplack 1981; Silva-Corvalán 1994; Toribio 2001).

This section of the test includes some of the most common anglicisms and dialectal forms, such as aplicación (solicitud), carpeta (alfombra), hacer una decisión (toma una decisión), and biles (cuentas), which are listed in the textbooks and very often found in students’ oral and written production. The translation section was created to observe if students were familiar with the general forms of Spanish in addition to the expressions commonly found in US Spanish.

Sentence Completion

In this multiple-choice cloze section, students choose the Spanish phrase out of three options that best completes a Spanish sentence. The missing word or expression corresponds to twenty five problematic items that were selected based on (1) pertinent research on SHL (e.g., Colombi 2002; Lipski 1993; Martínez 2007; Sanz 2000), (2) compositions written by University of Houston students, and (3) the presence of the items in current SHL textbooks.

The analysis of the initial paper-and-pencil test identified these items proved to be the clearest indicators for discriminating between the levels:

  • Definite articles, indefinite articles, and contractions (in obligatory contexts, omissions, and exceptions)
  • Plural forms (regular, irregular, and exceptions)
  • Regular and irregular forms of the gerund
  • Use of gustar and similar verbs
  • Direct and indirect object pronouns
  • Uses of the personal a
  • Prepositions

Verb Conjugation

In this two-part section, students type in the blanks with the appropriate form of the verb in parenthesis to complete the stories presented. The first Verb section focuses on the simple tenses, including present, preterit, imperfect, conditional, and simple future in both subjunctive and indicative moods. This section also includes regular and irregular verbs (stem change and spelling change).

The second Verb section includes the past perfect, pluperfect subjunctive, and conditional perfect tenses.

Research on US Spanish indicates that one common feature among heritage speakers is a tendency to simplify the Spanish verbal system (e.g., Bernal-Henríquez and Hernández Chávez 2003; Fairclough 2005; Gutiérrez 1996, 1997; Merino 1983; Silva-Corvalán 1994).

After this section test takers who have not scored at a high enough level are exited.

Speaking & Writing

Students who have reached this level have demonstrated a high level of proficiency. They will listen to a passage about a current news topic at the Advanced level. They will produce a spoken response into a microphone to an Advanced level question about the passage. Their response will be sent to Avant servers for scoring by certified raters. The rubric used will be a proficiency-based rubric that incorporates elements that are specific to heritage Spanish speakers in order to differentiate between the top two levels of students.

After the speaking section students will read a passage about a current news topic at the Advanced level and write their response to an Advanced level question using the keyboard. Their response will be sent to Avant servers for scoring by certified raters. The rubric used will be a proficiency-based rubric that incorporates elements that are specific to heritage Spanish speakers in order to differentiate between the top two levels of students.

Updated July 2016

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