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Spotlight on... China's Standards of English Language Ability (CSE)
Friday 14th April 2023

In the fifth of the BAAL TEASIG webinar series, we discussed aligning language tests to the Chinese Standards of English Language Ability (CSE).


The CSE is a Standards document for the Chinese context, similar to other Standards documents such as those of the American Council on Teaching English as a Foreign Language (ACTFL), the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB), and the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR).


These documents provide frameworks for the development of assessments for specific purposes and the harmonization of educational systems. Mapping assessments to these frameworks has become a core part of developing test validation arguments. As a result, substantial guidance is available to assist developers to undertake alignment activities.


One such example is the volume Relating Language Examinations to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, A Manual (Council of Europe, 2009). The Manual outlines a four-stage alignment process: familiarisation, specification, standardisation and standard setting (also known as empirical validation).


This four-stage process has now come to be used with other standards frameworks, such as the CSE. Our speakers provided practical examples and discussed their experience of aligning a test to the CSE using this process.

Invited speakers
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A practical introduction to China’s Standards of English Language Ability"

China’s Standards of English Language Ability (CSE) is a national framework, published in 2018, that sets out to define levels of English ability for learners and users in the Chinese context. This talk introduces some of its features based on practical experience from a project carried out by researchers at Lancaster University. The project sought to align an English-language test suite – the Trinity College London Graded Examinations in Spoken English (GESE) – with the framework. The talk draws on the project's specification phase, in which descriptors from the CSE were linked to GESE test specifications. I use the oral/aural communicative focus of the test to illustrate aspects of the CSE, and I consider what was learned about the framework given the perspective of the project. 

Aligning exams with China’s Standards of English: lessons learned on processes, content, and practical application"


According to the National Educational Exams Authority (NEEA), the aim of the CSE is “to provide a set of transparent and consistent standards of English proficiency to enhance the communication between English teaching, learning and assessment, and to enrich the existing body of language proficiency scales for alignment initiatives on a global basis in the future.” While the CSE was released after an extensive 4-year development project starting in 2014, it did not appear in a vacuum, and as the developers state in addition to driving language education reform in China, is meant to inform global discussions of proficiency frameworks.

This talk draws on the experience of the presenters of carrying out a  series of alignment studies to determine if and how two international English language proficiency tests could show relevance to the CSE for the purposes of enhancing meaningfulness and relevance of reporting for local test users. The talk does not go into detail on the results of the alignment of the tests themselves (for details see Dunlea et al, 2019 ). Instead we focus on some broader areas of interest and principles in relation to the design of the CSE itself, and into the role and method of alignment of exams to standards.

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