This article describes how language policy is formed at a European level, focusing on the Common European Framework of Reference for Language (CEFR). The CEFR's prominent role in assessment has led to criticisms of its adequacy as a model for learning and fears that it is being used as an instrument of centralization and harmonization. First, we argue for studying the CEFR's effect on language policy as a case of impact, as this concept is understood within language assessment. We refer to experience with Asset Languages, developed as part of the United Kingdom's national languages strategy. Second, we agree with many commentators who insist on the framework's “flexible and context-amenable” nature. If use of the CEFR is made prescriptive and closed, it indeed becomes a straitjacket. What is needed is engagement with the complexity of specific contexts. We introduce the European Survey on Language Competences, a European Union (EU) initiative scheduled for 2011, which will further raise the profile of the CEFR as an assessment framework. This project should contribute to achieving comparability of measures and standards across languages. At the same time it underlines the need to develop contextualized, practical ways of realizing the CEFR's potential as a framework for teaching and learning.
Neil Jones is assistant director, Cambridge ESOL Research and Validation. He joined Cambridge ESOL in the 1990s, with a PhD from the University of Edinburgh on the application of item response theory, which he put to good use developing analysis systems and areas of innovation including item banking and computer-adaptive testing. His current interests focus on the intersection of assessment and learning, particularly in relation to the construction and use of language proficiency frameworks. These include Asset Languages, a multilingual assessment scheme developed as part of the United Kingdom's national languages strategy, and the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. He is vice director of SurveyLang, a consortium currently working to deliver the European Survey on Language Competences.
Contact information: Neil.Jones@surveylang.org
Nick Saville is director of Research and Validation at Cambridge ESOL, where he has worked since 1989 after posts at the University of Cagliari in Italy and in Japan. He has been the representative of Cambridge ESOL in Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) since it was established in 1990, and he has had close involvement with the Council of Europe and European initiatives involving the CEFR, Reference Level Descriptions for English (the English Profile Programme) and the assessment of languages for migration and social cohesion. His current research interests include corpus-based research within the English Profile Programme and impact research related to the examinations of Cambridge ESOL. In his thesis he has developed a model for investigating the impact of language assessment within educational contexts by providers of public examination. He is associate editor of Language Assessment Quarterly.
Contact information: Saville.N@cambridgeesol.org