Australian Review of Applied Linguistics, Vol 35, No 3 (2012)

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A RATIONALE FOR ACKNOWLEDGING THE DIVERSITY OF LEARNER ACHIEVEMENTS IN LEARNING PARTICULAR LANGUAGES IN SCHOOL EDUCATION IN AUSTRALIA

Angela Scarino

Abstract


In school languages education in Australia at present there is an increasing diversity of languages and learners learning particular languages that results from a greater global movement of students. This diversity builds on a long-established profile of diversity that reflects the migration history of Australia. It stands in sharp contrast to the force of standardisation in education in general and in the history of the development of state and national frameworks for the learning of languages K-12 in Australia and indeed beyond. These frameworks have characteristically generalised across diverse languages, diverse learner groups and diverse program conditions, in particular, the amount of time made available for language learning. In addition, in the absence of empirical studies of learner achievements in learning particular languages over time, the development of such frameworks has drawn primarily on internationally available language proficiency descriptions [such as the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), the International Second Language Proficiency Rating Scale (ISLPR), and more recently the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR)] that were developed primarily to serve reporting and credentialing rather than learning purposes. 
Drawing on a description of the current context of linguistic and cultural diversity and on a brief characterisation of the history of curriculum and assessment framework development for the languages area, I provide a rationale for acknowledging in the development and use of frameworks (i.e. descriptions of achievements) the diversity of languages that comprise the languages learning area in Australia and, in particular, the diverse learner groups who come to their learning with diverse experiences of learning and using particular languages. The Student Achievement in Asian Languages Education (SAALE) study provides an example of the development of descriptions of achievement that are sensitive to these dimensions of context. I discuss the rationale for such context-sensitive descriptions in relation to their potential purposes and uses at the language policy and planning and educational systems level, at the teaching and learning level, and in ongoing research.

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