Dual Language SchoolsAn Interview with Po-Hsi: CEO of Steering Committee for The Test of Proficiency-Huayu


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In honor of Chinese New Year, DualLanguageSchools.org is focusing on the success of Mandarin Dual Language Programs. To accomplish this effectively, it is important to acknowledge the incredible success of the TOCFL Test of Proficiency. To learn more about this, we spoke with Po-Hsi Chen, the CEO of the SC-TOP (Steering Committee for the Test of Proficiency-Huayu). Chen is a professor in the department of Educational Psychology and Counseling at National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU). His research expertise is in several areas: Measurement and Testing, Statistics, Computerized Adaptive Test, and has over 20 years of experience in the fields mentioned.

Since the Ministry of Education of ROC entrusted NTNU to establish the SC-TOP in November 2005, the SC-TOP has always been headed by professor of NTNU and Chen was assigned to take over the SC-TOP in 2011, to achieve the missions, but especially to facilitate the development of TOCFL CAT.

TOCFL stands for Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language. TOCFL, as its name suggests, is a set of standardized Chinese language proficiency tests developed for non-native speakers. The origin of the test dates to 2003. SC-TOP began developing the current version of TOCFL in 2008 and it has more than fifteen years of holding tests in the world.

TOCFL is divided into four sub-tests: TOCFL Listening, TOCFL Reading, TOCFL Speaking, and TOCFL Writing. TOCFL is aligned to CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference) that organizes language proficiency in three bands and six levels. In order to meet the actual Chinese teaching situations overseas, however, SC-TOP developed a preliminary band: The Band Novice, which means the overall organization of four bands and eight levels. Four bands include: Band Novice, Band A, Band B, and Band C. Each band is further divided into two levels making a total of eight levels: Novice 1, Novice 2, and Level 1 to Level 6. Test-takers can choose the band that best suits their Chinese language proficiency and learning background for each band of sub-test they want to take

Every year almost 50 thousand candidates take the test worldwide. TOCFL score is widely accepted and used by universities and institutions in different countries worldwide for various purposes (e.g., school admission). Additionally, government agencies, scholarship programs, and licensing agencies use TOCFL scores to select the qualified candidates based on their Chinese proficiency.

The purpose of the TOCFL test is to evaluate the potential success of an individual whose native language is not Chinese. TOCFL can serve the following purposes: (1) For Chinese learners: Via the test, they can understand their Chinese proficiency level, which will boost their confidence in the language and encourage them to challenge themselves. (2) For Chinese teachers: It is an opportunity to understand the learning outcome of their students. Teachers can then examine their teaching methods and modify future instruction.

We can say that anyone who wants to know their Chinese proficiency level, and anyone who wants to study, work, or do business in Chinese-speaking countries or contexts is welcome to take the TOCFL.

When we asked Mr. Chen how he sees TOCFL making a difference, he responded with:

TOCFL is a standardized language proficiency test; the validity and reliability of the test have been validated using stringent psychometric theories and methods. We keep expanding the repertoire of the test items and validating the quality of all the test items using pilot tests and checking various psychometric features. I would like to say that the quality of TOCFL is one that allows us to stand out from other competing tests

Secondary, TOCFL results are presented in the form of scale scores which is based on the Rasch model of item response theory. The scale score is the result of a mathematical equation comprised of the difficulty index of the test items and the likelihood of the response pattern that candidates demonstrated. Compared with the raw score (the number of test items answered correctly), the scale score is more objective since it is not affected by the different test item difficulty levels of each test.

Additionally, TOCFL provides test takers with a score report, shown a clear rubric and performance descriptors that allow test takers to easily interpret the results (what they can do with the attained language proficiency) in corresponding relationship with CEFR and ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines.

At last, I would like to talk more about the TOCFL CAT (Computerized Adaptive Test), which has been launched since 2016. TOCFL CAT employs Rasch model of item response theory, which is the same as used in GRE, GMAT, and BULATS. The test taker does not need to choose testing level or band when register for the test. The computer will judge the test taker's response to each test item and use that as the basis to estimate their abilities and select the subsequent items. Compared to other test formats, CAT takes less test items to precisely evaluate the test takers' competence, as the item selection is adapted to them

Continue reading to learn more about the success of TOCFL...