An Interview with Po-Hsi: CEO of Steering Committee for The Test of Proficiency-Huayu

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In honor of Chinese New Year, 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…

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They believed that the TOCFL test was needed as the test taker population of TOCFL consists of students and professionals in different fields. TOCFL test-takers will receive a certificate for each sub-test when they register for and pass. The TOCFL certificate can serve as evidence of their Chinese proficiency.

Overseas Chinese students can use their TOCFL certificate to apply for admission to a university in Taiwan through the University Entrance Committee for Overseas Chinese Students (UECOCS).

Additionally, international students can use their TOCFL certificate to apply for MOE Huayu Enrichment Scholarship or Taiwan Scholarship –two official scholarship programs offered by the government of Taiwan. Moreover, international students can show the TOCFL certificate to prove their Chinese proficiency level when applying for academic programs at colleges and universities in Taiwan. Taiwan has an outstanding higher education system that provides opportunities for international students to study a wide variety of subjects. In Taiwan, you will experience a vibrant, modern society rooted in one of the world’s most fascinating cultures and populated by some of the friendliest and most hospitable people on the planet. A great education can lead to a great future.

Importantly, overseas Chinese, international students, and professionals may obtain bonus points or favorable consideration in their application for work permit in Taiwan.

Of course, for those Chinese learners who have no plan to study or work abroad, the TOCFL test can also help them to monitor their learning progress, increase their confidence, inspire their motivation and boost their learning.

Let’s explore the reasons on why people learn Chinese as a second language. Learning Chinese doesn’t simply allow them to speak different words but to open their minds to and understand Chinese cultures. Learning Chinese is also a great way to connect with Taiwan and Mainland China. Those who do decide to learn Chinese, there are many rewards to be reaped, particularly when it comes to boosting individual job prospects

When people are learning Chinese, TOCFL (Chinese proficiency test) may become their sidekick in the language learning. Testing the skills is an important way to reflect on the learning process and improve the skills. Further, people could maintain a portfolio of their language performance, tracking improvement and progress toward the level of their goal.

For many students, the test is more than just a measure of their skills or of their progress, but it is also a graduation requirement. Students who need to learn a foreign language and take relevant courses during their study can take TOCFL and use the test report waive relevant Chinese language requirement in their country. TOCFL test reports have been recognized by many academic and official institutes worldwide. Here are several examples:

In British Columbia, Canada, students can earn external credentials by taking courses, programs or activities that fall outside the normal B.C. school curriculum. One of the examples is obtaining a TOCFL certificate. In other words, TOCFL is approved by MOE, British Columbia as external credentials.

On March 16th, 2018, the MOE of Vietnam announced that all the Vietnamese high school students need to take one of the following foreign languages. They are English, Russian, French, Chinese, German and Japan. And obtain valid language certificate, including TOCFL test, prior to graduation.

TOCFL is also recognized by the Educational Authority Accreditation Center for Foreign Language Examinations in Hungary. In addition, we hope to provide more test services for Chinese learners in the United States and make more efforts to get TOCFL to be known and recognized by schools, districts and educational institutions soon

In an increasingly globalized world, it is important to provide people the opportunity to showcase their bilingual abilities through tests like this one. We applaud TOCFL on their efforts in helping the world become a more bilingual place.

Angela Palmieri
Author: Angela Palmieri

Angela Palmieri is the founding teacher of a Spanish dual language immersion program in Glendale, California. She currently teaches sixth grade language immersion and has been an educator for eighteen years. She traveled to New Zealand on the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching in 2016 to research and document the cultural practices taught in Maōri-medium schools. Angela holds a Master’s degree in Educational Administration from the Principal Leadership Institute at UCLA, a Master’s degree in Reading and Language Education, as well as a Bachelor’s degree in Urban Learning Education from CSULA. Ms. Palmieri is currently a doctoral student in the Educational Leadership Program at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Ms. Palmieri was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, to Italian immigrant parents, and speaks Spanish and Italian fluently. She is a social justice-driven advocate for bilingual and indigenous language education and is an avid traveler. Angela travelled to China and Mongolia on a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad grant in June and July of 2018.

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