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2017 Conference - Test construct in policy and public perception
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Language tests are often employed as social sorting mechanisms for purposes such as migration or professional registration. As such, they are standards: mechanisms which make society orderly (Busch, 2011; Lampland & Star, 2009). People who make decisions using test-based classifications trust that the test and its fundamental sorting mechanism, the construct, is sorting meaningfully in relation to a primary concern, such as the ability to participate effectively and safely in the workforce. This paper explores test construct as it is construed by test users at policy and public perception levels. Two data sources are used: interviews with members of the six professional registration bodies for the Australian accounting, engineering, medical and nursing professions and a corpus of texts from inquiries into language standards for doctors undertaken by authorities in Australia and the UK. Through thematic analysis of the interviews and a corpus-assisted analysis of the use of language-related terms in inquiry submissions and reports, we explore the meanings of test constructs as they are represented to (in inquiry submissions) and by (in interviews and reports) policy makers. We discuss how language test standards operate differently for different professions; a test standard might act as a first filter in the registration process for one profession, but a later stage check for another. Findings are revealing about the social and professional responsibility carried by the test construct and the various meanings the construct may have to different groups of users. Through bringing together diverse professional perspectives, we explore the development of these meanings whereby a test construct is subject to the dynamics of the social worlds it sorts for: it may be in process of becoming necessary at a professional gateway or it may be well-established but subject to shifting socioeconomic and professional demands.
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