On the use of ilr standards for testing of kazakh language competence in reading comprehension


Different countries are interested in the study of Kazakh language. There are Kazakh language and culture centers in numerous countries all over the world e.g. the Russian Federation, the United States, Germany, Turkey, China, etc. There are centers, chairs, and departments under the guidance of large universities in our country where foreign students (Chinese, Turkish, English etc.) study. All above mentioned centers teach Kazakh language and do their best to help foreigners master it.

The ILR standard system used in the USA evaluates the Kazakh language proficiency level of English-speaking students.

This article is devoted to the ILR and its usage possibilities for testing Kazakh language competence of English speakers (Reading Comprehension) in comparison with the state evaluation system of Kazakh language level proficiency (КАZТЕSТ) which is used in the Republic of Kazakhstan.

The use of ILR standards for testing in international project ACTR/ACCELS

The one of interesting experiences involving the use of ILR standards was an international project titled « Six Languages Test Development Project Kikongo / Hausa / Yoruba / Kazakh / Uzbek / Tajik

» which is directed to various structured languages of Asia and Africa with comparably difficult traditions of scientific description and teaching experience.

The project is centered on the definition of language competence in the field of Novice auding (Novice-Low, Novice-Mid, Novice-High) and Intermediate (Intermediate-Low, Intermediate-Mid, Intermediate-High) levels. All test tasks were developed

according to ACTFL requirements: using of authentic texts, correct usage of distracters corresponding to different levels of language competence.

The test tasks on listening comprehension in Kazakh language were developed out by M. D. Lekic, D. Kh. Akanova (USA), E. D. Suleymenova,

D. A. Karagoishieva, Zh. Zh. Kuzembekova (Kazakhstan) and successfully passed approbation at the control of organized levels of listening skills of English speaking students learning Kazakh language in the USA.

Authentic texts on education and culture were chosen for developing test tasks, and the questions were asked according to the content. At the beginning levels, fact-based texts were used, and at higher levels texts with descriptions were used. Listening tasks helped to check the skills of Kazakh language mastery of foreign students.

National KAZTEST system

National center of state standards of education and testing of the Republic of Kazakhstan for realization of the «State program of the functionability and development of languages for 2001-2010» began its work on the creation of a domestic system, КАZТЕSТ, to evaluate the level of Kazakh language proficiency in 2006.

In spite of the fact that KAZTEST system takes into account the international systems of evaluation of language mastery levels (TOEFL Test of English as a Foreign Language, IELTS International English Language Tests System, DALF Diplome Approfondi de Langue Française, DELF Diplome d'Etudes en Langue Française, TORFL Test of Russian as a Foreign Language), it is primarily focused on evaluation of Kazakh language

mastery as native language; additionally, test tasks are written in Kazakh language; finally, the evaluation of Kazakh language mastery is not evaluated on the basis of a thoroughly developed definition of each level.

Comparison of level systems of language mastery in ILR and КАZТЕSТ

КАZТЕSТ names six levels of language mastery:

Beginner Elementary 


Upper Intermediate

 Advanced Advanced

The following proficiency level descriptions characterize comprehension of the written language in ILR standarts. Each of the six "base levels" implies control of any previous "base level's" functions and accuracy. The "plus level" designation will be assigned when proficiency substantially exceeds one base skill level and does not fully meet the criteria for the next "base level."

The "plus level" descriptions are therefore supplementary to the "base level" descriptions. Each of the ILR levels and sublevels, unlike in КАZТЕSТ, is supplied by thoroughly developed criteria corresponding to ILR standards, for example the defining of language competence level at reading the following criteria are used:

Reading 0 (No Proficiency)

No practical ability to read the language. Consistently misunderstands or cannot comprehend at all.

Reading 0+ (Memorized Proficiency)

R-1: Reading 1 (Elementary Proficiency)

R-1+: Reading 1+ (Elementary Proficiency, Plus)

R-2: Reading 2 (Limited Working Proficiency)

R-0+: Reading 0+ (Memorized Proficiency) Can recognize all the letters in the printed version of an alphabetic system and high-frequency elements of a syllabary or a character system. Able to read some or all of the following: numbers, isolated words and phrases, personal and place names, street signs, office and shop designations. The above often interpreted inaccurately. Unable to read connected prose.

Sufficient comprehension to read very simple connected written material in a form equivalent to usual printing or typescript. Can read either representations of familiar formulaic verbal exchanges or simple language containing only the highest frequency structural patterns and vocabulary, including shared international vocabulary items and cognates (when appropriate). Able to read and understand known language elements that have been recombined in new ways to achieve different meanings at a similar level of simplicity. Texts may include descriptions of persons, places or things: and explanations of geography and government such as those simplified for tourists.

Sufficient comprehension to understand simple discourse in printed form for informative social purposes. Can read material such as announcements of public events, simple prose containing biographical information or narration of events, and straightforward newspaper headlines. Can guess at unfamiliar vocabulary if highly contextualized, but with difficulty in unfamiliar contexts. Can get some main ideas and locate routine information of professional significance in more complex texts. Can follow essential points of written discussion at an elementary level on topics in his/her special professional field. In commonly taught languages, the individual may not control the structure well.

Sufficient comprehension to read simple, authentic written material in a form equivalent to usual printing or typescript on subjects within a familiar context. Able to read with some misunderstandings straightforward, familiar, factual material, but in general insufficiently experienced with the language to draw inferences directly from the linguistic aspects of the text. Can locate and understand the main ideas and details in material written for the general reader. However, persons who have professional knowledge of a subject may be able to summarize or perform sorting and locating tasks with written texts that are well beyond their general proficiency level. The individual can read uncomplicated, but

R-2+: Reading 2+ (Limited Working Proficiency, Plus)

authentic prose on familiar subjects that are normally presented in a predictable sequence which aids the reader in understanding. Texts may include descriptions and narrations in contexts such as news items describing frequently occurring events, simple biographical information, social notices, formulaic business letters, and simple technical material written for the general reader. Generally the prose that can be read by the individual is predominantly in straightforward/highfrequency sentence patterns. The individual does not have a broad active vocabulary (that is, which he/she recognizes immediately on sight), but is able to use contextual and real-world cues to understand the text. Characteristically, however, the individual is quite slow in performing such a process. Is typically able to answer factual questions about authentic texts of the types described above.

Sufficient comprehension to understand most factual material in non-technical prose as well as some discussions on concrete topics related to special professional interests. Is markedly more proficient at reading materials on a familiar topic. Is able to separate the main ideas and details from lesser ones and uses that distinction to advance understanding. The individual is able to use linguistic context and real-world knowledge to make sensible guesses about unfamiliar material. Has a broad active reading vocabulary. The individual is able to get the gist of main and subsidiary ideas in texts which could only be read thoroughly by persons with much higher proficiencies. Weaknesses include slowness, uncertainty, inability to discern nuance and/or intentionally disguised meaning.

R-3+: Reading 3+ (General Professional Proficiency, Plus)

R-3: Reading 3 (General Professional Proficiency)

Can comprehend a variety of styles and forms pertinent to professional needs. Rarely misinterprets such texts or rarely experiences difficulty relating ideas or making inferences. Able to comprehend many sociolinguistic and cultural references. However, may miss some nuances and subtleties. Able to comprehend a considerable range of intentionally complex structures, low frequency idioms, and uncommon connotative intentions, however, accuracy is not complete. The individual is typically able to read with facility, understand, and appreciate contemporary expository, technical or literary texts which do not rely heavily on slang and unusual items.

Able to read within a normal range of speed and with almost complete comprehension a variety of authentic prose material on unfamiliar subjects. Reading ability is not dependent on subject matter knowledge, although it is not expected that the individual can comprehend thoroughly subject matter which is highly dependent on cultural knowledge or which is outside his/her general experience and not accompanied by explanation. Text-types include news stories similar to wire service reports or international news items in major periodicals, routine correspondence, general reports, and technical material in his/her professional field; all of these may include hypothesis, argumentation and supported opinions. Misreading rare. Almost always able to interpret material correctly, relate ideas and "read between the lines," (that is, understand the writers' implicit intents in text of the above types). Can get the gist of more sophisticated texts, but may be unable to detect or understand subtlety and nuance. Rarely has to pause over or reread general vocabulary.

R-4: Reading 4 (Advanced Professional Proficiency)

Able to read fluently and accurately all styles and forms of the language pertinent to professional needs. The individual's experience with the written language is extensive enough that he/she is able to relate inferences in the text to real-world knowledge and understand almost all sociolinguistic and cultural references. Able to "read beyond the lines" (that is, to understand the full ramifications of texts as they are situated in the wider cultural, political, or social environment). Able to read and understand the intent of writers' use of nuance and subtlety. The individual can discern relationships among sophisticated written materials in the context of broad experience. Can follow unpredictable turns of thought readily in,

R-4+: Reading 4+ (Advanced Professional Proficiency, Plus)

for example, editorial, conjectural, and literary texts in any subject matter area directed to the general reader. Can read essentially all materials in his/her special field, including official and professional documents and correspondence. Recognizes all professionally relevant vocabulary known to the educated nonprofessional native, although may have some difficulty with slang.

Nearly native ability to read and understand extremely difficult or abstract prose, a very wide variety of vocabulary, idioms, colloquialisms and slang. Strong sensitivity to and understanding of sociolinguistic and cultural references. Little difficulty in reading less than fully legible handwriting. Broad ability to "read beyond the lines" (that is, to understand the full ramifications of texts as they are situated in the wider cultural, political, or social environment) is nearly that of a well-read or well-educated native reader. Accuracy is close to that of the welleducated native reader, but not equivalent.

R-5: Reading 5 (Functionally Native Proficiency)

Reading proficiency is functionally equivalent to that of the well-educated native reader. Can read extremely difficult and abstract prose; for example, general legal and technical as well as highly colloquial writings. Able to read literary texts, typically including contemporary avant-garde prose, poetry and theatrical writing. Can read classical/archaic forms of literature with the same degree of facility as the well-educated, but non-specialist native. Reads and understands a wide variety of vocabulary and idioms, colloquialisms, slang, and pertinent cultural references. With varying degrees of difficulty, can read all kinds of handwritten documents. Accuracy of comprehension is equivalent to that of a well-educated native reader.

The use of ILR standard for development of test tasks at evaluation of Kazakh language competence (Reading Comprehension)

The development process of test tasks begins with the consideration of basic aims for what results of tests will be used. Our task is following ILR system to develop test tasks on Kazakh language for English speakers on the subtest of reading. As the reading represents difficult speech skill its testing considers the differentiated control of a number of separate elementary skills characteristic for reading, and also their complex combinations.

Test tasks to evaluate the Kazakh language competence in reading comprehension are aimed at checking comprehension of the contents of a specific item, and the perception and understanding of the language material (The form, meaning and functions of separate language units). On the basis of gained results the level of language competence reading comprehension is defined.

It is important to note that in the KAZTEST system for the defining of reading competence level, every tested student reads texts and implements test tasks of different levels. ILR system covers test tasks according to fixed criteria of each level. Test tasks are strictly focused on descriptors of all levels, texts and questions correspond to these levels.

We have worked out test tasks for English speakers of Kazakh using ILR standards and their approbation in the USA is planned in the near future.

According to ILR standards, evaluation and defining the level of Kazakh language competence in reading comprehension, we pay special attention to how adequately and fully the tested individual uses his or her own language and speech skills.


Today it is necessary to create a new standard of testing and development of newer test tasks for checking the Kazakh proficiency level of foreigners. The interest in Kazakh language grows daily all over the world thanks to the language policy followed by our state. Modern test systems for evaluation of Kazakh language which are focused on native Kazakh speakers are unfortunately not competent in defining the level of language mastery of foreigners. The adaptation of ILR standards for testing Kazakh language competence will help to solve existing problems of determining the language knowledge of English speakers.

Magazine: KazNU BULLETIN
Year: 2011
City: Almaty
Category: Philology