The Theory of Information as a Testing Technique to Determine Spanish Reading Proficiency
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KeywordSpanish Language Instruction
Spanish Language Assessment
Foreign Language Acquisition
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AbstractThe purpose of this study was to expand on previously-limited investigations into the use of information theory as a Spanish language assessment technique, within an English-speaking setting, by providing a larger data base and employing a wider variety of reading passages. A further purpose was to attempt the development of a Spanish reading proficiency test that could be used in the classroom to provide a broad picture of a student's ability to comprehend reading material at or near his/her level of language learning. At no time was this study an attempt to analyze specific strengths or weaknesses in a student’s reading ability or to debate the usefulness of any existing Spanish language reading proficiency tests. At the time of this study, Sandra Kukuvka was a first grade teacher at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School #9 in Rochester, New York, working in a Spanish dominant bilingual setting. Jean Hurst was teaching English-speaking students in a second grade Primary Approach to Language (Spanish exposure) program at Abelard Reynolds School #42 in the same district. Both of these educators felt that a limited number of Spanish language assessment tools existed and were, together, informally investigating alternative techniques. As a result of this preliminary search, they discovered previous theses written by Eliza Bennette-Kinkead and Ivette Robles that suggested the diagnostic theory of information (a mathematical based theory of language transmission) as a potential important language assessment tool. Further investigation into the research done by Bennette-Kinkead and Robles revealed that minimal work had been published on this application of the theory. This latter discovery prompted the authors of the current study to further expand upon the previous investigations in the hopes of transforming the theory into a more developed, practical testing tool. With regard to a student's comprehension ability, both authors felt that consistency in genre and readability within the passages chosen for the tool would eliminate variables that might otherwise interfere with such comprehension, i.e., literary and poetry style, rhyme and rhythm, technical jargon, etc. With the intent to control variables for the sake of reliability, these researchers chose 6 short (1 and 2 paragraphs), non-fiction passages from published first-grade reading and science textbooks around which to develop their assessment tool. With the variables of genre limited, interference could be somewhat controlled and emphasis could, therefore, be placed on the percentage of bits deleted in attempting to target a passage to a specific reading level. The authors also agreed that creating 2 passages targeted for the beginning Spanish reader, 2 for the intermediate, and 2 for the advanced would serve to verify the level at which an individual is reading consistently. The final battery of tests, then, consisted of 2 passages with approximately 10% of the information missing from both, 2 passages with approximately 18% of the information missing, and 2 passages with approximately 29% of the information missing. The objective of the test was for the subjects to record missing letters in a given passage within a period of 45 minutes. Once the battery of tests had been completed, the authors asked students from 4 Spanish classes at the State University of New York College at Brockport, to complete the passages. The first class was identified by course number as an Intermediate I class and was composed of 9 students. The second class was identified as an Advanced Conversation and Composition class and was composed of 10 students. The third group, a beginning Spanish class, contained 14 students. The final class was identified as an Advanced Grammar course and contained 15 students. The authors felt that targeting students known to be working at the beginning, intermediate, or advanced levels, would provide evidence as to the validity of their tool. With this in mind, the authors hoped to obtain test results from beginning students that showed a steep downward trend as they progressed from one set of tests to another. They hoped that results from the intermediate students would show minimal change when progressing from the first set of tests to the second and an obvious downward trend from the second set to the third. Finally, they hoped that students working at an advanced level in Spanish reading would show minimal change when progressing through the three sets.