Education and Languages, Language Policy

The CEFR and language examinations: a toolkit

The CEFR has had a particular influence on language assessment. The following tools are available to assessment providers and other practitioners with an interest in language testing: 

Manual for relating Language Examinations to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)

The primary aim of this Manual is to help the providers of examinations to develop, apply and report transparent, practical procedures in a cumulative process of continuing improvement in order to situate their examination(s) in relation to the CEFR.

Download the manual     

The Manual aims to:

  • contribute to competence building in the area of linking assessments to the CEFR;
  • encourage increased transparency on the part of examination providers;
  • encourage the development of both formal and informal national and international networks of institutions and experts

Forms for detailed analysis of examinations or tests (27 pages)

As indicated in chapter 4 (point 4.3.1.) of the Manual, forms and related tables are provided for each of the Communicative Language Activities (CEFR Chapter 4) and for the Aspects of Communicative Language Competence (CEFR Chapter 5). The forms are tools to provide a detailed analysis of the examination or test in question and to relate that examination/test to the relevant subscales of the CEFR. In most of the forms, a short description, reference and/or justification is asked for.

Whilst making these forms freely available, the Language Policy Division recalls that it is not the role of the Council of Europe to verify and validate the quality of the link between language examinations and the CEFR's proficiency levels and that the member states are responsible for guaranteeing the quality and fairness of testing and assessment on the basis of the guidelines issued by the Council of Europe: rather than vis--vis the Council of Europe, it is towards one's own learners and one's European partners that one has a responsibility for making coherent, realistic use of the CEFR.

(about this: see point II.33 of the Report on the Forum concerning the use of the CEFR)

The Manual is accompanied by Further Material on Maintaining Standards across Languages, Contexts and Administrations by exploiting Teacher Judgment and IRT Scaling.

Reference Supplement to the Manual for Relating Language examinations to the CEFR

This Reference Supplement accompanies the Manual for “Relating Language Examinations to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (CEFR)”. Its aim is to provide the users of the Manual with additional information which will help them in their efforts to relate their certificates and diplomas to the CEFR.

It contains three main components: quantitative and qualitative considerations in relating certificates and diplomas to the CEFR and different approaches in standard setting.

The text of the supplement is available in PDF format and can be downloaded as separate sections: 

  • Overview and Introduction: Table of contents, Foreword by Sauli Takala (2009) and Section A, an overview of the linkage process  
  • Section B: Standard Setting by Felianka Kaftandjieva
  • Section C: Classical Test Theory by Norman Verhelst
  • Section D: Qualitative Analysis Methods by Jayanti Banerjee
  • Section E: Generalisability Theory by Norman Verhelst
  • Section F: Factor Analysis by Norman Verhelst
  • Section G: Item Response Theory by Norman Verhelst
  • Section H: Many-Facet Rasch Measurement by Thomas Eckes
  • Section I: Cito variation on the bookmark method by Frank van der Schoot

Manual for Language Test Development and Examining produced by ALTE on behalf of the Language Policy Unit of the Council of Europe

The Manual for Language Test Development and Examining is designed to be complementary to the Manual for Relating language examinations to the CEFR; it focuses on aspects of test development and examining which were not covered in that Manual. It is, in fact, a revised version of an earlier Council of Europe document originally known as a Users’ Guide for Examiners (1996), which was one of several Users’ Guides commissioned by the Council of Europe to accompany the first draft of the CEFR in 1996/7. This Manual has also been translated into German and into Basque.

ALTE was responsible for producing the original version. Over the past decade or so, developments in validity theory and the growing use and influence of the CEFR have highlighted the need for a thorough updating of the document. ALTE was pleased to have been invited again to coordinate these revisions in 2009/10 and many individual ALTE members and affiliates have contributed to the process.

Illustrations of the European levels of language proficiency

In order to ensure that the reference levels set out in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) are interpreted in the same way by all language professionals, the Language Policy Unit is developing material illustrating these levels in a number of languages.

A number of DVDs showing oral performances illustrating the six levels in various languages are available and others are online. Some examples of written performance are available on line and more will follow. Items and tasks for testing reading and listening comprehension skills in several languages at all six levels are available on CD-ROM.

A number of assessment bodies working in various contexts and on different languages are helping to develop this material.

Information and details on available material : www.coe.int/portfolio

Content analysis grids for speaking, writing, listening and reading materials:

Research perspectives:

A Research Colloquium was planned to maximise the opportunities to share and discuss research findings and the challenges encountered in the efforts to link language examinations to the CEFR, including standard setting, one of the most complex and controversial topics in psychometrics.

Cito, the Institute for Educational Measurement in the Netherlands, sponsored the organisation of a colloquium on Standard Setting Research and its Relevance to the CEFR, which took place in the frame of the annual EALTA conference in Athens in May 2008. The publication of the proceedings of the colloquium was also kindly offered by CITO.

Reference Level Descriptions (RLD) for national and regional languages

The CEFR is based on all these achievements and has developed a description of the process of mastering an unknown language by type of competence and sub-competence, using descriptors for each competence or sub-competence, on which we shall not go into further detail here. These descriptors were created without reference to any specific language, which guarantees their relevance and across-the-board applicability. The descriptors specify progressive mastery of each skill, which is graded on a six-level scale (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2). However, for operators, textbook authors and teachers, the specification set out in the CEFR may appear excessively broad. Work began on drafting CEFR specifications language by language. This new generation of reference descriptions is based on the CEFR level descriptors: it is a case of identifying the forms of a given language (words, grammar, etc), mastery of which corresponds to the communicational, socio-linguistic, formal and other competences defined by the CEFR. These transpositions of the CEFR into a given language are known as Reference Level Descriptions (RLDs) for national and regional languages.