Use of ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines and Issuing of Official ACTFL Tests


The purpose of this document is to describe the history of the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines, current, official ACTFL tests and the circumstances under which official ACTFL ratings can be assigned to test taker performances.

What is the history of the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines and Official ACTFL Tests?

In the late 1970s, ACTFL received a grant from IFLE, Title VI of the U.S. Department of Education to develop academically oriented proficiency guidelines instead of the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) Scale. The ILR scale was used in government contexts and lacked detail at the lower proficiency levels; moreover, the ILR scale uses numbers instead of names to describe proficiency levels. The resulting product was the provisional ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines (1982), which were extensively reviewed by the field until 1986, when they were no longer termed “provisional.” ACTFL also worked to develop the ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview (ACTFL OPI ®) and a professional development workshop (The ACTFL OPI Workshop®) to provide intensive professional development to language educators interested in learning how to apply the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines in a standardized interview.

The 1986 ACTFL Proficiency Guideline-Speaking included four major proficiency levels: Novice, Intermediate, Advanced and Superior. The Novice and Intermediate levels were further subdivided into Low, Mid and High levels. The Advanced Level was divided into Advanced and Advanced Mid, while Superior had no sublevel designations.

In addition to criteria for speaking, ACTFL also developed criteria for listening, reading and writing; these domains are known as the ACTFL Proficiency Guideline-Listening/Reading/Writing; collectively, the scale is known as The ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines.

In 1999, ACTFL substantially revised the Guidelines. In addition to other changes, the ACTFL Advanced level was subdivided into three sublevels: Low, Mid and High. ACTFL invested a great deal of resources into both revising the Guidelines and providing recalibration professional development for already certified and new testers and workshop facilitators to re-calibrate them to the new Guidelines. ACTFL partnered with Peace Corps to develop exemplary videotaped interviews to demonstrate the features of each level for exclusive use by ACTFL and Peace Corps. In 2012, ACTFL further revised the Guidelines to further align language across levels and domains. Moreover, the Distinguished level was added to describe language beyond the Superior level.

In 2022, ACTFL began the process of revising the Guidelines to increase accessibility of language, align the Guidelines with other ACTFL teaching and learning documents (such as the World Language Readiness Standards for Learning Languages, the NCSSFL/ACTFL Can-Do Statements and the ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners) and to even better articulate language across levels and domains. As of February 2023, that work is still ongoing and is anticipated to be completed in spring 2024.

Who can use the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines?

The ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines 2012 and any previous and subsequent versions may be used for non-profit, educational purposes only, provided that they are reproduced in their entirety, with no alterations, and with credit to ACTFL. Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the examples in any form is prohibited other than for non-profit, educational purposes. You may not, except with ACTFL's express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit any media content. In other words, language instructors and not-for profit school entities may use the Guidelines for curriculum development, classroom-based assessment and to estimate learner progress toward proficiency. No other uses are authorized.

Which organizations can assign official ACTFL Proficiency ratings?

Official ACTFL ratings can only be provided on official ACTFL proficiency tests administered via ACTFL’s exclusive licensee, Language Testing International with certified ACTFL raters. Any rating issued by another organization/entity that claims such rating to be an “ACTFL rating” is unofficial and not valid.

Why are official ACTFL tests so important?

In addition to being the sole owner of the Guidelines, ACTFL developed all official tests in accordance with the Guidelines and based on the expertise of ACTFL staff and certified ACTFL testers and facilitators. All ACTFL tests are designed to elicit or assess language consistent with ACTFL Proficiency levels based on decades of rigorous certification procedures and expertise. Therefore, no organizations except ACTFL, via Language Testing International, our exclusive licensee, can provide official ACTFL ratings. Only official ACTFL tests are aligned to the Guidelines, developed by ACTFL-certified experts, supported by ACTFL resources, and reflect best practices in proficiency-based assessment- tasks and test items that accurately elicit, assess and report official ACTFL scores. Some organizations may use concordance tables to show how their test results align with ACTFL Proficiency levels. These tables simply show how a learner on their test is predicted to perform on an official ACTFL test. They do not reflect an alignment to the Guidelines.