LTRC Report: Setting Empirical Standards on the Diagnostic English Language Needs Assessment
The LTRC has recently published a report by Knoch, U. & Frost, K. titled “Setting Empirical Standards on the Diagnostic English Language Needs Assessment (DELA)”
The Diagnostic English Language Assessment (DELA) has been used at the University of Melbourne since the early 1990s to provide a mechanism to identify students who might be at risk due to relative weakness in their academic English skills. Following the assessment, students are grouped into one of three groups: (1) ‘at risk’ for students who are deemed to require follow-up language support, (2) ‘borderline’ for students who may require language support and (3) ‘proficient’ for students who are deemed able to cope with the academic language demands of the university. In language testing terms, the score points on a language assessment that are used to divide students into different decision-making levels are referred to as cut-scores. When DELA was introduced, only English language experts, not content lecturers, were involved in determining the cut-scores that divide students into these three groups, and these scores have not since been revisited. With an increasingly diverse student population at the university, including higher numbers of international students, local heritage language students, and students from low socio-economic backgrounds, attention within the university is focused more and more on ensuring appropriate support mechanisms are in place for students facing English language-related challenges. Internal discussions along these lines prompted proposed changes to the DELA policy.