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Achievement Profile: Fred Davidson
Multiple Englishes Pose a Challenge for Assessment

Prof. Fred Davidson teaches English as an International Language and Educational Psychology in the Division of English as an International Language at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is president of the International Language Testing Association. ESL MiniConference Online is pleased to share his recent comments.

Some Fred Davidson links:

The International Language Testing Association
Testcraft: A Teacher's Guide to Writing and Using Language Test Specifications (2002)
The Language Tester's Statistical Toolbox (2000)
An International Survey of Language Assessment Standards (1995)
Fred Davidson's Homepage
Fred Davidson's e-mail (

An ESL MiniConference Online interview
with Fred Davidson:

Fred Davidson

What is your main ESL activity now? What are your principal projects, and what is on the back burner?

I work in the area of language testing. One way or the other, all of my activities concern language assessment. Right now, I would say that my main project is the start of a new book on the history of reliability. This book is evolving to be as much in general educational testing as it is in language testing, perhaps more.

Within testing, an important project I am trying to get off the back burner is investigation of variation in language test scores due to the particular variety of language spoken (e.g. Do speakers of Nigerian English respond to EFL tests the same way as speakers of North American English or speakers of English from a true EFL country like Korea?).

How did you start your ESL career? Who influenced your decision? What were some important formative experiences in the early stages of your development?

I sort of backed into it. I was a teacher before I was an ESL teacher - I have an undergrad secondary ed degree in speech education with a teaching minor in English (language arts) and a lot of theatre experience. I was enroute to be a high school speech/English/drama person. But then I joined the Peace Corps and the whole thing seemed to build on that.

What are the four or five language/culture backgrounds with which you are most familiar as a teacher? Which ones are you familiar with from the perspective of a language learner yourself? What insights have you gained in how to meet the needs of English learners from these cultures and language backgrounds?

Liberia, West Africa (Peace Corps)
Great Britain

The keenest insight I draw from the above list is precisely that back-burner project I cite above: that there are multiple Englishes in the world, and that we need to understand the nature of the target language from a sociolinguistic variation perspective. The norms implicit or explicit in textbooks, tests, methodologies etc may be actually training students toward a language variety that will not serve them well.

If you had to give three pieces of advice to a new ESL teacher, what would they be?

The first is: get lots of experience of varying types. Including travel to and work in an EFL country (strictly speaking, I have never taught or worked in an E*F*L country: Liberia is classifed as 'ESL', but as I imply here, its sociolinguistic situation is actually far more complicated than that).

Second: learn about testing. Even if your training program does not include an overt testing course, scout the textbooks on testing and pick one that you like, or consult with testers, or both. Many educational systems are test-driven.

Third: study other languages so that you know what your students are going through.

What do you see as the most important issues facing the ESL/EFL teaching profession today?

I think all the issues that bother me the most fall into the socio-political domain. Language is a powerful tool, and the fact that English is associated with former colonial or quasi-colonial powers pervades a lot of world consciousness. At the same time, English is and should be the property of those who speak it -- and we see in that claim how a Nigerian or Indian (for instance) can and should have as much right to claim to be an English speaker as somebody from Chicago -- like me. I think we need to ... *detach* .. English from its politics, somehow, and I don't quite know how to do that.

Interviewed by Robb Scott

2002 ESL MiniConference Online

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