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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Oral Skills Testing: A Rhetorical Task Approach

  • Author(s): Lazaraton, Anne
  • Riggenbach, Heidi
  • et al.

This paper discusses the development, implementation, and evaluation of a semi-direct test of oral proficiency: the Rhetorical Task Examination (RTE). Many of the commonly used speaking instruments assess oral proficiency in terms of either discrete linguistic components-fluency, grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary-or in terms of a single, global ability rating. The RTE proposes a compromise approach to rating oral skills by having two scales: one which ascertains the functional ability to accomplish a variety of rhetorical tasks, the other to address the linguistic competence (Canale & Swain, 1980) displayed in the performance. On audiotape in a language laboratory setting, 52 students representing three levels of a university ESL program performed six tasks related to the rhetorical modes covered in their coursework: short questions and answers, description, narration, process (giving directions), opinion, and comparison- contrast. The construction and justification of both the instrument and the rating scales are explained; data obtained from administering the RTE across classes as well as before and after instruction are presented; and the relevant measurement characteristics of the test are discussed. Results of this study indicate that the Rhetorical Task Examination is promising as a measure of oral proficiency in terms of practicality, reliability, and validity.

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