The ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview, or OPI, as it is often called, is a valid and reliable testing method that measures how well a person speaks a language. It is a standardized procedure for the global assessment of functional speaking ability, i.e., it measures language production holistically by determining patterns of strengths and weaknesses. Through a series of personalized questions a sample of speech is elicited and rated in terms of the proficiency levels described in the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines – Speaking (Revised 2012).
The OPI assesses language proficiency in terms of the ability to use the language effectively and appropriately in real-life situations. It does not address when, where, why, or the way in which a speaker has acquired his/her language. The OPI is not an achievement test assessing a speaker’ s acquisition of specific aspects of course and curriculum content, nor is it tied to any specific method of instruction. The OPI does not compare one individual’s performance to others, but each individual performance to the assessment criteria.
The Oral Proficiency Interview is an integrative test, i.e., it addresses a number of abilities simultaneously and looks at them from a global perspective rather than from the point of view of the presence or absence of any given linguistic feature. Linguistic components are viewed from the wider perspective of their contribution to overall speaking performance. In evaluating a speech
sample, the following criteria are considered:
- the functions or global tasks the interviewee performs,
- the social contexts and specific content areas in which the interviewee is able to perform them,
- the accuracy (i.e., degree to which the message is understood), and
- the type of oral text or discourse the interviewee is capable of producing.
Structure of the ACTFL OPI
The primary goal of the OPI is the efficient elicitation of a ratable sample. To be ratable, a speech sample must clearly demonstrate the highest sustained level of performance of the speaker (known as the “floor”) and the level at which the speaker can no longer sustain the performance (known as the “ceiling”), over a variety of topics. To this end, the tester respects a protocol and structures the interview in a specific way.
Rating the Sample
Once a ratable sample of speech has been elicited, that sample is rated by finding the best match between the sample and the assessment criteria of the rating scale. A rating at any major level is arrived at by the sustained performance across ALL of the criteria of the level. An appropriate sublevel can then be determined, and one of ten possible ratings is assigned.
Official ACTFL OPI Rating
Official ACTFL OPI ratings are assigned to those OPIs conducted under the supervision of the ACTFL Testing Office, Language Testing International. Each Official OPI is blindly rated by a second certified tester. When a final rating is assigned, an ACTFL OPI Certificate is issued. The terms “ACTFL OPI”, “Official ACTFL OPI”, and the ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview protocol are the property of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and their use is restricted to those purposes intended by ACTFL.
Uses of the ACTFL OPI
The ACTFL OPI is currently being used for a variety of purposes in the academic, commercial, and government communities.
Because an ACTFL OPI rating provides a common metric for describing a speaker’s functional ability in a language, it serves as a way of providing articulation among language programs. OPI ratings are commonly used for purposes of admission into programs, placement, within a language sequence, and determination of the fulfillment of exit or graduation requirements.
Establishing proficiency outcomes in terms of the descriptors contained in the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines provides a framework for design and development of curriculum for language courses and sequences of language courses. Proficiency testing of students is also used as a means of evaluating the effectiveness of language programs.
Teacher Certification Boards in some states require evidence of spoken language competency as demonstrated through an Official ACTFL OPI. In some cases an ACTFL Official OPI rating can waive certain language requirements for teacher certification.
Official ACTFL OPI ratings are recommended for the awarding of college credit by the American Council on Education (ACE) Credit Recommendation Service .
The OPI and OPI ratings are widely used in the business world and in government for purposes of hiring and promotion in multi-lingual positions.