The Research Base for Listen Actively

This section contains a summary of the research base for Listen Actively. A more extensive Listen Actively and Speak So Others Can Understand Research Summary, including a bibliography, can be found in the EFF Assessment Resource Collection Library.

The Listen Actively performance continuum is the result of a long-term multi-faceted research and development initiative. Over a period of three years, experienced English as Second Language and adult basic education instructors from five states participated in a field-based inquiry process with the aim of generating rich descriptions of actual adult performance on the standards. Teacher researchers worked with adult learners to identify real world needs and goals related to the standard, developed performance tasks based on these goals, and then measured their learners’ performance on these tasks in the classroom. Teachers, program directors, and state leaders then participated in local, state, and national meetings to analyze the resulting performance data and used this data to build a developmental performance continuum including multiple performance levels for each standard. National meetings with content experts and assessment specialists resulted in further refinement of the performance continuum and performance level descriptions. While our existing data did not support definitions of performance levels below or above the five levels described in this guide, with further research, performance levels below our current Level 1 or above our Level 5 could be developed. Teachers can consult the EFF Teaching and Learning Toolkit for suggestions for working beginning level adult ESL learners.

In developing the Listen Actively and Speak So Others Can Understand Standards a review of other descriptions of adult performance levels in listening and speaking and analyses of correspondences to our levels was also conducted. Of particular importance was the review of guidelines developed by the American Council of Foreign Language Teachers (ACTFL) ( and the Student Performance levels (SPL’s) developed by the Mainstream English Language Training (MELT) project and used in the BEST and BEST Plus language assessments ( We also reviewed and took guidance from the Canadian Language Benchmarks 2000 ( and the Adult Literacy Core Curriculum and the Adult ESOL Core Curriculum developed by the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit in the United Kingdom ( Practitioners looking for guidance on features of listening and speaking below or above the five levels described in this guide are encouraged to consult these sources. The EFF approach to defining performance levels for Listen Actively and Speak So Others Can Understand is also informed by research based on a communicative approach to second language teaching and testing. Sources can be found in the research summary.

While growth in the linguistic knowledge base is essential to the development of listening and speaking proficiency, the EFF performance level descriptions are not driven by a sequence of grammatical structures but rather by the ability to understand and convey meaning in purposeful activities. This does not imply that grammar should not be an explicit focus of teaching and learning in the EFF classroom. Given the purposeful and communicative nature of the EFF Standards, however, the systematic teaching and learning of grammatical structures is subsumed within lessons focused on helping learners achieve the real life goals for communicating in English.

(The Listen Actively and Speak So Others Can Understand Research Summary in the EFF Assessment Resource Collection library contains a more detailed description of this research and a bibliography.)

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