Development of Spanish WebCAPE

When Jerry Larson, Ph.D. found himself spending countless hours interviewing freshmen recruits on their Spanish skills, he thought to himself, “there has to be a better way.” Dr. Larson and his team would take between fifteen and thirty minutes with each prospective student and through conversational interviews, determine their proficiency & the proper course in which the student belonged. You can imagine the time it takes to interview well over 100 students. Also, there is always inconsistency between the professors doing the interviewing.

Starting in 1992, Dr. Larson went to work to develop a computer adaptive placement exam (CAPE). It would be an intuitive test, recognizing their fluency level and determining appropriate Spanish course placement. CAPE’s ongoing development is overseen by Dr. Jerry Larson, Director of the Humanities Technology and Research Support Center. Originally, the CAPE exam was developed for Windows machines and delivery was on CD. However, since 2002 CAPE has evolved to webCAPE and is now administered completely online. Spanish was the first language developed, followed by French, German, Russian, ESL and soon Chinese. The development of CAPE requires significant involvement and research by professionals with complete Spanish fluency. Content has to be developed and reviewed, followed by rigorous testing to determine the level and significance of each question. The process must repeat multiple times until the each question is calibrated and weighted according to its difficulty.

Each language has a database of potential questions, ranging from 400 total (Russian) to as many as 1000 (Spanish). Studies have shown that a student would have to take the exam approximately 6 times to begin to see repeated questions. That being said, the test typically takes only 20 minutes.

Why Choose to Measure Spanish Proficiency First?

Besides having a background in Spanish, Jerry chose Spanish because of its popularity. Here are some interesting statistics about Spanish.

  • It is estimated somewhere between 330 and 495 million people speak Spanish (#2 on the planet) with over 18 million students studying Spanish as a foreign language each year.
  • Spanish is the official language in 21 countries, and common in 44 countries.
  • Forecasts suggest that by 2050, 10% of the world will understand Spanish and the US will have the highest volume of Spanish-speakers, after Mexico.
  • Spanish is the most commonly taught foreign language in the US.
  • Spanish it is an official language of the United Nations, the European Union, World Trade Organization, and North American Free Trade Agreement.

Due to the high popularity of Spanish taught in US high schools, and the continuing mix of Hispanic influence in American families, a test to measure & place Spanish proficiency was the most logical choice.

How Accurate is WebCAPE?

While webCAPE isn’t perfect by any means, it does have one of the best reliability and accuracy of placement levels for any exam. A study by the Multiple Assessment Programs and Services in Princeton (MAPS) determined the reliability for Spanish at .86. The largest criticism of Spanish webCAPE is that it does not have a listening portion. However, the validity correlation coefficients for Spanish webCAPE was shown at .91.

  • Some quick statics about Spanish webCAPE
  • Spanish webCAPE has the largest bank of questions, hovering just about 1000.
  • Students would have to take Spanish webCAPE upwards of 6-8 times before seeing similar questions.
  • Spanish webCAPE is the most popular test administered, making up for approximately 62% of all webCAPE exams.