Progress labels used to describe learners’ “Floor” and “Ceiling” ability levels.

Language learners do not completely master the communication tasks and topical domains of one proficiency level before they begin learning the skills required to qualify for the next higher rating. Indeed, a proficiency-oriented curriculum “looks toward the next level while working at and consolidating skills of the level [that] learners are presently in or aiming at.” (Heilenman and Kaplan, “Proficiency in Practice: The Foreign Language Curriculum” pp. 62 in Charles James, ed., Foreign Language Proficiency in the Classroom and Beyond. National Textbook Co., 1985.)

Thus, it is common that learners will have developed conceptual control or even partial control over the next higher proficiency level by the time they attain consistent or sustained control over the next lower level. This reality of language learning combined with the fact that the ILR and ACTFL scales are non-compensatory, threshold scales, means that a single test score is inadequate to represent learners’ proficiency profiles. By assigning both “Floor” and “Ceiling” ratings, it is possible to document both the test takers’ “floor” level of sustained, consistent performance and their progress toward the next higher or “ceiling” level. This dual-criterion scoring captures and explains distinctions that would be regarded as error variance in tests that assign only a single score or rating.

For ease of description, progress within a proficiency level is described using the mnemonic “REDS”, where:

  • R stands for Random ability – or a score that is at or below the level of random guessing.
  • E stands for Emerging ability – or a score that is at least one item better than chance, but does not exceeded getting half of the items correct.
  • D stands for Developing skills – or the ability to answer more than half of the items correctly, but not be able to sustain that level of performance at least 70% of the time.
  • S stands for Sustained ability. Using the ILR scale, there is a single threshold score of 70% that represents the lower qualifying boundary for sustained performance at that level. In the ACTFL scale, 70% qualifies for a sustained rating of “Low” and 80% is required for a sustained rating of “Mid”. By definition, it is not possible to earn an ILR “Plus” or an ACTFL “High” sublevel rating unless one shows both sustained ability at that level and developing skills at the next higher level.

Ray Clifford, 20 September 2012.


Interpreting ACTFL Floor Ceiling Ratings

Interpreting ILR Floor Ceiling Ratings


These test are available without charge at this time to all Flagship programs to be used in whatever context is helpful. They have been used for pre- post- summer program testing. Contact: flagship_assessment@byu.edu