IMRF Final Report

Project: Investigating new tasks for integrated skills assessment of academic English
Researcher: Lia Plakans
Funding: 2014-2015, 2015-2016

Overview. The project investigated questions about an increasingly adopted performance assessment task type that integrates the language skills of reading with writing. In the past ten years, the field of second language assessment has experienced a trend toward testing that combines four skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) which were previously tested separately. These assessments, termed “integrated skills tasks,” have been gaining attention in language testing research as well. The study funded by IMRF focused on two areas of interest: (1) extending the common format of these tasks (reading into writing) with an additional initial writing section (the new task is called an iterative integrated task), (2) delving into the specific nature of the ‘interaction’ of skills in the process of composing for these tasks.

Procedures. Published research was reviewed throughout the study, but most intensively in the early stages. This review informed the design of test task specifications, which led to the development of two iterative integrated tasks. The development process included selecting and adapting reading input texts, developing reading and vocabulary test items, and crafting two writing prompts. These two trial tasks were piloted, resulting in revision and selection of one task to use for data collection. A scoring protocol and rubric were also developed and revised during the piloting stage.

To investigate the two research areas, participants were recruited for a verbal report and interview study of the iterative integrated tasks. Fourteen participants were recorded thinking aloud as they composed the tasks, followed by a post-task survey and one-on-one interviews. These data were transcribed and translated as needed (participants were not native speakers of English). In addition, the tasks were scored and the post-task survey data recorded. Qualitative analysis was conducted through several stages of initial, axial, and focal coding with the two research areas in mind. Some quantifying of the data was conducted, such as frequency counts, to compare when certain processes occurred across the sections of the test (writing-reading-writing) and to explore within case analyses.

Outcomes. The results revealed that common reading and writing processes were elicited by the expected section; however, many processes were shared across the reading and writing task sections. These shared processes include: drawing on background knowledge, utilizing metacognitive processes, rereading texts, focusing on the word level of texts, and summarizing. The test section that produced the most integration of skills was the short answer questions following the reading passages. The second writing section also elicited a sizeable number of shared processes. There was some variation on which shared processes emerged in different sections of the text. For example, focusing on the word level was most common during reading the two source text and answering short answer questions, while drawing on background knowledge appeared frequently in the first writing section.

The study has provided new information in an area of growing interest in second language assessment. The preliminary results were presented at the International Language Testing Association Conference in 2015. The final results will be presented at the American Association of Applied Linguistics in Spring 2017 (with two doctoral students). This fall an article was submitted to the journal Applied Linguistics on the larger question of the nature of skill integration. A second article is being prepared to introduce the iterative integrated task to the field; this will be submitted to the TESOL Quarterly Brief Reports section.


Plakans, L., Liao, J., & Wang, F. (2017). Ramping up integration: Enhancing the iterative process in integrated skills tasks. American Association of Applied Linguistics. Portland Oregon, March 17.

Plakans, L. (2015). New directions: Investigating new tasks for integrated skills assessment. Toronto, Canada, March 2015.


Plakans, L., Liao, J., & Wang, F. (under review). What is integration?: Exploring directionality, overlap, and shared processes in integrating reading and writing. Applied Linguistics

Plakans, L., Liao, J., & Wang, F. (in progress). Enhancing the iterative process in integrated skills tasks. TESOL Quarterly.