The Foreign Service Journal, October 2022

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | OCTOBER 2022 43 Dr. David B. Sawyer is director of the Foreign Service Institute’s Language Testing Unit within the School of Language Studies. Specialized in applied linguistics, language mediation, and educational measurement, he holds graduate degrees and a doctorate in these fields, has served on the faculty at three universities, and publishes widely on related topics. He joined the State Department’s Office of Language Services in 2003 as the principal interpreter for German and supported the most senior levels of the U.S. government in that capacity for more than a decade. LANGUAGE TESTING REFORMS What You Need to Know The first major changes to language testing in a half-century are underway. Here’s the story. BY DAV I D B . SAWYER T he Foreign Service Institute’s School of Language Studies (FSI/SLS) is under- taking the most substantial reforms to State Department language testing in nearly 50 years. The goal of these changes is to ensure that language test scores are relevant, fair, and best serve the needs of both students and the department. The U.S. State Department requires proficiency in foreign languages for many Foreign Service professionals. This require- ment is established in law—Section 702(a) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 states: “Foreign Service posts abroad will be staffed by individuals having a useful knowledge of the language or dialect common to the country in which the post is located.” Knowledge of foreign languages strengthens cultural adaptabil- ity, one of 13 essential Foreign Service attributes (“dimensions”) that include the ability to work and communicate effectively and harmoniously with persons of other cultures and value systems, and to recognize and respect differences in new and different cultural environments. The State Department’s language proficiency tests are highly consequential for the careers of nearly every Foreign Service employee. The department uses test scores to make decisions ISTOCKPHOTO.COM/LEMONO STRAIGHT FROM THE SOURCE