Our HISTORY

The need for ALTE

In the late 1980’s, a natural result of European barriers coming down was increased international mobility, with society needing to become more multilingual. This in turn spurred on a need for better language teaching and language assessment that would be fit for purpose for individual test takers as well as for other stakeholders - employers, educational institutions or government bodies. It was particularly important that language qualifications should be a fair and accurate reflection of what a test taker could do in a language and how well s/he could do it.  In addition, as individuals frequently needed to be proficient in more than one language, there was a growing need for levels of attainment to be accurately compared to those in other languages, and for certification to be recognised around the world.

When ALTE was established there were no recognised international frameworks, and language certification was variable in terms of the levels to which it referred. However, examination developers and other users were beginning to become aware that they needed a mechanism to understand levels and what they meant, and how exams in different languages related to each other both in relation to content and level. It was in this context that ALTE was formed and its objectives articulated.

 The concept of an association of language testers that would begin to address these issues, share expertise and compare experiences was first put forward by Mike Milanovic, who at that time was Head of the newly established Evaluation Unit within the EFL Department of UCLES (University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate), now Cambridge Assessment English. Milanovic observed that within Europe, “while there were small groups of individuals engaged in language testing activity, for the purposes outlined in the ALTE objectives, there was relatively little communication between the people who were doing it. English was already the most widely taught and assessed language at that time but the need for assessment in other languages was growing fast.  How to ensure quality and equivalence was a real issue.”

ALTE grows in the 1990s

ALTE grew quickly in the first few years and was set up using a European legal structure, that of a European Economic Interest Grouping (EEIG), with registration being successfully completed in February 1992.

By 1993, a comprehensive set of documentation to support ALTE’s aims formed the basis of a toolkit to support language test development, including the ALTE Code of Practice and the establishment of a common descriptive framework of levels of proficiency to enable comparisons to be made between exams and to see how they compared with each other.

The ALTE framework, together with the ‘Can-Do’ project, which provided definitions of what language learners can actually do within several categories, helped form the basis of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for language teaching, learning and assessment.  In April 1998 at ALTE’s 16th meeting, the Council of Europe recorded its appreciation for ALTE’s important contribution to the trialling and further development of the Common European Framework.

There were 19 Full Members representing 16 languages by the end of the 1990s.  ALTE welcomed Associate Members outside of the EU/EEA and the formation agreement was re-drafted in 1999 to take account for this. Sub-groups (now Special Interest Groups (SIGs) were also set up. May 2000 marked the first three-day ALTE meeting and included the first ALTE open-to-all Conference Day, with over 100 participants.

ALTE in the 21st Century

2001 was designated the European Year of Languages by the Council of Europe, the European Union and UNESCO, and ALTE held its first international conference to mark the initiative. The conference in Barcelona was the largest one ever held in Europe on language testing, with over 350 delegates from more than 35 countries attending. ALTE’s second international conference was held in 2005 in Berlin, with international conferences being held every three years after that: 2008 (Cambridge), 2011 (Kraków), 2014 (Paris) and 2017 (Bologna).

ALTE started running courses on language assessment from 2005 onwards. In 2007, affiliate status was introduced both for institutions and individuals in order to widen participation, and an Executive Committee was established to be the highest decision-making body in ALTE.

The development of the Code of Practice and subsequently the ALTE Quality Management System (QMS) was ongoing during the 2000s, and is regarded by ALTE members as the key milestone in the pursuit of ensuring quality in European language test development, which resulted in the establishment of 17 Minimum Standards, the auditing of member organisation’s examinations, and in 2012 with the introduction of the ALTE Q-Mark.

© ALTE 2018

Dutch Translation © CNaVT 2018

Swedish Translation  © Stockholm University 2018

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