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.”