Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Applied Linguistics and Technology

First Advisor

Carol A. Chapelle

Second Advisor

Elena Cotos


This dissertation focuses on the validation of the Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI), a component of the Oral English Certification Test for international teaching assistants. The rating of oral responses was implemented through an innovative computer technology—a web-based rating system called Rater-Platform (R-Plat). The main purpose of the dissertation was to investigate the validity of interpretations and uses of the OPI scores derived from raters’ assessment of examinees’ performance during the web-based rating process. Following the argument-based validation approach (Kane, 2006), an interpretive argument for the OPI was constructed. The interpretive argument specifies a series of inferences, warrants for each inference, as well as underlying assumptions and specific types of backing necessary to support the assumptions. Of seven inferences—domain description, evaluation, generalization, extrapolation, explanation, utilization, and impact—this study focuses on two. Specifically, it aims to obtain validity evidence for three assumptions underlying the evaluation inference and for three assumptions underlying the generalization inference. The research questions addressed: (1) raters’ perceptions towards R-Plat in terms of clarity, effectiveness, satisfaction, and comfort level; (2) quality of raters’ diagnostic descriptor markings; (3) quality of raters’ comments; (4) quality of OPI scores; (5) quality of individual raters’ OPI ratings; (6) prompt difficulty; and (7) raters’ rating practices.

A mixed-methods design was employed to collect and analyze qualitative and quantitative data. Qualitative data consisted of: (a) 14 raters’ responses to open-ended questions about their perceptions towards R-Plat, (b) 5 recordings of individual/focus group interviews on eliciting raters’ perceptions, and (c) 1,900 evaluative units extracted from raters’ comments about examinees’ speaking performance. Quantitative data included: (a) 14 raters’ responses to six-point scale statements about their perceptions, (b) 2,524 diagnostic descriptor markings of examinees’ speaking ability, (c) OPI scores for 279 examinees, (d) 803 individual raters’ ratings, (e) individual prompt ratings divided by each intended prompt level, given by each rater, and (f) individual raters’ ratings on the given prompts, grouped by test administration.

The results showed that the assumptions for the evaluation inference were supported. Raters’ responses to questionnaire and individual/focus group interviews revealed positive attitudes towards R-Plat. Diagnostic descriptors and raters’ comments, analyzed by chi-square tests, indicated different speaking ability levels. OPI scores were distributed across different proficiency levels throughout different test administrations. For the generalization inference, both positive and negative evidence was obtained. MFRM analyses showed that OPI scores reliably separated examinees into different speaking ability levels. Observed prompt difficulty matched intended prompt levels, although several problematic prompts were identified. Finally, while the raters used rating scales consistently adequately within the same test administration, they were not consistent in their severity. Overall, the foundational parts for the validity argument were successfully established.

The findings of this study allow for moving forward with the investigation of the subsequent inferences in order to construct a complete OPI validity argument. They also suggest important implications for argument-based validation research, for the study of raters and task variability, and for future applications of web-based rating systems for speaking assessment.

Copyright Owner

Hye Jin Yang



File Format


File Size

253 pages