Investigating the relationship among complexity, range, and strength of grammatical knowledge of EFL students

Author

University of Tehran & Institute for Advanced Studies in Basic Sciences (IASBS), Iran

Abstract

Assessment  of  grammatical  knowledge  is  a  rather  neglected  area  of  research  in  the  field
with  many  open  questions  (Purpura,  2004).  The  present  research  incorporates  recent
proposals  about  the  nature  of  grammatical  development  to  create  a  framework  consisting
of dimensions of complexity, range and strength, and studies which dimension(s) can best
predict the state of grammatical knowledge of EFL students. To this end, the specifications
of  a  test  of  grammatical  knowledge  were  drafted  and  reviewed  by  a  group  of  trained
reviewers.  The  specifications  were  revised  and  the  test  was  administered  to  158  English
learners with mixed proficiency levels. The items were analyzed using classical test theory
and  Rasch  model.  The  results  of  stepwise  regression  indicate  that  the  model  that  best
predicts grammatical knowledge of lower ability leaners includes range and strength, while
for the higher level strength and complexity are the best predictors.

Keywords

Main Subjects


Introduction
An  examination  of  the  major  models  of
language  proposed  since  Oller’s  (1979)
unitary  factor  of  language  proficiency
shows  that  the  field  of  language  teaching
has moved towards a more componentially
diverse  view  of  language  proficiency.
Scholars such as Canale and Swain (1980),
Canale  (1983),  Oller  (1983),  Bachman
(1990),  Celce-Murcia,  Dörnyei,  and
Thurrell  (1995)  Bachman  and  Palmer
(1996)  and  more  recently  Purpura  (2004)
have  built  on  the  each  other’s  previous
works  and  tried  to  define  and  redefine
these  components.  Perhaps  the  most
comprehensive  treatment  of  grammar  in
the  testing  context  is  the  model  proposed
in Purpura (2004).   
 
After  describing  his  model,  Purpura
suggests  that  assessment  of  grammatical
knowledge is still in need of more research
with  regard  to  how  the  construct  can  be
defined and measured.  
 
The  current  study  is  based  on  the  general
model  of  grammar  proposed  by  Purpura
(2004)  and  attempts  to  investigate  how
construct  of  grammatical  knowledge  can
be  measured  in  light  of  more  recent
proposals about L2 learners’ grammatical
development.    According  to  Rimmer
(2006)  grammatical  development  can  be
studied by measuring dimensions of range,
that is, the type and frequency of the forms
used  and  their  complexity  and  accuracy
(Rimmer,  2006).  The  current  study
suggests  that  grammatical  development
can  also  be  studied  by  measuring  the
dimension of strength. Since it is generally
accepted  that  as  language  learners
progress,  their  grammar  becomes  more
sophisticated  (Ortega,  2003),  this  paper
investigates  the  sophistication  by
examining  amount  and  type  of  change
along  the  dimensions  complexity,  range,
and  strength.  A  multidimensional
conceptualization  of  the  construct  of
 
grammatical  knowledge  can  be  valuable
for  developing  the  specifications  of
grammar  tests  in  general  and  diagnostic
tests  in  particularly.  It  allows  a  more
detailed  feedback  to  teachers,  test-takers,
and  other  stake-holders  about  learners’
development of grammatical knowledge.  
 
The construct of grammatical knowledge
As  regards  the  models  of  language,  there
are  two  general  perspectives  to  describe
linguistic  phenomena  (Purpura,  2004):  a)
syntactocentric  perspective,  where  syntax
is  the  central  feature  to  be  observed  and
analyzed,  such  as  traditional  grammar,
structural linguistics, and transformational-generative  grammar  b)  communication
perspective  of  language,  where  the
observational  and  analytic  emphasis  is  on
meaningful  language  use,  such  as  corpus
linguistics,  and  systemic-functional
linguistics.  The  basic  difference  between
the  two  perspectives  is  that
communication-based  perspectives  of
language emphasize that language is more
than form and linguistic forms do not have
a  fixed  meaning  in  their  use.  Therefore,
grammaticality becomes synonymous with
appropriacy,  naturalness,  and
acceptability.
 
Purpura’s  (2004)  conceptualization  of
grammatical  knowledge  seems  roughly  to
conform  to  Hymes’s  knowledge  of  the
possible,  which  in  turn  can  be  linked  to
locutionary  meaning  in  Autsin’s  (1962)
speech  act  theory.  Compared  to  Hymes’
(2001)  formulation,  syntactocenteric
perspectives focus on the knowledge of the
possible  form,  while  the  communication
perspectives  focus  on  the  semantic
feasibility,  pragmatic  appropriacy,  and
attested  naturalness  of  exploited  forms
during language use.
 
Proposing  a  framework  to  test
grammatical  knowledge,  Purpura  (2004)
distinguishes  between  the  grammatical
knowledge,  grammatical  ability,  and
grammatical performance.
Grammatical  knowledge  refers  to  a  set  of
informational  structures  related  to
grammatical  form  and  meaning  available
for  use  in  long-term  memory  (Purpura,
2004).  According  to  this  model  of
grammatical  knowledge,  knowledge  of
words  and  structures  involve  two
dimensions:  form  and  meaning.  In  this
respect,  the  two  terms  grammatical
knowledge  and  lexico-grammatical
knowledge  are  interchangeable.  This  view
resonates well with that of Bardovi-Harlig
(1995, 2001) who notes that in the process
of  SLA  learners  make  connections  among
forms  with  meanings  and  use  and  they
need  to  be  able  to  “distinguish  among
semantically  neighboring  forms”
(Bardovi-Harlig, 2001, p. 218).  
 
Therefore,  in  grammar  assessment  “the
primary  assessment  goal  is  to  determine
whether  learners  are  able  to  use  forms  to
get  their  basic  point  across  accurately  and
meaningfully” (Purpura, 2004, p. 274). It
should be noted that as far as grammatical
knowledge  is  concerned,  Purpura  (2004)
defines  grammatical  meaning  as  instances
of  language  in  which  what  is  said  is  what
is  meant  and  intended.  For  example,
sometimes,  people  are  able  to  produce
accurate  grammatical  forms  but  these
forms  do  not  reflect  the  meaning  they
really  intend  to  communicate  (e.g.,  I  am
interesting instead of I am interested).
 
Concerning  assessment  of  grammatical
knowledge,  Purpura  argues  that  “the
primary  assessment  goal  is  to  determine
whether  learners  are  able  to  use  forms  to
get  their  basic  point  across  accurately  and
meaningfully”  (p.  274).  Along  the  same
lines,  Widdowson  (2003)  asserts  that  the
most important and practical to test in EFL
situations  is  testing  the  capability  of
learners to capitalize the knowledge of the
possible. Thus, assessing both grammatical
form  and  meaning,  provides  a  more
comprehensive  assessment  of  the  test-takers’  grammatical  ability  than  just
providing  information  on  form  or  on
 
meaning alone.
 
However, there exits some concerns vis-à-vis  measuring  the  construct  of
grammatical  knowledge.  As  an  instance,
whether  grammar  should  be  tested
implicitly  or  explicitly  needs  to  be
addressed.  According  to  Alderson  (2005)
implicit  testing  of  grammar  is  justified
because  grammar  is  at  the  heart  of  the
language  and  is  implicated  in  all  of  the
skills.  Thus,  if  one  does  not  know  the
syntactic  forms  they  will  not  be  able  to
read,  write,  listen,  and  speak.  By  testing
the skills one can implicitly test grammar.
 
Explicit  testing  of  grammar  is  so  deeply
rooted  in  language  testing  that  despite  the
arguments  for  more  implicit  testing  of
grammar  they  are  still  popular.  Explicit
testing  of  grammar  brings  with  itself  a
promising  corollary:  such  tests  can  be
easily  bent  for  diagnostic  purposes.  Also,
if  two  test-takers  know  a  grammatical
structure,  their  knowledge  may  not  be
identical. Knowledge of grammar is not an
all  or  nothing  phenomenon  but  can  vary
along  a  number  of  dimensions.
Identification  and  measurement  of  those
dimensions  has  the  potential  to  help  with
portraying  a  more  complete  picture  of
learner’s  profile  of  strengths  and
weaknesses.  
 
A  framework  for  investigating  complexity,
range,  and  strength  of  grammatical
knowledge
Complexity  is  perhaps  the  most
systematically  studied  dimension  in  the
literature  whereas  range  has  always  been
traditionally  used  to  prepare  grammar
tests.    These  dimensions  can  facilitate
studying different aspect of the knowledge
in language learners. However, dimensions
of  grammatical  knowledge  are  not  limited
to these two.   
   
Measuring complexity  
It  is  generally  understood  that  a  simple
clause has only a subject, verb, and object
or  complement.  Also,  by  definition  a
simple  phrase  (e.g.,  a  noun  phrase)  has  a
determiner  and  a  head  noun,  or  a
prepositional  phrase  has  minimally  a
preposition as its head followed by a noun,
a pronoun, or a gerund. To make complex
grammar,  these  simple  patterns  should  be
modified  or  something  should  be  added
together.  
 
However,  it  seems  that  the  mainstream
view  of  complexity  in  not  constant  and  is
evolving.  Biber  and  Gray  (2010)  argue
that  the  notion  of  complexity  has  changed
in  the  past  couple  of  centuries:  carrying
out  a  historical  corpus  analysis,  they
concluded  that  whereas  the  19th  century
prose  made  frequent  use  of  casuals
embedding,  contemporary  academic
writing  uses  more  phrasal  modifiers
embedded  in  noun  phrases  as  tools  to
elaborate  grammatically  simple  patterns.
Furthermore,  the  spoken  and  written
language  seem  to  be  complex  in  different
ways.  Biber,  Gary,  and  Poonpon  (2011)
show  that  clausal  subordinations  are  more
common  in  conversation  than  academic
writing.  In  academic  writing  complex
noun phrase constituents rather than clause
constituents  and  complex  phrases  rather
than clauses are more common.  
 
According  to  Rimmer  (2006),  the
complexity component is multifaceted and
includes  syntactic,  psycholinguistic,
markedness, and at times can be related to
the  frequency  component.  However,  as  he
suggests,  the  notion  of  complexity,  which
is usually based on tradition and intuition,
may not be very reliable.  A related notion
to  complexity  is  grammatical  difficulty.  
For  DeKeyser  (2005)  it  appears  that  some
factors  account  for  the  difficulty:
complexity  of  form,  complexity  of
meaning,  and  complexity  of  the  form-meaning  relationship,  frequency,  and  also
complexity of processing.  
   
Norris  and  Ortega  (2009)  propose  a
multidimensional  framework  for
measuring  syntactic  complexity.  After
reviewing  several  measures  of  syntactic
complexity,  they  argue  certain  measures
are more revealing for specific proficiency
groups;  for  beginning  levels  coordination
index,  for  intermediate  levels  mean
number  of  clauses  per  t-unit,  and  for
advanced  levels  mean  number  of  words
per clause are recommended.  
 
The  results  of  the  study  by  Biber,  Gary,
and  Poonpon  (2011)  suggest  that  after
learning  the  simple  patterns  in  grammar,
L1  learners  go  through  progressive  stages
of grammatical complexity:
 
from  finite  dependent  clauses
functioning  as  constituents  in
other  clauses,  through
intermediate  stages  of  nonfinite
dependent  clauses  and  phrases
functioning  as  constituents  in
other  clauses,  and  finally  to  the
last  stage  requiring  dense  use  of
phrasal  (nonclausal)  dependent
structures  that  function  as
constituents  in  noun  phrases.  (p.
29-30)  
 
As  it  appears,  complexity  is  not  a  single
unified  construct,  therefore,  a  single
measure  may  not  adequately  represent  it
(see  also  Ortega  2003;  Rimmer,  2006,
2008;  Ellis  and  Yuan,  2005;  Robbinson,
2007;  Ravid  and  Berman,  2010).  Yet,
obviously  it  would  not  be  feasible  to
address  grammatical  complexity  at  length
in  one  study.  This  study  focuses  on  one
area  of  complexity.  Wolfe-Quintero,
Inagaki,  and  Kim  (1998)  provide  an
extensive survey of research on L2 writing
development and conclude that clauses per
t-unit    (C/T)  and  dependent  clauses  per
independent  clause  (DC/C)  are  the  best
complexity  measures  of  the  late  90s.
Biber, Gary, and Poonpon (2011) maintain
that  many  linguists  from  different
theoretical  backgrounds  consider
dependent  clauses  as  one  of  the  most
important  types  of  grammatical
complexity.  Thus,  this  study  has  limited
itself  to  studying  relative  clauses  and
conditional  clauses  as  hallmarks  of
syntactic  complexity.  Complexity  is
operationalized  by  tallying  the  scores  on
the complex items on the test regardless of
their format or spec.
 
Measuring range (variety)  
For practicality purposes the study focuses
on  range  (a  component  of  variety),
keeping frequency of structures aside from
the  equation  since  enough  corpus  data  is
not  available  at  present.  Range  can  be
operationalized  by  using  a  list  of
grammatical  categories  similar  to  the  one
used  for  DIALANG  project  (Alderson,
2005)  as  it  is  both  comprehensive  and
practical  for  test  design  purposes.  Range,
then, is defined as the number and type of
categories  for  which  test-takers  show  a
degree  of  knowledge  of  grammar  as
measured  by  a  correct  answer  to  an  item
on  the  test.  For  example,  one  of  the  items
on  the  list  is  concerned  with  verb
inflection.  According  to  Bardovi-Halig
there  are  a  few  reasons  the  subsystem  of
tense  and  aspect  is  of  interest  for  SAL
studies: study of time and aspect is central
to  most  ESL  and  EFL  curricula,  many
language  programs  require  mastery  of
certain  tense  and  aspects  for  advancement
from  one  level  to  another,  and  tense  and
aspect play a central role in grammatically
focused  teaching  materials.  Also,  many
important  English  tests  in  Iran  such  as
those  administered  by  the  National
Organization  or  Educational  Measurement
such  as  TOLIMO,  and  Ph.D.  entrance
exams  such  as  UTEPT  have  items  testing
tense and aspect.   
 
In the present study, range of grammatical
knowledge  is  defined  as  the  number  and
type  of  grammatical  categories  for  which
test-takers  show  a  minimum  degree  of
knowledge by a correct response to at least
one  of  the  three  items  having  the  same
spec but different item formats.
  
Measuring strength  
Although  there  is  some  research  on  the
construct  of  strength  of  vocabulary
knowledge  (Laufer  &  Goldestein,  2004;
Laufer,  Elder,  Hill,  &  Congdon,  2004),  it
seems  that  such  a  construct  has  not  been
explicitly  proposed  for  grammatical
knowledge.  Measuring  the  strength
dimension  can  complement  description  of
the  profile  of  the  grammatical  knowledge
of  language  learners.  As  an  instance,  two
learners’  (Learner  A  and  B)  range  of
grammatical  knowledge  can  include  a
number  of  tense  and  aspects,  they  could
have  also  learned  how  to  make  relative
clauses.  However,  this  description  does
not  provide  information  about  these
learners’ degree of the control over those
structures.  Learner  A  might  be  able  to
recognize the correct choice in a multiple-choice  (MC)  question,  but  fail  to  find  the
mistake  on  an  editing  item.  On  the  other
hand,  Learner  B  may  be  able  to  perform
well  on  both  item  formats.  Therefore,  it
could  be  concluded  that  learner  B’s
knowledge  of  that  structure  may  be
stronger.  For  the  purposes  of  the  current
research,  strength  of  grammatical
knowledge  is  defined  as  the  extent  to
which  a  test-taker  can  answer  correctly  a
variety  of  items  requiring  different  types
of  cognitive  processing,  all  measuring  the
knowledge  of  the  same  grammatical
structure.  Strength  in  this  study  is
operationalized  as  a  correct  answer  to  all
the three item formats of MC, editing, and
translation,  measuring  the  same  structure
but in different formats.
 
The present study
Although  many  testing  researchers  have
attempted  to  measure  various  aspects  of
language  ability,  measurement  of
grammatical  knowledge  has  largely  been
under-theorized  (Purpura,  2004).  Purpura
(2004)  reminds  that  there  is  a  glaring
paucity  of  information  on  assessing
grammar  and  research  on  the  validity  of
inferences  made  upon  them;  more
specifically  he  deplores  lack  of  consensus
on:  
   
(1)  what  constitutes
grammatical  knowledge,  (2)
what  type  of  assessment  tasks
might  best  allow  teachers  and
testers to infer that grammatical
knowledge  has  been  acquired
and (3) how to design tasks that
elicit  grammatical  knowledge
from  students  for  some  specific
assessment purpose, while at the
same  time  providing  reliable
and  valid  measures  of
performance. (p. 4)
 
While  lack  of  research  may  be  due  to  a
change  of  trend  towards  more  integrative,
performance  based  assessment,  lack  of
adequate  research  about  different
dimensions  of  grammatical  knowledge,
especially  in  diagnostic  and  placement
language  tests,  could  lead  to
underrepresentation  of  the  construct  and
threaten  the  validity  of  the  inferences
made  based  on  those  tests.  As  a  result,
grammatical  assessment  studies  that  have
imitated  the  specifications  of  grammar
section of pre-2005 TOEFL with only MC
type  item  formats  may  have  risked
construct underrepresentation, in case they
have  made  claims  relating  to  a  test-taker's
profile  of  weaknesses  and  strengths  with
regard to knowledge of grammar.  
 
Purpura  (2004)  discusses  how  his
framework  could  be  the  basis  for
designing  assessment  tasks  ranging  from
selected  response  to  extended  production.
With  regards  to  diagnostic  tests,  he
observes that learning-oriented assessment
of  grammar might include cloze, selected-
response,  limited-production  and  all  sorts
of  extended-production  tasks.  However,
the  potential  of  different  item  formats  to
provide  useful  information  and  what  may
constitute  useful  information  for  whom
and  why  is  not  dealt  with  extensively  in
his  book.  In  addition  he  has  not  discussed
how  development  of  grammar  of  learners
 
at  different  levels  of  proficiency  is
different.
   
A  more  comprehensive,  theoretical  model
of  grammatical  knowledge,  such  as  the
one  used  in  this  study,  which  includes
components  of  range,  complexity,  and
strength  of  grammatical  knowledge,  has
not  been  represented  in  the  underlying
constructs  of  tests  measuring  grammatical
knowledge. This study attempts to explore
the  relationship  among  different
dimensions of grammatical knowledge and
whether  and  how  grammatical  knowledge
develops  along  those  dimensions,  hence
the research questions:
   
1)  Does the test of complexity, range,
and  strength  of  grammatical
knowledge  produce  reliable
scores?
2)  Which  of  the  predictors  of
complexity,  range,  and  strength  of
grammatical  knowledge  can  best
predict  the  knowledge  of  EFL
students  with  lower  overall
grammatical knowledge?
3)  Which  of  the  predictors  of
complexity,  range,  and  strength  of
grammatical  knowledge  can  best
predict  the  knowledge  of  EFL
students  with  higher  overall
grammatical knowledge?
    
Method
Participants  
The  participants  of  the  main  study  were
250  male  and  female  non-English  major
EFL  students  studying  English  at  various
English  institutes  and/or  universities  in
Iran.  Judging  by  the  class  levels  and  the
estimation  of  their  teachers,  their
proficiency  level  ranged  between
elementary  to  upper  intermediate.  After  a
preliminary  screening  and  scoring  of  the
test  papers,  some  participants  were
excluded from the final analysis for partial
completion of the test. Thus, data from 92
participants was discarded and data of 158
participants  remained  for  the  main
analysis.
 
Instruments  
Test of grammatical knowledge  
The test included a number of grammatical
categories from a list similar to DIALANG
project  (Alderson,  2005).  The
specifications  for  the  test  were  prepared
following  the  model  suggested  in
Davidson  and  Lynch  (2002).  They
included  detailed  information  about  how
three  types  of  items  (Multiple  choice,
editing, and translation) should be written.
Further,  they  provided  several  sample
items  and  indicated  how  the  test  was
supposed  to  be  assembled  and
administered.  Three  item  types  were
included  on  the  test  on  the  grounds  that
although  multiple-choice  questions  are
commonly  employed  for  testing  language
knowledge,  in  the  recently  proposed
systematic approach to item writing (Shin,
2012) and elsewhere in the literature (e.g.,
Brown  &  Hudson,  1998)  using  various
item  formats  are  more  desirable.  The
reason, as Buck (2001) argues, is that “ all
items  have  their  particular  strengths  and
weaknesses  and  tend  to  engage  different
skills.  By  using  a  variety  of  different  task
types, the test is far more likely to provide
a balanced assessment” (153).  
 
The  following  are  examples  of  items  on
the test:
 
Translation from L1 to L2
 
ماشینی که ما خریدیم سفید است.
/The car that we bought is white./
 
Editing  the  sentence  by  changing  a  word
or phrase.  
 
The  letter  it  Jack  received  was  from  the
company.
 
MC  
 
This  coat,  _______  that  man  sold  me,  is
too big.
 
a. whom   b. who   c. which     d. whose
 
In  order  to  review  the  test  specifications
and  evaluate  the  quality  of  the  items,  two
Ph.D.  holders  with  expertise  in  language
testing  and  five  native  and  non-native
speakers of English who were also TESOL
students  and  had  the  experience  of
teaching  grammar  were  recruited.  The
feedback  and  comments  from  the
reviewers  were  voice  recorded,
transcribed,  analyzed.  Afterwards,  the
specifications  and  the  test  items  were
revised  and  the  grammar  test  was
prepared. The test, which comprised of 89
items, was piloted twice on two  groups of
participants  (N  =  40,  N  =  33),  who  were
similar to the ones in the main study.  
   
To analyze the item statistics, classical test
theory (CTT) was employed. Based on the
results,  the  faulty  items  were  revised  and
piloted  once  again.  Consequently,  the
main  test  was  prepared  and  administered
to 158 participants. Rasch Model was used
to  analyze  and  calibrate  the  items  on  the
main test.  
 
Data Collection and scoring  
The data was collected over five months in
several  administrations  of  the  test.  To
ensure  consistency  between  different  test
administrations,  a  set  of  guidelines  were
developed and the proctors were instructed
to  follow  uniform  procedures.  Each
administration  of  the  test  took  about  one
hour  and  a  half  and  the  participants  who
finished the test before the end of the exam
time were allowed to leave the session.
   
In the present study, range of grammatical
knowledge  is  calculated  when  a  test-taker
provides  a  correct  response  to  at  least  one
of the three items having the same spec but
different  item  formats.  Thus,  tallying  the
number  of  grammatical  categories  a  test-taker  knows  yields  the  range  score.
Strength  of  grammatical  knowledge  is
calculated  by  tallying  the  number  of
grammatical structures when the test-taker
provides  correct  answers  to  all  the  three
items,  having  the  same  spec  but  different
formats.  In  other  words,  a  test-taker  who
has  answered  all  the  three  formats
pertaining  to  a  particular  spec  correctly  is
deemed to have a  strong command of that
grammatical  structure.  Complexity  of
grammatical  knowledge  is  calculated  by
tallying  the  number  of  correct  answers  on
the  complex  items  on  the  test,  regardless
of their format or spec.   
 
Results and discussion
Reliability  of  the  test.  As  CTT  statistics
were  used  to  analyze  two  pilot  studies,  it
was  expected  that  the  items  on  the  test
already  met  the  standards  of  CTT.  The
mean test score was 55.16 and the standard
deviation  was  16.32.  Further,  the  measure
enjoys a high reliability index (Cronbach's
Alpha  =  0.95).  In  order  to  enrich  the
validity  argument,  CTT  and  Rasch  Model
statistical  procedures  were  employed  for
ascertaining  quality  of  items  that  were
included  in  the  test.  Data  was  analyzed
both  by  Winsteps  version  3.70.0,  a  Rasch
model  based  software,  developed  by
Linacre  (2010).  As  regards  the  sample
size,  DeMars  (2010)  suggests  that  studies
with  sample  sizes  as  small  as  100  or  200
can  use  Rasch  Model.  According  to
Linacre (1994) a sample size of 150 would
yield  item  calibrations  that  are  stable
within logits in 99% confidence interval in
Rasch model.  
   
As  regards  the  assumption  of
unidimensionality,  as  Table  1  indicates,
Rasch  dimension  explains  37.6%  of  the
variance  in  the  data  from  the  performance
of  the  participants  on  the  test  and  the
largest secondary dimension explains only
4.1%  of  the  variance.  As  the  variance
explained  by  the  second  dimension  is
negligible  in  comparison  to  the  variance
explained  by  the  first  dimension,  the
measure  could  be  considered
unidimensional.  
 
statistics at the approximate range of .75 to
1.3  are  acceptable,  according  to  Lincare
(2010)  they  should  ideally  be  in  the  range
of  .7  to  1.3.  However,  Linacre  (2002)
suggests that items with fit statistics as low
as  .5  or  as  high  as  1.5  are  still  reasonably
productive  for  practical  measurement
purposes.  Analysis  for  fit  statistics
indicated  that  the  majority  of  the  items
were  within  the  range  of  .75  to  1.3.  No
item had a misfit (i.e., an infit index above
1.3).

According  to  McNammara  (1996),  items
with an infit above of 1.3 are either poorly
written  items  or  do  not  measure  the  same
construct  as  the  rest  of  items.  Therefore,
all the items on the test can be considered
to  be  well  written  and  all  seem  to  test  the
same  construct.  There  were  two  items,
with infit indexes of .68, and two with infit
of .70 and .74.  These items’ infit is only
slightly  below  .75,  that  means  the
information provided by these items could
be  gained  by  data  from  other  items;  in
other  words,  overfiting  items  are
redundant  (McNamara,  1996).  Therefore,
the  more  redundant  the  items  the  greater
their  distance  from  .75.  However,  the  few
overfiting items on the test seem to be only
marginally  below  McNammara’s  (1996)
criterion and almost at the range proposed
by Linacer (2010) and certainly reasonably
productive  for  measurement  purposes  as
suggested by Linacre (2002).  
 
As  regards  outfit  statistics,  there  were
seven  marginally  overfiting  items  and  one
underfitting item. Outfit statistics show the
sensitivity of the items to the ability of the
test-taker, that is, the greater the difference
between the ability level and the difficulty
of  the  item  the  greater  the  deviation  of
outfit  from  one.  However,  according  to
Linacre  (2002),  misfitting  items  with
regard to their outfit statistics are less of a
threat  to  measurement:  “This  is  more
sensitive  to  responses  to  items  with
difficulty  far  from  a  person,  and  vice-versa.  For  example,  outfit  reports  overfit
for  imputed  responses,  underfit  for  lucky
guesses  and  careless  mistakes”  (Linacre,
2002  p.878).  Since  all  of  these  items
showed  particularly  good  infit  statistics
and the outfits were well within 0.5 to 1.5
range  of  Linacre  (2002)  they  were
considered  productive  for  measurement
purposes.  
   
Regarding  the  assumption  of  local
independence,  5  pairs  of  items  were
identified  as  candidates  for  dependency
(i.e., one of the items could be redundant).
 
Further  scrutiny  showed  that  the
correlation  between  two  pairs  on  the  list
was  moderate  (r  =  .44)  and  the  rest  of
correlations  were  weak  (i.e.,  less  than  r  =
0.35). Therefore, it was safe to assume that
the  whole  test,  to  a  very  large  extent,  met
the criteria of local independence of items.   
   
Data  analysis  showed  that  the  items
covered  a  wide  range  of  difficulty  from  -4.3  to  +3.7  logits.  However,  test
information  curve  indicated  that  the  test
was  more  reliably  informative  for  the
ability  levels  approximately  between  -2  to
+2  logits,  that  is,  the  ability  estimates  for
test-takers  at  the  extreme  levels  of  ability
had a larger margin of error due to the fact
that  there  were  not  as  many  very  difficult
or  very  easy  items  on  the  test.  Since  the
majority  of  the  test-takers  self-identified
themselves  as  being  lower  intermediate,
the  test  reported  mostly  weakness  for  a
beginner  EFL  test-taker  and  mostly
strength for an upper-intermediate, while it
reported  a  balanced  profile  of  weaknesses
and  strengths  for  lower-intermediate
students.  This  is  entirely  congruent  with
the  expectations  based  on  which  the  test
was designed.   
   
The  discussion  above  addresses  a  validity
concern  reflected  in  first  question  of  this
research about the reliability of the scores.
It  appears  that  the  measure  can  be
considered  reasonably  reliable  and  the
majority  of  items  on  the  test  meet  the
statistical criteria specified in the literature
on CTT and Rasch model.   
   
Investigating  the  consistency  of
relationship  
To  examine  the  relationship  among
complexity,  range,  and  strength  and  how
the  relationship  among  these  dimensions
changes  as  learner’s  grammatical
knowledge  develops,  two  sets  of  analyses
were  conducted  after  dividing  the
participants  into  a  higher  (HG)  and  a
lower group (LG). The total scores for the
participants  on  each  subset  of  translation,
editing,  and  MC  was  calculated  in
standardized  z  scores  and  aggregated  to
create  a  composite  total  score  for  the  test.
The  students  with  at  least  half  a  standard
deviation  above  the  mean  were  labeled  as
High  and  those  with  more  than  half  a
standard  deviation  below  the  mean  were
considered  Low.  Table  2  shows  the
descriptive  statistics  for  the  dimensions  of
Grammatical  Knowledge  (GK)  for  the
Higher  and  the  Lower  group  of  EFL
learners.  In order to  discover the  extent to
which  the  three  predictors  of  complexity,
range,  and  strength  were  related  to  the
criterion  (i.e.,  GK)  and  to  each  other,  a
correlation  analysis  was  followed  by  a
regression  analysis.  Theoretically,  all  of
the  predictors  were  expected  to  be
correlated  with  the  criterion,  because
regression  analysis  is  based  on  the
correlations  among  variables.    Therefore,
first,  the  relationship  among  all  the
predictors of GK and the actual GK of the
participants  was  studied  separately  for  the
lower  and  higher  group  using  Pearson
product-moment correlation.

As  the  results  presented  in  Table  3
suggest,  the  reason  for  calculating
correlations was to examine the possibility
of  the  differential  effect  of  developmental
stage  of  grammatical  knowledge  on  the
strength  of  the  relationships.  It  was  found
that all correlations were significant at p <
 
0.05  for  the  LG.For  the  HG  all  the
correlations  were  significant  except  for
two:  between  GK  and  range  (r  =  .26,  p  >
0.05) and between  range and strength (r =
0.12,  p  >  0.05).  The  correlation  values
between  the  other  variables  revealed
significant  and  rather  strong  relationships
across the higher and lower groups. These
results  suggest  that  for  lower  proficiency
learners all three dimensions of knowledge
show  moderate  to  strong  relationship
amongst  themselves  and  with  GK.
However,  at  higher  levels,  the  importance
of  range  seems  to  have  decreased  and
other  dimensions  could  possibly  better
describe  grammatical  knowledge  of  more
advanced students.

In order to provide more evidence for this
argument,  a  stepwise  multiple  regression
model  was  developed  to  identify  the  most
economical  model  to  describe  the  state  of
grammatical  knowledge  at  two  high  and
low proficiency levels.  
 
In  other  words,  the  results  of  the
correlation  analysis  (Table  3)  indicated
that  most  of  variables  were  highly
correlated.  This  was  the  motivation  to
consider  the  possibility  of  identifying  a
smaller  set  of  variables  that  would  be  as
efficient as the total set of factors. To find
the extent to which complexity, range, and
strength  dimensions  of  grammatical
knowledge  can  explain  the  greatest
amount  of  variance  in  EFL  students’
knowledge  of  grammar,  stepwise  multiple
linear  regression  analysis,  as  one  of  the
strongest  statistical  analyses  used  for
predictive  purposes  (Brace,  Kemp  &
Sneglar,  2000),  was  conducted  separately
for  each  group  to  investigate  whether  the
model of GK in two groups is different.  
 
This  model  was  employed  to  examine  the
relationship  among  the  criterion  (i.e.,
participants’ actual GK measured by their
responses  to  the  instrument)  and  the  three
predictors  and  to  identify  a  smaller  set  of
predictors  of  grammatical  knowledge  that
can  predict  the  same  amount  of  variation
among language users of lower and higher
proficiency.  
    
 
The  result  of  the  analysis  for  the  lower
group
Results  of  stepwise  regression  for  the  LG
are  presented  in  Table  4.  Examination  of
the  results  indicated  that  out  of  seven
theoretically  possible  models,  three
models  were  more  plausible.  Notably,
among three models, the first one included
only dimension of range.  
 
More  specifically  range  with  the  adjusted
R2 =  0.721  was  the  first  suggested  model,
that  is,  this  predictor  alone  explained
almost  72  %  of  the  variance  in  the  LG’s
knowledge  of  grammar  (Table  4).  Adding
a  second  predictor  (i.e.,  strength)  only
added 8.1% to the explanation of variance

(R2change  =  0.081).  Adding  a  third
predictor  (i.e.,  complexity,  in  the  third
model, improved it by 3.7 % [R
2
 change =
0.037]).  These  findings  seems  to  endorse
the  argument  that  for  lower  level  learners
the  role  of  range  of  grammatical
knowledge  is  more  prominent,  in
comparison  to  the  HG  (discussed  below),
as  their  interlanguage  has  not  become
complex  and  they  still  may  have  partial
control  on  their  knowledge  and  cannot
correctly  employ  it  in  different  contextual
and  cognitive  settings  (i.e.,  they  cannot
demonstrate  the  similar  amount  of  control
in  attempting  different  item  formats
measuring the same structure).

Although  range  alone  explained  72%  of
variation  in  predicting  grammatical
knowledge  and  the  contribution  of  the
other  variables  was  rather  small,  these
Models were significant at P = 0.000 level
(Table  5).  By  calculating  the  coefficients
of  stepwise  regression,  it  was  found  that
the  assumption  of  lack  of  collinearity
among  predictors  is  met.  When  some  of
the  independent  variables  are  entirely
predicted  by  the  other  variables,
collinearity  exists.  For  this  reason,
independent  variables  are  examined  for
tolerance  value,  a  statistic  that  indicates
collinearity  among  predictors.  This  value
ranges  from  0  to  1; the closer  the  value  is
to  0,  the  stronger  the  relationship  is
between  the  predictor  in  question  and  the
rest  of  the  predictors.  In  fact,  existence  of
the  predictors  whose  tolerance  value  is
below  0.001  is  a  cause  for  concern.  If  the
tolerance  value  of  a  predictor  is  below
0.001,  it          should              be  removed  from
the  analysis.  Moreover,  the  threat  of
collinearity  among  the  predictors  was  not
alarming, that is, tolerance values were all
above  0.001  which  means  that  the
relationships  are  not  collinear,  hence  the
dependability of the regression.
The  result  of  the  analysis  for  the  higher
group  
The stepwise regression preformed for the
HG point to the inclusion of two plausible
models  out  of  seven  conceivable  ones.
Unlike  the  findings  for  the  lower  group,
range  was  excluded  from  either  of  the
suggested  models.  Table  6  provides  the
information  regarding  the  explanatory
power of each of the two models: the first
model  had  a  large  value  of  adjusted  R2 =
0.77,  meaning  the  predictor  of  strength
alone  could  explain  77  %  of  variability  in
the criterion. When complexity was added
to  the  second  model,  it  improved  the
previous one by 7.9% (R2= 0.079).
 
As  it  was  the  case  for  the  results  obtained
for  the  LG,  both  models  proposed  for  the
HG  were  also  significant  at  p  <  0.000
(Table  7).  Moreover,  there  was  no
collinearity  among  the  predictors  since  all
the  values  for  the  collinearity  tolerance
were above the critical point of 0.001.

One-predictor models  
By  comparing  the  results  of  stepwise
regression  for  the  higher  and  the  lower
group,  we  can  decide  on  the  set  of
predictors  that  are  more  informative  for
assessment  purposes.  This  comparison
reveals  that  the  one-predictor  models  may
not  be  the  most  informative  ones  for
assessing  grammatical  knowledge  of  high
and  low  ability  EFL  learners.
Nevertheless,  data  suggests  that  the  best
predictor of grammatical knowledge of for
LG is range and for the HG is Strength.
 
Two-predictor models  
A  closer  look  at  the  two-predictor  models
shows  that  while  for  the  LG  range  and
strength  have  been  included  in  the  model,
for  the  HG  strength  and  complexity  have
been  selected.  It  can  be  inferred  that
strength can be the common dimension for
both  of  the  two-predictor  models.  Further,
a two-predictor model can best explain the
variability in HG learner’s knowledge; this
model  explains  7.9%  more  of  variance  in
GK  of  high  participants  respectively.
According  to  this  finding,  after  strength,
the  dimension  of  complexity  seems  to  be
the  second  important  predictor  of
grammatical  knowledge  for  the  HG.    This
might  be  due  to  the  fact  that  complex
structures  are  usually  the  ones  that  are
more  difficult;  hence  they  are  acquired  in
later stages.  In other words, the reason for
the identification of variables for high and
low  might  be  related  to  proficiency  level
of  the  participants;  it  can  be  argued  that
proficiency and exposure to language may
play a determining role in the development
of a strong and complex grammar.
 
Three-predictor models  
The  only  three-predictor  model  was
proposed  for  the  LG  and  included  range,
strength,  and  complexity.  The  addition  of
complexity  to  the  two-parameter  model
improved  it  by  3.7%  and  provided  the
model  with  the  most  explanatory  power
among  the  three.  This  raises  some
questions  about  the  role  of  complexity  in
the  grammatical  knowledge  of  the  EFL
learners with lower proficiency: whether it
is  economical  to  develop  a  set  of  items
measuring  complexity  for  lower  level
learners?  However,  such  a  decision  is
related  to  the  purpose  of  the  test.  For  a
diagnostic test of grammar, inclusion of all
the three dimensions seems necessary as it
allows  comparison  between  stages  of
development in learner’s knowledge.  
 
For the LG the role of the range dimension
seems  to  be  more  prominent;  they  also
show  degrees  of  ability  with  regard  to
other  dimensions,  which  helps  with
portraying  a  more  comprehensive  picture
of  their  weaknesses  and  strengths.
Likewise,  for  learners  of  higher  ability,
dimension  of  range  may  not  be  the  most
informative.  Nevertheless,  it  depicts  that
the  learner  has  made  a  great  deal  of
progress  along  that  dimension;  this  piece
of  information  can  be  quite  motivating  if
provided  to  the  learners  in  an  assessment
for learning context.
 
Conclusions
This  paper  analyzed  a  test  of  grammatical
knowledge,  the  specifications  of  which
included  three  item  formats,  to  measure
three  the  dimensions  of  grammatical
knowledge.  It  found  that  all  the  three
dimensions  tended  to  correlate  with  each
other  and  could  be  used  to  describe  the
state  of  EFL  learners’  grammatical
knowledge.  However,  for  lower  levels  the
role  of  the  range  dimension  seemed  more
conspicuous  and  for  learners  with  higher
proficiency  the  role  of  strength  was  more
evident.
 
Nevertheless,  all  the  dimensions  could  be
used  to  lend  meaning  to  the  scores  by
describing  the  state  of  development  of
learners.  Further,  since  the  dimension  of
range  is  operationalized  as  correctly
answering  one  item  in  a  set  of  item
formats measuring the same structure, and
strength  is  operationalized  as  measuring
the  same  structure  via  different  item

formats, it may be justified to use different
item  formats  for  measuring  the  same
structure  because  it  can  increase  chances
of  detection  of  existence  of  knowledge  by
at  least  answering  one  of  three  items
correctly.  
 
It  can  also  guarantee  that  a  learner  has  a
stronger  knowledge  of  a  certain  structure
and  that  their  answers  are  not  based  on
chance.  The  findings  imply  that  a
multidimensional  model  of  grammar  can
help  with  inferences  about  test-takers'
grammatical  knowledge  for  a  variety  of
assessment  purposes.  Specification  of
grammar tests can consider the potential of
incorporating  a  wider  variety  of  item
formats  to  enable  a  more  comprehensive
assessment  of  the  grammatical  knowledge
of EFL students.
 
The  results  of  such  an  assessment  can  be
used  to  provide  more  detailed  feedback  to
students,  which  is  a  requirement  in  the
context  of  assessment  for  learning
(Assessment  Reform  group  2002,  Black,
Harrison,  Lee,  Marshall,  &  Wiliam  2004;
Wiliam, 2011) and advocated by numerous
language  testers  (e.g.,  Spolsky  1990;
Shohamy  1992;  Huhta  2008;  Jang  2009).
   
Further  research  is  suggested  to  employ
the framework for grammatical knowledge
proposed  in  this  study  as  it  can  offer  a
means  of  measuring  the  increase  in
complexity,  range,  and  strength  of  second
language  grammar  as  learners’  language
proficiency  develops.  Arguably,  it  has  the
potential  to  help  researchers  to
systematically  study  development  of
grammar  along  different  dimensions  in
various  sociolinguistic  contexts  such  as
EFL or ESL. Moreover, learning gains can
be measured where the focus of instruction
is not grammar— for example, grammar of
the  learners  can  be  measured  after  a
reading  course  to  find  any  improvements
in  the  complexity,  range,  and  strength  of
grammatical knowledge. 

 

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