An Intern’s Words: Xiaowan Zhang
October 21, 2019
Categories: Internships

Michigan Language Assessment’s internship program provides professional training and research opportunities for English language teaching and assessment professionals and graduate students. In 2019, Michigan Language Assessment welcomed two interns. The following is from Xiaowan Zhang, one of the 2019 interns.

Xiaowan Zhang received her MA in TESOL from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and her BA in English from Wuhan University, China. Xiaowan is currently a PhD candidate in the Second Language Studies Program at Michigan State University, where she teaches introductory courses to TESOL minors. Her main research interests include language testing, language policy, and quantitative research methods.

When I received the internship offer from Michigan Language Assessment, I imagined with great excitement what it would be like to work in a well-known testing company. I dreamed of myself working on interesting projects, learning from testing professionals, and participating in the day-to-day business operations. Not only did all my dreams come true at Michigan Language Assessment, but I was also given much more.

My main task here was to develop a toolkit for investigating the impact of the Michigan English Test (MET) and its sister test for young learners, the MET Go!. This project provided me with an opportunity to further develop my research interest in test impacts. It required me to dig deep into the literature of test washback and impacts, to understand the constructs of the MET and MET Go!, and to create instruments that are appropriate for the specific context of South America, where the MET and MET Go! are currently being used. With the help of my mentor, Dr. Gad Lim, I also had the opportunity to pilot some of the survey questions with test takers in Costa Rica and Colombia. I am especially thankful to Gad for his guidance and support throughout the project. His extensive knowledge, expertise, and experience in language testing have all inspired me profoundly.

In addition to the impact project, I was involved in another research project that was aimed at investigating the cognitive diagnostic validity of the two-skill MET (listening and reading only). I worked with five assessment staff members to identify the skills that are necessary to answer the MET listening and reading items. I tagged two MET forms independently based on a skill list prepared by the team leader and discussed my tags with other members. Altogether, we resolved the differences in our tags and refined the original skill list through group discussion. This project has greatly expanded my knowledge of the application of structural equation modeling in test validation and has prompted me to explore the use of cognitive diagnostic modeling in my own research.

Aside from research experience, I also gained insight into the nuts and bolts of test development. I participated in all assessment staff meetings and content review sessions. Through these meetings and sessions, I learned a great deal about item writing, item review, and item analysis. I also had the opportunity to interview three business managers in South America and learned how tests are promoted to test takers and test centers in that region.

This internship program is the best way I can think of to spend my summer. All the staff members were warm and friendly and were eager to help me with any questions and concerns. Additionally, they gave me so many interesting ideas for spending my weekends that enabled me to maximize my stay in Ann Arbor. Thanks to them, I enjoyed every bit of my internship program. I will definitely miss the people here and Ann Arbor’s restaurants, peony garden, farmer’s market, civic concerts, summer festival, and art fair.