Professor Tim McNamara wins prestigious Cambridge/ILTA award

February 15 / 151

Professor Tim McNamara
Professor Tim McNamara

Professor Tim McNamara’s pioneering work in language testing has attracted the Cambridge/International Language Testing Association (ILTA) Distinguished Achievement Award, reflecting the esteem in which the field holds him.

Professor McNamara was selected nemine contradicente (without objectors), acknowledging his work in international research leadership, mentoring and engagement.
“This is cause of great pride for the School and the University where Tim, together with his colleagues in the Language Testing Research Centre, has led and inspired research in language testing for more than twenty years,” said Professor Alfredo Martínez-Expósito, head of the School of Languages and Linguistics.
Language testing develops ways of accurately measuring language proficiency and is used in a number of important contexts including education, migration and citizenship.

Professor McNamara was involved in the creation of the two major English language testing systems, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), a joint UK/Australia initiative, and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) in the US. Globally, some 2 million people take the IELTS and over I million take the TOEFL tests each year. He also developed the Occupational English Test, which assesses the clinically relevant communication skills of overseas-trained health professionals.
Professor McNamara’s work across language testing and public policy has contributed to a fairer and more accurate way of measuring language proficiency, replacing the arbitrary, often brutal tests of the past. These were represented in the extreme by Australia’s notorious, selectively administered, Dictation Test (1901-1958), where a would-be immigrant could be tested in any European language of the officer’s choosing. (Famous cases of manipulated exclusion included a Jewish political activist Egon Kisch, who after passing in several languages, failed when tested in Scottish Gaelic, and Mabel Freer, a British woman born in India, who was required to sit the test twice in Italian and failed.)
A proposer for the award wrote: “Tim’s scholarship in language assessment has been exemplary. His 1996 book…changed the field.”
Another wrote: ‘In a highly productive career with a host of important publications…he has provided major leadership in the field, building…a strong cadre of language testers in Australia and fulfilling a significant role in the international community.”
The award is timely, coming as it does on the 25th anniversary of the University’s Language Testing Research Centre, co-founded by Professor McNamara and for many years one of the world leading centres of language testing research.

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