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Piecing Together the Proficiency Puzzle

Teaching languages can be a bit like a puzzle. It can be challenging to determine how well our students are doing in our language classes and in their language acquisition. What kind of feedback is most effective for language learners? How can we best assess our students’ proficiency in both language and culture? By exploring elements of backward design, the use of rubrics, standards-based and performance assessments and self-assessments using Can-Do statements and portfolios, teachers can move from measuring what students know about the language to assessing what they can do in the language.

Click here for a PowerPoint presentation with an overview about assessing for proficiency in the World Language classroom. The handout for this presentation can be accessed here.


Resources for assessing student proficiency:

Classroom resources: In our own classrooms, we can do a lot to send the message to students that effort and proficiency are important and valued. Allowing students to re-do assessments, or "Request to retest" is one way to demonstrate the importance of a growth mindset in the language learning process, while allowing students the extra time that many need to move forward on their proficiency pathway. A Participation Rubric is a good way of making your goals transparent for students in the language classroom.

ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines: The ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines are a description of what individuals can do with language in terms of speaking, writing, listening, and reading in real-world situations in a spontaneous and non-rehearsed context. For each skill, these guidelines identify five major levels of proficiency: Distinguished, Superior, Advanced, Intermediate, and Novice. The major levels Advanced, Intermediate, and Novice are subdivided into High, Mid, and Low sublevels. These Guidelines present the levels of proficiency as ranges, and describe what an individual can and cannot do with language at each level, regardless of where, when, or how the language was acquired.

NCCSFL/ACTFL Global Can-do Benchmarks: Self-assessment checklists used by language learners to assess what they “can do” with language in the Interpersonal, Interpretive, and Presentational modes of communication. These modes of communication are defined in the National Standards for 21st Century Language Learning and organized in the checklist into the following categories: Interpersonal (Person-to-Person) Communication, Presentational Speaking (Spoken Production), Presentational Writing (Written Production), Interpretive Listening, Interpretive Reading

PALS Rubrics: Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) teachers have developed a performance assessment program, have field tested the rubrics, and modified them to reflect the language development of students within an academic setting. The assessment tasks, both formative and summative, and accompanying rubrics are laid out in a program called PALS: Performance Assessment for Language Students. The program also includes conversion charts for turning the score on a performance task into a corresponding grade.

LinguaFolio online: A tool for documenting students’ language abilities, allows for student self-reflection and includes Language Passport, Language Biography, and a Dossier.

NCLRC Portfolio Assessment in the FL Classroom: Portfolio assessment is the systematic, longitudinal collection of student work created in response to specific, known instructional objectives and evaluated in relation to the same criteria. Assessment is done by measuring the individual works as well as the portfolio as a whole against specified criteria, which match the objectives toward a specific purpose. Portfolio creation is the responsibility of the learner, with teacher guidance and support, and often with the involvement of peers and parents.

CAPS Rubrics: Created by teachers in New Jersey, these rubrics are based on the ACTFL Performance Guidelines for K-12 Learners. At the novice and intermediate level an attempt has been made to use student-friendly language. Thus, the criteria have been re-stated in terms of a question that the student would ask him/herself while completing the assessment task. At the pre-advanced level, the language of the rubrics closely corresponds to the language in the Guidelines. By the time students reach this level, they have had experience with the novice and intermediate rubrics so that they are ready to understand the criteria as defined by professionals in the field.

Ohio Foreign Language Model Assessment Project: The model assessments contain practical applications of the teaching guidelines and philosophies set forth in the National Standards for Foreign Language Learning and ACTFL's Performance Guidelines for K-12 Learners. By modeling these assessments, you can be sure that your own tests and curricula are aligned with standards for foreign language learning.

CAL’s SOPA/ELLOPA assessments: The SOPA or ELLOPA interviews are language proficiency assessment instruments designed to allow students to demonstrate their highest level of performance in oral fluency, grammar, vocabulary, and listening comprehension. These interactive listening and speaking assessments include hands-on activities and are conducted entirely in the foreign language. Students are assessed in pairs by two trained test administrators and, during the activities or tasks, are encouraged to interact with each other as well as with the interviewers. The focus of the interview is to determine what the students can do with the language.

Avant STAMP 4s: Avant STAMP 4s engages students with real world content that is leveled according to the topics commonly taught at each level of instruction. STAMP’s adaptive test design adjusts to a student’s level so s/he is challenged, but not overwhelmed. The assessment is completely digital (online) and involves students in reading, writing, speaking and listening tasks.

AAPPL: The ACTFL Assessment of Performance toward Proficiency in Languages involves students in performing real world tasks such as participating in a virtual video chat, creating wikis, and emailing to demonstrate language ability. AAPPL measures Interpersonal Listening/Speaking, Presentational Writing and Interpretive Reading and Listening.