Tag Archives: Assessment

How to Assess Foreign Language Proficiency (SlideShare)

How to Assess Foreign Language Proficiency (SlideShare) (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comAssess foreign language proficiency can be challenging.  This SlideShare presentation will give you some concrete ways of grading communicative language.

Foreign Language Assessment Rubrics (Interpersonal, Interpretive, Presentaional)

The ACTFL Proficiency Levels and Performance Descriptors provide a useful way of creating prompts and assessing student communication in the classroom.

Foreign Language Assessment Rubrics (Interpersonal, Interpretive, Presentaional) (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com)Teachers are becoming more familiar with these proficiency levels and the text types associated with them.

Foreign Language Assessment Rubrics (Interpersonal, Interpretive, Presentaional) (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com)

The Performance Descriptors break proficiency down into several categories: Language Control, Vocabulary and Strategies.  Depending on the task a cultural assessment may also be a part of this.  Quite often the challenge is  finding a way to concretely assess students in these categories.

When creating an assessment, the teacher should begin by going over exactly what language looks like at each proficiency level.  By knowing the current proficiency level of students the teacher can create prompts that require speaking, listening, writing and reading that is possible for students to accomplish without going too far above or below their proficiency level. If you need a refresher on assessing proficiency levels and communication strategies take a look at these posts:

Begin planning each task with these questions:

  • What is the current text type of students (proficiency level)?
  • What are the language structures to be assessed?
  • What is the vocabulary theme?
  • What communication strategies are needed?

Then, based on this information, write a prompt that will allow students to speak, read, listen, write and communicate at a proficiency level that is appropriate to them. It’s important to follow this order so that the prompt is appropriate to the proficiency level.

You can download detailed rubrics that assess interpersonal, interpretive and presentational communication HERE.  They include text type, language control, vocabulary and communication strategies and can be used on any topic or proficiency level.

Planning Towards a Goal in the Foreign Language Classroom

Feedback is an important and much-needed part of learning.  It is important that students have a clear understanding of what the goal or end product is so that they don’t feel that they are working just to work.  How many of us have heard students ask, “Why are we learning this?” or “When will I ever need this?”  Students ask this when they are not motivated to learn because the goal that they are working toward is not clear and obvious.  Teachers need to clearly understand what the end goal or product will be, and this needs to be shared with students at the beginning of a unit or lesson.Planning Towards a Goal in the Foreign (World) Language Classroom (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comThroughout the unit or lesson the formative assessment and feedback should always be in relation to the goal.  Comments such as “good work” or “nice job” are not specific and in relation to the goal.  When the goal is presented early on it is more productive to assess formatively and provide feedback toward the goal.  For example, if the goal is to narrate an event in the past, feedback such as, “Your mastery of these regular verb forms will help you to speak confidently about what you did last weekend.  Now turn your focus to these irregular verb forms that will help you speak or write about more events.” Information from  Formative Assessment provides data during the instructional process. Without a clear goal, it is difficult to answer these formative assessment questions:

  • Where am I going?
  • Where am I now?
  • How can I get to where I am going/need to be?

Here are some ways to keep the goal the focus of the a unit or lesson.

Planning Towards a Goal in the Foreign (World) Language Classroom (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.com

Foreign Language Assessment: Knowing about language and doing something with language

Assessments often focus on knowing about the language at the exclusion of what the student can do with the language.  Below are some guidelines to help distinguish these two practices.  Take some time to find the balance of assessing what students can do with the language (context-based) and what they know about the language (minimal context).  I focus on the language particulars more when tasks involve writing and more on what students can do with the language when speaking.

Foreign Language Assessment: Knowing about language and doing something with language (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

These are some assessment characteristics that show what students know about  language:

  • They assess discrete points.
  • The answers are either right or wrong.
  • They are easily and quickly scored.
  • They test language content: vocabulary, grammar, and culture.
  • They involve the lower-level thinking skills of knowledge and comprehension.
  • They are usually given in formal testing periods.

These are some assessment characteristics that show what students can do with language:

  • They require that students create a product or do a demonstration.
  • They are scored holistically.
  • They are task-based.
  • The tasks are situation-based or use real-world content.
  • They involve higher-level thinking skills of application, integration, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
  • They are given in both formal and informal testing situations.

Take a look at the tasks and activities that you give students and determine what it is that they are actually assessing.  Are they focused on what students know about the language or what they can do with the language?

Activities that show what students know about language:

  • True/false
  • Multiple choice
  • Fill in the blanks
  • Match
  • Give the correct form of the noun, adjective, verb
  • Change one word for another, e.g. noun for pronoun
  • State the facts
  • Translate
  • Follow the model
  • Repeat, recite
  • Answer the questions

Activities that show what students can do with the language:

  • Complete the sentence logically.
  • State your opinion, thoughts, or comments.
  • Give personal answers.
  • Create a situation.
  • Seek information.
  • Develop a product, e.g. advertisement, brochure, collage, poem, song, essay, video, etc.
  • Demonstrate your knowledge.
  • Summarize, paraphrase.
  • Change the ending.

Find the balance in assessment and make sure that there are opportunities for students to demonstrate what they can do with the language in addition to what they know about it.

Evaluating Foreign Language Speaking Activities

Another post highlights the need to explicitly explain to students what is expected of them when engaging in a speaking activity. Since these speaking formats require different skills, it is important to assess them differently as well.


For example, though some sort of spontaneous speaking assignment (i.e. “Ask a classmate about…”) may seem like a novice task, it is actually the most difficult because students have to decide what type of language to use (formal, informal, idiomatic expressions, questions words, etc.). Since this is the case, it is important to give as much direction as possible and the teacher should include directions such as scenarios and topics. Then, the teacher assesses the students on the use of these requirements, rather than simply, and perhaps arbitrarily, grading them on how much they can say.

Regarding transaction (see article on Crafting Speaking Activities) activities, and keeping in mind that the linguistic accuracy is not as important, grading simply on whether or not the task is completed usually works well. A performance activity generally requires some form of writing before the student speaks publicly and the assessment should account for the written piece as well.

The more explicit the expectations and the grading elements, the more likely students are to engage in the process of communicating competently.