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by Erica Fischer on May 20, 2013

How to Create the Best Summative Assessments for World Language

According to #langchat participants, the best assessments are those that incorporate and prepare students for real-world language interaction.
@cadamsf1 summarized the key point of last Thursday’s #langchat conversation simply: “Less is more with summative assessments so that kids use the language and have success!”

Participants in the chat shared some interesting perspectives about how and when to do summative assessments. A number of great ideas were given about making summative assessments work to improve students’ communication and prepare them for real-world language exchanges.

Defining “Quality” Summative Assessments

Although each #langchat teacher has a different style of teaching, there are many elements of summative assessments that most teachers incorporate. The most effective summative assessments include multiple modes of communication, provide students with expectations in advance, and incorporate creativity. Still, each teacher has a different definition of a “quality” summative assessment.

  • @garnet_hillman said, “Quality summative assessments occur when the students apply and use what they have learned in class in their own way.”
  • @Marishawkins said, “A good summative assessment allows students to express what they know and gives choices. Good summative assessments should also reflect what is going on in class- not something new that students haven’t seen.”
  • @CoLeeSensei said, “For me, quality summatives are interpersonal, oral, interaction and personal reflection of learning.”
  • @cadamsf1 said, “I think it includes the things mentioned plus they allow the students to realize that they can use this in a real world setting.”
  • @jas347 said, “You give a summative when your students have learned all that they need to perform well on the summative…backward design!”
  • @alisonkis said, “Summative assessment is open-ended and truly allow students demonstrate TL [target language] skills.”

How Much Summative Assessment is Too Much?

@Placido asked the question, “How often do you do summative assessments in your world language classrooms?” Although the answers were varied, most #langchat teachers do between two and three each semester/trimester. @snesbitt1972 said, “I think that less is more with summatives. Why do we have to have such long unit tests?” @CoLeeSensei answered, “So true – mine have evolved a lot and now are more personal expression than long written exam.”

Student-Centered Assessment

Different students understand different elements of a world language at different times. That is why it is so important to have student-centered assessments that empower students to excel. @jas347 said, “Timing needs to be based on your students, not on your schedule. Set them up for success by giving it when they’ve shown they’re ready! I always let my students know the project for end of unit at beginning of unit. It gives them goals.”

Choices are also a way that assessments can be more student-centered. @Marishawkins said, “I try to give my students choices – normally through different writing options.” @SraSpanglish said, “With the right classes, I let them choose research topics and sometimes part of how they are graded (content 1/4).”

13 Tips for Creating Quality Summative Assessments

1. Be Creative. Students will respond better to an engaging, interactive assessment than to a boring one. Not only that, but having interesting project-based and communication-based assessments can eliminate teacher burn-out as well.

2. Break Down Assessments. @SraSpanglish said, “For term projects, I break down the tasks involved as much as possible, having them submitted for review before the due date. Most recently, I’ve broken down tasks by mode of communication: Intepretive 1st, Presentational, Interpersonal (discuss day of).”

3. Incorporate Formative Assessments. @alisonkis said, “Lots of formative assessments are needed to ensure successful end performance.” If world language teachers are doing consistent formative assessments, they will have a much better understanding of their students’ abilities and likelihood of success on a summative assessment.

4. Reduce Pressure on Students. Many students have testing anxiety, so it is vital to eliminate as much pressure on students as possible. @jas347 said, “Not being watched by the entire class at once reduces pressure! Present/talk in smaller groups.” @SraSpanglish suggested that anxiety can be reduced by maintaining a standard testing procedure that students can rely on.

5. Encourage language risk-taking. @garnet_hillman said, “Errors are inevitable, communication is golden. If they are afraid to try, we haven’t accomplished anything”

6. Prepare Students at the Beginning. @jas347 said, “Letting students know from beginning what you expect from a summative assessment lets them know what they should be able to do so they don’t overestimate.”

7. Don’t Rely on Just the Textbook. Often times, a textbook assessment doesn’t truly reflect the teaching in the classroom, nor the real-life experiences that a world language should prepare students for. @snesbitt1972 said, “Real life isn’t in a textbook! Is that the BEST they can give the kids?” @srvonier responded, “Sometimes the best textbooks are stacked in the corner.”

8. Get Them Talking. @CoLeeSensei said, “I think if we create activities where the language is the tool, not the focus they buy in more perhaps. Usually they’re so keen to talk to each other doing the task they forget it might be an evaluation!” @cyberfrida said, “COMMUNICATION with or without errors is what I want. Verbally, orally, written. It will always be a process.”

9. Make it fun. @Sra_Kennedy said, “[Make] the task relevant and engaging. Find out their interests and let them explore that in the TL [target language].”

10. Use real-life tasks and problems. @Lesliefosterann said, “I find that there is student buy-in when language is used as tool for real life scenarios.” @cadamsf1 said, “We talk about real world issues which increases interest. They can speak with family and others.” @CoLeeSensei said, “It is a challenge – I tend to look at what we’re learning and think ‘When would I use this language in real life?’“

11. Encourage Imaginative and Creative Thought. @jas347 said, “I don’t think they’ve ever been asked to use their imaginations before. They’ve only been taught and regurgitated.” @CoLeeSensei responded, “Very true – so some are ‘really real life’ and others not so much!”

12. Move Away from Multiple Choice. Many multiple-choice type questions are not designed to test higher-level thinking skills. Often, they are not conducive to showing students interpersonal and presentational skills in the language, either. @placido said, “Personally I want to continue moving away from multiple choice and toward MORE authentic performance assessment!”

13. Work As a Team. #langchat teachers all have varying curricular responsibilities when it comes to working as a team. @cyberfrida said, “Our challenge is that not all WL teachers are on the same page. Some prefer grammar, others skills.” While some teachers are compelled to use books or departmental exams, #langchat participants encouraged all world language teachers to incorporate as many of the modes of communication possible in order to truly assess student growth.

Creative Summative Assessments To Try Next Year


@jas347 shared an idea that is being used in one world language class. Students give mini-presentations to each other in pairs, one partner presenting and the other asking questions. Then the roles reverse. @jas347 said, “My assessments are normally set up in a fair type way. 1/2 students set up projects with their design, with a written brochure or flyer. This works great for student choice and includes all modes. Students can design schools, houses, clothes and then find out others’ design in TL.”

Travel Fair

@CoLeeSensei talked about her “travel fair” as a way to assess using all three modes of communication.
“We’re doing a travel fair tomorrow (various areas in Japan) and then a ‘write’ about which tour they’d like to go on and why.”

Murder Mystery

@CoLeeSensei also introduced her creative “Murder Mystery” assessment. In this assessment, one student plays the victim while the rest of the class has to figure out who the murderer is by asking and answering questions in the target language.

Question Card Activity

@SraSpanglish said, “I’m giving students question word cards: they have to ask presenters one of each and get quality responses. Partners have cards with questions in English. I have monitors work with two partners and track questions and responses.”

Thank You!

Thank you for being a part of our professional learning network by participating in #langchat. We are always open to discussing new ideas for the world language classroom. If you have a specific topic you would like to see discussed this Thursday at 8pm EST, please share it with us!

Thank you to @placido and @CoLeeSensei for moderating the chat. You helped us keep the ball rolling and led our discovery of brand new ways to create and implement assessments. For a complete transcript of this session, please visit our online archive.

Additional Resources

Got the rubric!
JCPS assessment documents
Ted Talk Every Kid needs a Champion
E-portfolio Template, Spanish 2

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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