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by Erica Fischer on Dec 14, 2012

Language Assessments: Summative Assessments in the Foreign Language Classroom

Summative Language Assessments
Kindergartners Calvin Cisneros and Angela Whitbread join in a class exercise in Diana Stovel’s Dual Immersion class at Rorimer Elementary School in La Puente on Thursday May 31. 2012. Rorimer Elementary is graduating its first class of sixth graders to come through Spanish immersion program. Principal Liz Leon recently won an award for bilingual administrator while the PTA president also got an award from CABA. (SGVN/Staff Photo by Keith Durflinger)

While language assessments are a large part of the foreign language classroom, not all tests are created equal. This was one of the major topics of discussion during #langchat on Thursday. Although everyone had a different opinion about the importance of summative assessment tools for language teaching, we could all agree that they are often necessary and required to do on a regular basis.

Goals of Summative Language Assessments

It became clear quickly that summative language assessments are extremely personalized to the classroom and the teacher. Reading comprehension, vocabulary knowledge and general classroom knowledge were concepts mentioned by quite a few participants, while others focused their language assessments on the three ACTFL performance standards of interpersonal, interpretive and presentational abilities. @Tiesmgraf said, “I think the best summative language assessments are integrated performance based assessments that assess all three communication modes.”

Presentational Language Assessments – Pros and Cons

One of the key areas that were discussed was the topic of presentational summative assessment tools for language learners. Benefits of this method include preparation for presentations in other courses and college, in addition to having to have a much better grasp on the concept in order to teach it. Presentational language assessments can also be ways to assess both the listeners’ and speaker’s summative knowledge. @CoLeeSensei suggested doing this by having a student present and then encourage listeners to ask questions in the target language.

On the other hand, teachers agreed that this style can increase student stress levels. @Placido said, “Nerves were always a problem for me at school, so I sympathize.” This brought up a wonderful idea for a presentational style that was less emotionally risky for students. @Katchringa suggested students in small groups act scenes in the target language instead of more stressful individual presentations.

Performance-Based VS. Written Language Assessments

Many of the #langchat participants differences between active, performance-based summative language assessments and written exams. @Espanolbartlett said, “To me these types of assessments should be performance based. What can they actually *do* with the language?” @Placido advocated for performance assessments as well: “I try to assess different modes on summative. Performance assessments allow [the] most flexibility!”

Still, there were many teachers who found that written and multiple-choice language assessments provide important benefits. @Cadamsf1defended this choice, saying, “I think there is a place for [multiple choice questions] so that students [can be prepared] for exams.” Other benefits of written summative exams included listening comprehension, essay writing preparation and advanced grammar and vocabulary skills.

Differentiating Language Assessments

Clearly, #langchatters decided that providing choices and levels for students is the best practice for creating effective summative assessments. @Placido got some positive attention for her use of “choice boards,” which allow students to choose their own approved language assessment. She said, “[Students can create] a question, a photo, they draw own cartoon, a sentence starter, list of questions. The possibilities are endless!”

In addition to allowing students to choose their language assessment options, ways of differentiating for varied skill levels were also discussed. While lower levels talked about the advantages of using images and creative summative assessment tools for language classrooms, upper levels focused more on test preparation and attention to detail.

Language Assessment Tools and Tips

  • @SenorG has students prepare graphs about countries studied during the unit and present their findings in the target language.
  • @Msfrenchteach creates a listening assessment with associated readings and essay questions.
  • @CoLeeSensei does an in-class “Show and Tell” where students present a concept of interest and then she assesses the presentation in addition to the discussion of the listeners afterwards.
  • @Espanolbartlett encouraged #langchatters to try the “One stay, two stray” method of doing simultaneous presentations. In this method, one “expert” learns about a subject and rotating groups of two students come to the station to hear the presentation.
  • @Katchiringa suggested a post-novel assessment where students create a movie poster or trailer for the novel.
  • @Placido illuminated her “Twitter Wall” concept for both formative and summative language assessments. Students post as they read through the novel and create artifacts from the complete wall.
  • @SenoraCMT introduced the idea of using Google Voice for speaking language assessments. This program can be set up so that students can call in to a private number and leave an oral assessment message.
  • @Cadamsf1 suggested having students use Voice Thread to create virtual portfolios.

Other Resources

International Human Development Indicators – For studying demographics of different countries
WIDA Language Proficiency Rubrics
DELF Discussion Rubrics (@CoLeeSensei)
NCSSFL “I Can” Self-Assessment Rubrics
ACTFL-Based Performance Rubric (@SenorG)
ACTFL Integrated Performance Assessment Manual
Desktop Cooperative Learning Strategies: San Juan Unified School District

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

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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