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by Erica Fischer on Feb 8, 2013

Testing Standards Changes and Their Classroom Impact

Are changes on the foreign language AP exams going to break your students, or build their language skills?

“Students that know a second language statistically score higher on any standardized test compared to monolinguals. That’s something!” @darcypippens pointed out on Thursday night. Although her enthusiasm for teaching a second language was universally reiterated by our participants, excitement about standardized foreign language testing standards was not.

In light of recent changes to testing standards in the National AP exams for world languages, #langchat discussed the impact these changes might have to their teaching, and how to best prepare students to be successful on high-stakes evaluations.

Standardized World Language Tests: A Change for the Better?

One of the night’s moderators, @dr_dmd clarified the exact types of tests that were likely to be changed in the near future, including the Advanced Placement (AP), Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), American College Test (ACT) and Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Although all of these tests were mentioned, the focus was placed on the AP and CCSS exams.

AP Exam Changes

@CoLeeSensei, @karacjacobs and @placido all shared the new guidelines for the AP Spanish test as an example of the 2013-2014 testing standards for world language, while @dr_dmd shared the French version. @Cadamsf1 rounded out the updates by providing a link for all world languages, and the changes broke down into the following elements:

  • Specific alignment with ACTFL 21st century foreign language learning standards.
  • Emphasis on interpersonal, presentation and interpretive speaking and writing communication.
  • Testing standards will highlight cultural competency and awareness of TL-speaking cultural perspectives.
  • Six thematic units will drive the testing framework. The themes are: contemporary life, beauty, aesthetics, global challenges, science and technology.
  • Clearly-defined learning objectives and curriculum framework for each element of the AP course, which will directly prepare students for items on the exam.
  • Integration of the ACTFL achievement level descriptions in order to provide consistent feedback and evaluation of student progress.

Teacher Response

In response to these new changes to testing standards, our #langchat participants were excited and expectant. Although the changes are big, many feel that they are moving in a direction that most language teachers have already begun on their own. @CoLeeSensei asked, “I’m wondering if the changes are a ‘change’ for many or reflect what we’re doing already in the classroom?” @trescolumnae responded: “I think it’s reciprocal – the changes in classrooms [create] changes in the AP [exam] etc., which drive further classroom changes.”

  • @placido is impressed by the new focus on authentic resources. “Ctrl F “authentic” and it shows up 46 times! Big Change!”
  • @karacjacobs says, “I love the idea of the overlapping themes of new Span AP Exam – could be used at all levels.”
  • @crwmsteach says, “The new AP support materials are much better at providing a variety of authentic materials.”
  • @trescolumnae explains, “Think the shortened reading list and combination of authors was a big step for the Latin test development committee.”
  • @cadamsf1 pointed out the new addition of a “comparative culture” competency.
  • @CoLeeSensei says, “We offer AP only as ‘independent study’ at our school – the changes speak to me being aware and able to guide kids properly.”
  • @atschwei states, “I think AP can be a wonderfully challenging experience for students…especially with the changes occurring beginning next year.”

Common Core State Standards

@dr_dmd then changed the focus towards Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Although the CCSS is not a “new” guideline for some, it is still very fresh to most of our #langchat participants.

Alignment of world language classrooms and CCSS is widespread, with only five US states not incorporating it into the general curriculum. Still, a number of participants expressed the difficulty in implementing this large-scale change, due to de-emphasis on language as a core standard class. @laurenna725 summed the problem up: “As a school common core is everything. As a discipline we are nothing.”

Some other thoughts about integrating CCSS:

  • @CoLeeSensie responds, “I’m reminded of this every time my admin talks about literacy and only looks at ELA teachers!”
  • @brevkin says, “Our department’s interpretation is that CCSS should apply to TARGET language, but we must use lower grade levels. More and more, language can’t be divided into talk, write, read and listen. Technology makes everything integrated in real world situations.”
  • @dr_dmd says, “[It is] still very critical that #WL teachers see how we support literacy STRONGLY and how that supports all students on Common Core.”
  • @trescolumnae provides a link to a document call “Essential Standards” that aligns CCSS with ACTFL standards. He says, “we in NC are really ahead of the game regarding this conversation.” @Dr_dmd also shares a link to a similar document that ACTFL is working on.
  • @CoLeeSensei says, “No Common Core in Canada, but it looks like it will actually increase everyone’s awareness of what actually happens in a WL class.”
  • @emilybakerhaynes shares her concern: “Lots of pressure now to teach students essay skills in L2. I’m for it-but curious…how they’ve missed these basic skills in native language?”
  • @KHillen01 shares, “CCSS for English actually require studentss to listen and read multiple sources and reference them. Similar to what we already do!”

How to Prepare Students for Changes to Testing Standards?

Many #langchat participants had novel ideas on how to best help students become more prepared for the new testing standards. The best ideas focused on maximizing teacher-student time with higher-level thinking activities, more emphasis on communication and cultural competency and authentic resource integration.

  • @Marishawins says, “Give assessments in the 3 modes- presentational interpretive and interpersonal.”
  • @darcypippins says, “Lots and lots of input! No grammar specified sections on AP exam.” In addition, she also suggests providing students a variety of authentic speakers to listen to.
  • @dr_dmd encourages teachers to start Wikis based around the six AP exam themes, and shares a link to a collaborative French AP preparation Wiki.
  • @brevkin states, “I would love for more authentic texts from post-classical to modern. More and better hooks to relevant topics.”
  • @placido encourages teachers to push students towards higher comprehension without overwhelming them. “I think a combo of carefully crafted comprehensible input and careful, guided exposure to authentic resources and more comprehensible input will equal success!”
  • @SenoritaClark: “More relevant text and online subscriptions! Students actually DO read…if the info is relevant and meaningful.”
  • @crwmsteach encourages teachers to help pave the way by using “authentic materials at lower levels too.”

Setting the Stage for Exam Exellence

As the evening progressed, it became clear that many AP teachers found that the most successful students were well-prepared at lower levels, by excellent teachers. This opening up a two-fold discussion about how teachers can prepare and cultivate their world language programs to ensure success for their AP students and how teachers themselves can be more prepared to support their students’ learning.

Cultivating Strong Language Programs

@dr_dmd was very honest in his question about the ability of teachers to have students prepared for high-stakes exams in only four years. He said, “Not sure if I can get students to advanced in four years, but I do try to keep them all four years.” This was a concern that a number of teachers seemed to understand very well. @placido agreed, saying, “I am just not sure if Advanced could be our “expectation” after 4 years. Some exceptions, but not as a rule?”

@HeatherMartens2 came up with a ringing point in response: “AP teachers cannot bear the weight of AP by themselves. All lower levels need to use global themes and authentic sources.” Teachers like @atschwei agreed. “In my humble opinion, it is not beyond most students with appropriate instruction in preceding years and motivation.”

Still, some questioned how to best motivate students and move them forward at an acceptable pace. Some great suggestions were given:

  • Give students reasonable expectations. @cadamsf1 says, “I’ve been trying to convince students of the language “V”: you start off strong and you climb towards proficiency. I think you have to be realistic and tell them where they are, especially if they are good students but have unrealistic expectations.”
  • Move towards performance-based curriculum. @LauraJaneBarber says, “[The advanced proficiency level] can be achieved in 4 years with performance-based curriculum.  Many students leave level 2 at intermediate low.”
  • “Hook” them in Level 1. @dr_dmd says, “If we can ‘hook them’ in level 1 with excellent materials, fun tasks, we will take them as far as we can in our whole program.”
  • Skip unnecessary elements. @cadamsf1 says, “we are insisting on beginning at at least level 2 because the textbook audio is ridiculously slow.”
  • Create a positive classroom atmosphere. @EmilyBakerHaynes does this by, “making it a goal to end every class with something fun to keep the energy and enthusiasm up!” @dr_dmd agrees: “It is so important to keep up relationships with the students so that they’ll keep coming back!”

Helping Teachers First

Another key component of making sure that students are adequately prepared for the changes to testing standards is by making sure that the teachers themselves are prepared. Participants agreed that many new teachers are not at a knowledge level to be able to prepare students for advance tests. @placido said, in one of the most retweeted comments of the night, “Most non-native beginning teachers are not even there!”

#Langchat participants overwhelming felt that more professional development was needed for language teachers. Unfortunately, money seemed to be the biggest roadblock. @dr_dmd said, “In this time of short money, it is hard to get districts to support professional growth for #WL teachers, especially with CCSS around the corner in US.”

Keeping Perspective

With all this emphasis on meeting testing standards, many teachers cautioned the participants to remember what is really important in the world language classroom: students. @SenoraClark said, “My students don’t really care about score. I think they simply love the language and course.”

This love of language and learning is a valuable component for any world language classroom. It is vital to remember that, although scoring well on these tests is important, critical thinking skills, communication and life-long love of language are the true goals.

Additional Resources

Common Core State Standards
Essential Standards Curriculum for Foreign Language (Natrona County Schools)
ACTFL Alignment with CCSS
What to Do When Students Lie? (Dr. Richard Curwin)
I Don’t Do It Because They Can’t Handle It (musicuentos)
Tres Columnae Learning Project
Spanish YouTube Commercials, Transcripts and Cloze Quizzes (Kara C. Jacobs)
Panorama Tempatico by Zambombazo

Thank you to our moderators @dr_dmd, @SECottrell, @coleesensei, @placido and @DiegoOjeda66. Also, thanks to all of you that came and shared your ideas and opinions: it wouldn’t be #langchat without you.

Please come by our Wiki and share your topic ideas for upcoming #langchats. You can also find a complete transcript of this chat and past conversations online.


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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