Some Holiday Food for Thought about Final Assessments

I cannot believe that the semester is already complete, and of course my blog has not had much attention. I certainly know how I operate, and I need the personal challenge of setting goals with deadlines because without them too many other goals and priorities must happen first. This year I did not set the every month goal of posting, so during this time of New Year’s goals and resolutions – I will do some self-reflection with regard to all of my current projects and set some sort of goal for my 2019 blog posts. Now for my five year reflection on semester assessments!
The end of the semester always brings a mad rush of grading and assessments. I know, I know, if I would not assign 4+ assessments per prep, I would not have to grade so much. And yet, I still continue to assess, assess, and assess at the end of the semester – and overall I still think it is a good thing for both my students and me as an educator.

Five years ago, my department agreed to develop semester exams using a modified IPA or an Integrated Performance Assessment. I cannot say that we are using IPAs in the original way that ACTFL has described in their publication “Implementing Integrated Performance Assessments,” but I will say that many of the elements are there in a way to at least assess the modes of communication in addition to content of structure, grammar and vocabulary. In fact, when I look at only grading my students based on a multiple-choice structure, grammar, and vocabulary exam – their grades would be quite low and not reflect what they in fact know and can do. 

So, with five years of tweaks and adjustments, I am pleased to see how my students’ midterm/final exam grades actually reflect just that – what they know and can do. With regard to quarter grades – I do not think they always reflect exactly what my students know and can do. Even though, I categorize and weigh my quarter grades based on “input – listening & reading (31%), output – speaking & writing (31%), content/structures (31%), and homework (7%)” – these grades tend to be higher than most of their midterm or final assessment grades. I do know that during the quarter, I always give my students opportunities to grow and improve (even by implementing a redo policy) so students show what they know and can do in an environment that celebrates the idea of showing what one knows and not what one does not. This all being said, I do want my midterm/final assessments to differ from the quarter grade. In my district the midterm and final exam grades are each 10% of the official final grade for the course. As you will see, I feel how I calculate this summative evaluation helps to more accurately report my students’ Spanish abilities. 

 In most of our world language courses, our midterm/final exams contain four sections being administered over four days (at least including one 90 minute block). The sections and grading percentages are as follows: Interpretive Reading 25%, Interpersonal/Presentational Speaking 25%, Presentational Writing 25%, and multiple-choice structure, vocabulary and grammar 25%. Although our students can prepare for this assessment by knowing how to communicate about a series of themes and knowledge of content structures, I feel the final calculated grade is a fair and valid representation of what a student knows and can do; rarely does a student’s grade not reflect this, and as I mentioned, it is a more accurate representation than a quarter grade. 

In this current climate of constant student testing, I often think about how school or even my classes would and could be different without grades – even without the highly coveted A+ (97% – 100%+). Even though testing stresses out our students, they really have a hard time operating without the stress. It is similar to my early comments about needing to set goals for writing blog posts. Without deadlines and some accountability measures (quizzes and tests in most classroom settings), most high school students would not choose to study school subjects outside of school. Would today’s teenagers be different if they were trained from early on in their education to learn for the sake of learning and not for the sake of testing? I do not have this answer, but I do know that even I need deadlines and goals as a successful adult.

Ok, I have digressed enough from the topic of the actual assessment. Again, ours are not IPAs (Integrated Performance Assessments) in their truest forms but we do use the Interpretive Guide Template, which can be found here on the Ohio Department of Education’s site. I really love this template and think it does a fantastic job of helping students engage and delve into understanding a text. The set-up of the Interpretive Guide also assesses critical thinking skills that helps see world language learning in a true academic context, and yet at the same time when world language learning’s context is so academically charged it does not allow for all students to find success and attain a second language (more on that another day). Anyway, I think the Interpretive Guide does a great job to help make texts that are beyond a student’s reach more comprehensible. Students are required to identify keywords, the main idea, and supporting details while also making cultural, content-based, and linguistic inferences all based on any authentic text (an article, brochure, or website). Careful crafting of the Interpretive Guide must occur. For teachers, these exams do take a lot of time to prepare, but of course like anything, once created, one has a wonderful assessment piece. 

With regard to the output-based sections of our exams, the tasks do depend on the language levels of our students. These summative Presentational/Interpersonal Speaking and Presentational Writing sections have been a great way to help our department focus and plan instruction based on the communicative tasks and expectations for our students. Following the Proficiency Guidelines, found at http://www.actfl.org, students at novice levels are able to reproduce more memorized and rehearsed language on these tasks. For both of the output tasks, our students are measured by their ability to provide evidence at sentence level and they can exceed our expectations by providing more developed sentences with accuracy for approximately 5 sentences per task. We use the rubric found on my resource page to assess the Interpersonal/Presentational Speaking and Presentational Writing sections. Each section is created using the agreed upon themes for the semester. In our level 1 and 2 courses, students are given the tasks ahead of time to prepare – so yes, for many students, they are using a mix of acquired and memorized, rehearsed language for which speaking is more Presentational than Interpersonal. I still believe that this is very appropriate for meeting the needs of all of my students and not just the strongest students. In all levels on the assessment days, students are not able to use notes or anything they prepared – my verb word-walls are not up for these exams either. In levels 3 and 4, the speaking task is more of an Interpersonal task where students must respond to unrehearsed questions based on the themes studied throughout the semester. Depending on the year and timing constraints, we have done one-on-one interviews with students and recordings. Live recording with the teacher reading questions and students responding via Google Voice, FlipGrid or Audacity has been the easiest way for us to assess their speaking with a large number of students. Overall, because of this type of assessment, we have seen better quality output from our students over the past four years. It has been positive to have these common assessments given twice a year instead of a more traditional chapter approach, which in my opinion would cripple me as a creative educator trying to meet the daily needs of my students. 

A point of internal struggle for me has been whether or not to assess using a multiple-choice content section using structures and vocabulary from the semester. Over the past five years, I have worked through this personal dilemma and my conclusion is that I do in fact like an objective multiple-choice section based on content. We have a 90 minute block at which time we must give an exam and depending on which exam time-slot we have and when grades are due, the multiple-choice exam format has been needed but not without the other three components. I feel that the content-based sections of information are positive for students but in no way should be given without the other communicative tasks of the exam. Many of my students would fail the exam if it were only based on the content piece. Without the other three components, the content piece is not a true reflection of what my students know, can do, and can process in Spanish. Yet, having the multiple-choice section, even if simply generated by Quizlet’s test generator, helps my students organize, reflect, and, “gulp,” study for Spanish. It serves as a “deadline” and ongoing content component for the course (although this year I have been giving frequent ongoing structure quizzes which all students have reported as positively helping their growth). Having this comprehensive multiple-choice section, especially for the midterm, helps provide me with feedback on students’ recognition and retention. With these results, I am able to better plan my next quarter and reflect on the effectiveness of my instruction.

To sum this up, I could not go back to the way that I tested for many years – a two-hour block of just writing and content: structure, grammar and vocabulary. Using elements from the IPA model (the Interpretive Guide for example) and always including speaking and writing components has not only helped the trajectory of our department in assessing for communication, but it also helps produce a more accurate grade in student performance and content knowledge. 

As I mentioned throughout the post, I need goals and deadlines. In fact, my life is full of them and I do live from deadline to deadline. So I will make this public goal for posting for second semester: I will post once a month. I will also try to remind myself that a post does not need to be three pages long either. 🙂 Have a great semester and happy assessing!    

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