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Foreign Language Curriculum Frameworks

Appendix B. Assessment of Modern Foreign
Language Learning

Testing is an essential part of the instructional process. It guides both the learning and the teaching process. It also serves to inform decisions about placement and promotion and helps to monitor the achievement of learning goals at classroom, district, state, and national levels. Recently, foreign language teachers have begun to expand their repertoire of evaluation strategies to include more performance-based assessment. Performance-based assessment requires students to demonstrate their ability to use the language they are studying in a variety of contexts. When used to enhance traditional testing measures, performance-based assessment provides the teacher information not only about student progress but also about how instruction should be altered to help students achieve the level of competence required.

The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) in English Language Arts employs some aspects of performance assessment. This annual assessment includes open-ended questions that require students to demonstrate their ability to communicate what they know. They must show that they are able to write coherently and accurately, to organize their thoughts, to express themselves in clear, articulate English, and to summarize their ideas. The strategies used in these assessments can be adapted to the discipline of foreign language instruction.

Research and Development in Foreign Language Assessment

Between 1991 and 1997, the United States Department of Education, through the Fund for the Improvement for Post Secondary Education, funded a project in New England to develop classroom assessments that would define student performance in language acquisition at four stages of proficiency roughly equivalent to the stages used in this framework.14 (See the section, Developmental Stages of Proficiency.) By using open-ended prompts for writing and speaking, this project demonstrated how foreign language assessment at the school and district level can guide and improve instruction while providing students with a clear understanding of what they are expected to know, understand, and do. The methods used in this project were designed to make this kind of comprehensive assessment manageable for the classroom teacher. These assessment strategies are currently being used in many classrooms, schools, and districts throughout New England, with variations based on local demands and program goals. There are schools and districts in Massachusetts with large-scale assessment programs in foreign languages that can serve as models to other districts.

Examples of Assessments in Writing and Speaking

Below are examples of writing and speaking assessments for beginning foreign language students (Stage 1), and advanced students (Stage 4). Following the examples is the rubric, or scoring guide, used to rate student performance. The examples below can be modified to meet the needs of nearly every modern language taught at the elementary and secondary level. In order to standardize the results of this type of classroom assessment as much as possible, teachers are asked to observe specific procedures, including:

  • sharing the scoring rubrics with students prior to administering the assessments;
  • not allowing any extraordinary preparation;
  • not allowing the use of reference materials during the assessment;
  • telling the students in advance about the topic on which they will be writing or speaking, but giving no other clues about the nature of the assessment; and
  • telling the students that if they feel confined by the constrictions of real life when addressing the written and oral prompts, they may invent characters and situations.

Examples: Written Assessments

(Note: These assessments are valid only when they reflect the instructional program.)

Stage 1 French

Directions to the student: Before beginning to write, think about what you want to say. Leave time at the end to look over your work and make corrections, if necessary. You will have 25 minutes to complete this assignment.

Write a postcard to your pen pal in Martinique. Tell him or her that your close friend is going to travel there during the school vacation. Describe your friend. You may want to write about age, appearance, likes, and dislikes. You may also add any information about your friend you think your pen pal will find interesting.

Stage 4 French

Directions to the student: Before beginning to write, think about what you want to say. Leave time at the end to look over your work and make corrections, if necessary. You will have 40 minutes to complete this assignment.

Your friend asks you to write a letter of reference recommending him or her for a position as a camp counselor in QuÉbec for 8- to 10-year old campers.

A good letter of reference usually includes:

  1. information about how long you've known the person for whom you are writing;
  2. a detailed description of the individual's personal qualities, including a particular event that demonstrated one or more of the qualities you have described; and
  3. reasons why he or she will be a good counselor

Examples: Oral Assessments

(Note: These assessments are valid only when they reflect the instructional program.)

Stage 1 Spanish

Imagine you are having a phone conversation with a good friend. Tell him or her about a friend you made while visiting Costa Rica. Describe your new friend with any information that is relevant or interesting. Say as much as you can.

Stage 4 Spanish

Imagine you are on an exchange trip. After dinner with your host family, the topic of conversation turns to friendship. Tell a story about an event that changed the nature of your friendship with someone. Talk about what happened to your friendship after this event, for better or worse.

Example of Rubric, or Scoring Guide Used for Written and Oral Assessments

Level 3: Exceeds Expectations

  • Message very effectively communicated
  • Rich variety of vocabulary
  • Highly accurate, showing no significant pattern of error
  • Content supports interest level
  • Self-correction increases comprehensibility

Level 2: Meets Expectations

  • Message generally comprehensible
  • Vocabulary is appropriate, with some groping for words
  • Accuracy appropriate to stage, although some patterns of error may interfere with comprehension
  • Content is predictable, but adequate
  • Occasional self-correction may be successful

Level 1: does Not Meet Expectations

  • Message communicated with difficulty and is unclear
  • Vocabulary is often inappropriate, leading to miscommunication
  • Significant patterns of error
  • Content repetitious
  • Self-correction is rare and usually unsuccessful

Unratable Sample:

  • No consistent use of the target language, or only isolated words in the target language
  • Off task

Note: This rubric is from A Challenge to Change: The Language Learning Continuum (The College Board, 1998, in press). Evaluators applying these rubrics should refer to that work for verification of expectations at each stage. Because this is a criterion-referenced scoring, student work samples should be held accountable to the specific criteria, rather than compared to one another.

In Stage 1, at which the learner relies primarily on memorized material, no major patterns of error are expected. However, if the learner attempts to move beyond the memorized material, error may become more evident, as is appropriate to the expectations for this particular stage.

Last Updated: January 1, 1999
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