I struggle with assessments, in general, and final assessments, in particular.
Everything inside of me fights this idea of testing or assessing students on how close or far they are from a set goal. I can’t wrap my head around the idea that every student should and must be at the same point, with the same knowledge, at the exact same time.
This is but one reason I like the idea of CI. Within Krashen’s hypotheses lie the concept of a natural order to acquisition independent of perceived difficulty, the concept of a student’s ability to comprehend based on his/her own affection filters, and the concept that a student must be ready (i.e. having received enough input) before he/she can or will create output.
So, with those hypotheses stated, how can we then accept the idea of a final assessment? How can we expect or ask students to all be at the same point in their language journey on the same day? How can we flat out ignore the individualization of acquisition and expect a standardized assessment to be appropriate?
I have no idea.
In it’s basically sense, an assessment is just proof a goal has been met. So, what is the goal of a second language class? That’s easy; to learn the second language. But, what does “learn” mean? Does it mean the linguistics of the language (grammar, syntax, etc. of how the language works) or the ability to communicate? None, any, all? The answer depends. (Which is literally the basis of all proceeding arguments over the value of CI vs GT “grammar-translation”.)
For the purpose of this post, let’s agree the goal of a second language class is to learn how to communicate in the second language (read, write, speak).
Thus, an assessment should provide proof of how well a student can do those skills. Got it. Easy peasy. Let’s ask the student to read a passage then answer comprehension questions about it, discuss with the teacher or a peer about the passage, then write a summary about the passage and discussion.
Student A: Understood the passage and answered the questions – got most correct, isn’t ready yet to speak about it confidently in the second language and answered mainly with one word, but still wrote an okay summary.
Student B: Barely grasped the details of the passage and 50/50 guessed the answers to the questions, spoke about the general idea well (native speaker?), but wrote a barely comprehensible summary.
Student C: Understood the passage extremely well , was too shy to speak, but knocked the summary out of the park.
What now? Was the goal met? Who met it better/worse? Are all successful? Are none successful? Did all kinda succeed? If you waited a week, would any of these students do better/worse on any skill? What if the passage was on a different topic?
Let’s say all showed some ability in communication on the assessment – which they did. Great! Thanks to ACTFL, we have rubrics to assess the abilities displayed. And, along with those rubrics a “Path to Proficiency.” I can now assess the students from Novice to Advanced on their language learning journey.
None of this is my issue with assessments. Not the assessment (the activities, which are basically just another opportunity to practice), not the goal setting, or even the backward planning day to day that leads to the goal.
My issue stems from the use of this assessment to determine a grade (A-F), whether or not a student should move on to the next level of class, and how the assessment should direct my teaching.
According to Krashen’s hypotheses, I’m only part of the equation. I can only provide as much comprehensible input as I can manage in a class block and set up as many opportunities as possible to practice the skills for communication. The rest of the learning is on the student. And each of those is an individual. Not to mention the uniqueness of every single day.
To me, every assessment is just that, an assessment. Has the goal been met? Yes/No. Not a stagnant or frozen Yes/No. A fluid and ever-moving Yes/No based on right now. And not even a Yes/No, but sliding scale from Yes to No. A FINAL assessment is just idiotic (except death, nothing else is ever final). If a student is willing to receive more input, they should move on. If a student does their part in class, they should have an A. If I’m providing comprehensible input, I’m teaching what I should.
That, to me, is what an assessment should be and how it should be used: a qualification of abilities RIGHT NOW.