Positive washback in action
Oakdale Middle School has a foreign language program offering Spanish and French through level two. Members of the foreign language department were proud of their program but frustrated with students’ lack of effort in their classes. The teachers felt many students did not take their foreign language classes seriously; since they weren’t studying and practicing much, the teachers knew they were not working up to their potential. During the past year, the teachers began to implement authentic assessments of oral language, reading, and writing. These standards-based assessments, which were given every six weeks, involved the students in real-life tasks.
The department chair sent home parent surveys and found that students were spending more time working on their foreign language skills at home and that they were talking more about their foreign language classes with parents. Parents and students also liked the feedback that they got from the regular assessments. One student commented in an interview that knowing what was going to be on the assessments helped him to prepare effectively and that the results helped him know what to do to improve. At the end of the year, 75% of eighth grade language students placed into level 2 for high school. Overall, the foreign language teachers felt that student performance was improving and they attributed this to the new assessment program. Moreover, the district’s foreign language supervisor recognized the school’s efforts and was able to find additional funding for curriculum and assessment development the next year.