Proficiency-Based Approach to Assessment: The How

How can I use proficiency-based approaches to language assessment?

When implementing proficiency-based approaches to assessment, you may find it helpful to use a backward design approach to teaching and learning. Backward design is a three-phase process that makes it easier to develop assessments and instructional activities that are grounded in students’ learning outcomes (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).

Click on each box below to learn more about the steps involved in the process.

Identify learning outcomes

Using backward design, course and assessment design begins by determining appropriate goals and learning outcomes. What do you expect students to be able to do in the language when they enter the course? What should students be able to do when they leave? Whether assessed formally through external assessments or informally through classroom-based assessments, it can be useful to frame the answers to both questions using proficiency levels to set realistic, measurable goals that can be built upon across courses.

Determine acceptable evidence

With the goals for your students set, you have a guide for the appropriate methods to assess whether those goals have been met. How will you know that course objectives have been met and that outcomes have been achieved? The answer to this question will help you design assessments that accurately reflect what students can do with the language. Aligning your assessment practices with target outcomes can also help improve students’ perceptions of assessment.

Plan learning experiences

With proficiency goals in mind and the evidence needed to measure if they have been met, the last step is to plan instruction. What teaching practices will bring students to the target proficiency level? How can you best prepare students to provide evidence of this level? Designing instruction around proficiency goals can simultaneously refine course content while ensuring that students get what they need to perform to their best of their abilities on assessments.

To effectively use proficiency-based approaches in your course or program, the following resources may also be helpful for setting appropriate learning goals and outcomes, designing assessment tasks, and evaluating student performances:

ACTFL Performance Descriptors

    • This resource provides descriptions of performance outcomes corresponding to the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines. Descriptions are provided for three modes of communication (interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational) with expectations for the tasks students can perform in the language, the contexts in which students can perform these tasks, and the type of language students can use to perform them. There is also information about how well students can perform tasks based on their control of the language, the vocabulary they can use, their ability to effectively communicate, and their cultural knowledge and understanding.

NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements

    • This resource provides accessible statements of what students “can do” that can be used to help teachers plan objectives for the end of a unit, course, or program. They are adaptable, aligned to the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines, and include proficiency benchmarks and performance indicators for the three modes of communication and intercultural communication. In addition to being useful for setting learning goals, the statements can also be helpful for students to self-assess their progress and identify their own individual objectives.