Taking the plunge into proficiency-based grading

grade-28199_960_720A couple of years ago when I decided to drastically change what I taught (cultural content instead of vocabulary and structures) and how I taught it (by using authentic resources instead of textbook exercises), I took a close look at my assessment practices.  While I embraced the concept of IPA’s, I struggled a bit on how to assign a grade to these assessments.  In the beginning I used my own holistic rubrics and later adopted the Ohio Department of Education’s Performance Scoring Guides for World Languages. Being a rule follower, I chose the Performance rubrics because that’s what ODE’s website said that teachers should use for IPA’s.  Although I knew that some teachers were linking students’ grades to their proficiency level this practice didn’t fit with my understanding of proficiency, which I’ve been taught can only be measured by an OPI.  Because I understood that my classroom assessments were clearly performances (measurements of what my students had learned as a result of my instruction), I used the Performance rubrics.  While these are great rubrics, as I continue to adapt my instruction, I find that I will need to make some changes to my assessment practices in order to meet my goals for this year.  Specifically, I want my students to be more involved in their own learning. Rather than passively waiting for me to assign a numerical score to all of their performances, I want my students to understand their proficiency level, set their own proficiency goals, understand how to meet those goals, and self-assess their progress in reaching these goals. Because the descriptors in ODE’s Performance Rubrics do not reflect different proficiency levels (There is only one scoring guide for each skill/mode.), my students were not able to determine their current level of proficiency based on my completing this rubric.  Furthermore, they were not able to determine exactly what they needed to do to improve their proficiency (or grade). In the absence of clear descriptors for each level of proficiency, the students were faced with trying to hit a moving target.  As my performance assessments required increasingly greater levels of proficiency, a similar score on a string of assessments did not allow the students to see the progress that they were making.

In order to remedy this situation, I’ve decided to use ODE’s Proficiency Scoring Guides this year. Based on my current understanding of the common language of world language educators, I will be able to describe my students’ performances as exhibiting characteristics of a proficiency level, without implying that I am able to assign a specific proficiency level to an individual student.  But most importantly, because these rubrics contain separate descriptors for each proficiency level, they will enable my students to define their performances as exemplifying a targeted proficiency level.  Not only will my feedback allow them to identify their current level of performance, they will know exactly what they need to do to achieve the next level.  I especially love that these rubrics include three levels for each proficiency level (NH1, NH2, NH3, for example).  As a result, I hope to be able to measure each increment of progress in my students’ path to proficiency.

For many of us, of course, it is not enough to only identify a student’s proficiency level, we must also assign a numerical (or letter) grade for each performance.  After reading many outstanding teachers’ methodology for doing so, I’ve determined the following guidelines for implementing my proficiency-based grading system.

  1. Students who reach  ACTFL Proficiency Target will earn an 85% (B).  Because it seems unfair and unrealistic for the students to reach an end of course target first semester, I have (somewhat arbitrarily) determined that the first semester goal will be two sublevels below the end of the course target.  For example, since Novice High 2 is the targeted proficiency level for the end of French 2, Novice Mid 3 is the targeted level for first semester.   This table shows what score a student will earn for each proficiency level. (The numerical scores reflect my preferred maximum score of 10 rather than 100 [a percentage].)
  2. In order to more easily implement this system, I have prepared a first semester and a second semester rubric for each course. As indicated on the rubrics, the language is taken directly from the ODE scoring guides for each skill/mode. I simply chose which 5 columns I felt would be the most likely to cover the range of levels for a particular course and typed them on a single page, with an additional column for comments. I also took the liberty of creating a separate rubric for each Presentational skill and removed the comments about pronunciation from the Writing rubric in order to streamline the feedback process. I can easily use a lower level rubric (changing the scores accordingly) for those students who are unable to meet the lowest level on the rubric for his/her course.  Note: I have not included a 2nd semester rubric for French 4, as the ODE rubrics stopt Intermediate Mid 3. I’ll use my own judgment in assigning a score for any students who exceed this level.
  3. Because ODE does not have an Interpretive rubric (They provide only a link to the ACTFL IPA Interpretive Rubric), I will use the ACTFL rubric for interpretive reading tasks at each level. Because it is the task, rather than level of performance which demonstrates a student’s proficiency in interpretive assessments, the same rubric is appropriate for all levels. I will assign the following numerical scores to each level on the rubric: Limited Comprehension (7), Minimal Comprehension (8), Strong Comprehension (9) and Accomplished Comprehension (10).  A student who does not meet the descriptors for Limited Comprehension will earn a 6.

I’m sure that I’ll make modifications to these guidelines as I implement proficiency-based grading, so if you’re assessing according to proficiency, I’d love to know how it’s working in your classes!

24 thoughts on “Taking the plunge into proficiency-based grading

  1. Rebecca Blouwolff

    Thanks for this great post! I am also reworking my grading for this coming year and will continue to educate my students about proficiency and their progress on that path. I am thinking about trying to get some OPI training to feel more confident with the proficiency levels. I was very struck by this statement, which I have not seen elsewhere: “Because it is the task, rather than level of performance which demonstrates a student’s proficiency in interpretive assessments…” does this mean that unlike the other modes, in interpretive mode the very act of completing a NH task makes you NH? Whereas in interpersonal or presentational it’s more about the level of performance than the task? This is new to me and I’m curious!

    Reply
    1. madameshepard Post author

      What I meant was that the difficulty (or proficiency) level is determined by the text as well as what you ask the students to do with it. We can ask novices to identify key words, main ideas and make inferences and cultural comparisons using cognates and pictures on an infographic. We can ask Intermediates to do the same thing with a newspaper article. Does this make sense?

      Reply
    2. madameshepard Post author

      I would hesitate to say that the completion of any one task identifies anyone’s proficiency level, as we have to be able to sustain our performance over time in a variety of unrehearsed contexts to be considered as having reached that level of proficiency. (As I understand it.)

      Reply
  2. Rebecca

    Definitely makes more sense to me now. Here’s what I’ve understood from you: we give different types (broadly) of texts to learners according to their proficiency. We modify the tasks according to their proficiency, too. Of course, we also look at the quality of their responses on the task – but only within the relatively narrow range of 70-100% (eg your scoring a 7, 8, etc.). This is what shows me I need to grade interpretive work with a rubric, even though it’s so fast & easy to do it numerically. Using your approach builds student confidence and stays firmly within proficiency guidelines. Using points has left me with too many low scores that erode confidence and create an unrealistic expectation for my NH/IL learners to understand everything that I ask. Thanks!

    Reply
  3. Jennifer Robinson

    Hi Lisa,

    I am very interested in making major changes to my grading practices, so I look forward to reading how this new system works for you. I’m curious to know what your gradebook will look like? Do you still plan to do 80% IPAs and 20% miscellaneous as you explained in a previous post? I’m also wondering how you handle final exams – just part of the IPA grades? And do you ever have them do creative projects – would that grade fall under miscellaneous?

    Hope you’re enjoying the KC area. My husband’s family is there, so we visit often.

    Thanks again for sharing all of your wonderful ideas and the thought processes behind them.
    Best,
    Jennifer

    Reply
    1. madameshepard Post author

      Hi, Jennifer It seems that my percentages will have to change in my new district. It is my understanding that the departmental percentages are Productive Assessments (50%), Receptive Assessments (30%) and Knowledge and Reasoning Assessments & Practice (20%). Although it is my personal belief that receptive skills are as important as productive skills, I must respect my department’s decision on this. I will ask, however, if I can at least separate the productive assessments into speaking (25%) and writing (25%) and receptive into listening (15%) and reading (15%), so that the students will have more information when looking at their grade averages. I look forward to learning more about the final category. Because the curriculum in my new school is made up of fewer units and distributes grade cards more often (every 6 weeks), I will most likely include other assessments into the performance categories. (It seems I will probably have only 1 IPA per marking period and I prefer to have 2-3 scores in each category per grade card.) In the past, when required to give a final exam I used the last IPA of the semester/year and weighted it according to the school’s requirements. If possible, I will do the same in my new district. Due to the nature of IPA’s, they are cumulative in nature and I think they work great as finals. I haven’t assigned any purely creative projects (so that the students’ grades would reflect language proficiency as much as possible), but if I did I would put the score in the Miscellaneous category. The Ohio World Language Scoring Guides that I use do have a descriptor about technology/visual aids so there was a way to assess whether students had prepared an appropriate visual to accompany their presentations.
      Thanks for your kind words! So far we are loving KC, and I’ll be relieved once I’ve met my new students and gotten into the swing of things in my new district. Thanks for reading! Lisa

      Reply
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  5. Betsy

    Congratulations on your move and new teaching position, Lisa! Thank you for such a helpful post. You mentioned before that your new students may not be familiar with proficiency-based assessments. How much time do you think you will dedicate to the explanation of the rubric and how you teach? We completely changed our curriculum at our district just last year, so we will be in the same position. Our goal is 90% French, so it is always difficult to start the year with the nuts and bolts in English. Any suggestions for what has worked for you and your students? Merci encore!

    Reply
    1. madameshepard Post author

      I think you’ve asked a great question to which I don’t have a great answer. As important as an understanding of the rubric is, I don’t think I will addresss it during the first few days of school–I’m afraid I might bore, intimidate or confuse my students. Like you, I’d much rather jummp right in and start using the language with the students. (Post coming soon!) I will, however, spend some time discussing the rubric before their first major assessment. I’m also planning on having the students self-assess (by circling the appropropriate boxes on the rubric) each performance before I mark the rubric, which I think will ensure that the students read the rubric carefully and help them take more ownership over their own learning. Please keep in touch about how your own work is going! Lisa

      Reply
  6. MmeZapor

    I love these rubrics! What would you do for French 1? I haven’t found varying levels of Novice Low on the ODE site. We have trimesters so I was thinking of making 3 rubrics, but the one for the first trimester is the one I am stuck on. What do you think should be the range for French 1 by the end of the year? I was thinking Novice High 1 or 2 by the end of the year.

    Also, I see that you have 5 categories and they only go down to 80%, do you score students lower than 80%?

    Thank you for posting these! You have changed the way I teach and assess!!

    Reply
    1. madameshepard Post author

      Hi! I don’t teach French 1 this year, which is the reason I haven’t included a rubric for them. The ACTFL expectation for the end of Level 1 is Novice Mid (although I know of some schools who use Novice High.) ODE explains that there is no Novice Low on their rubrics because it is not an end of the year target for any course. (They developed their proficiency rubrics to be used for pre- (beginning of the year) and post-assessment (end of the year) purposes . I have 5 sublevels because that’s all I could fit on the page. I will have alternate rubrics available, if necessary for those students who are not performing at the 80% level. Let me know if you have any more questions!

      Reply
  7. Alyse

    Thank you so much for all of your posts – they are immensely helpful! I’m still trying to figure out how I distinguish performance from actual proficiency – how do you determine their proficiency at the end of the year? Do you give a sort of “OPI” or final interview or do you look at their scores over the course of the year and assign it from that?

    I really like that you have the levels divided into 1/2/3 for each sublevel of novice, intermediate, etc. The way my rubric is set up, I only have novice low, mid, high, etc. I’m finding that a lot of my students are scoring a level above their targeted goal, but their proficiency is obviously not at that level. How do you get a genuine measure of their proficiency? I know you have mentioned that you can only assess what you’ve taught them and thus almost everything will be a performance, but I can’t remember if you said what you do (if it’s possible) to actually know what their proficiency is. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. madameshepard Post author

      Hi! I can’t take credit for the rubric since it was created by the Ohio Dept. of Ed, but I like it, too! It is great to be able to show small increments of growth. As for proficiency vs. performance, I think the best answer is that I am only assessing performance. Because I am not trained for OPI, I cannot assess actual proficiency per ACTFL. In my case, I am satisfied with assessing performance using these rubrics. They allow me to show growth and allow the students to both self-assess and set goals for their own progress in communication in all modes. In other words, it’s not necessary for me to know their actual proficiency level to help them become more proficient. I’d love to know what you think!

      Reply
  8. Audra Nolin

    Hi Madame Shepard! I just want to thank you for all your links, ideas and projects you have put out on the web! I am trying to do more of an immersion classroom. There have been many holes I was not able to fill until I read your posts! They are very clear and helpful! I have had some ACTFL training, but still need more before I take “the plunge” as you put it. I am not confident enough to switch over completely. I do about half of my class time in immersion, and the other half is for projects and grammatical explanation. I mainly do the explanation because my students ask me to. I am hoping to switch more and more to immersion, but I still need to research how to grade this type of classroom. Colleagues tell me it is less work than regular grading. Not seeing the whole picture. I think I may take some time this summer to try to figure it out. I am blind walking through new territory, but I have seen your light to guide me. I am grateful. Thank you!!!

    Reply
    1. madameshepard Post author

      Thank you so much for your kind words. If you need someone to bounce ideas off of this summer, let me know! Lisa

      Reply
  9. Audra Nolin

    Lisa, You have no idea how much your offer to bounce ideas off you this summer means to me! I have felt very alone at my school. I am the only French teacher. The only Spanish teacher is a kid and doesn’t have any experience. She is just trying to stay afloat! I don’t blame her. She has not embraced the same program I have, so it is hard! I think I need a summer to digest it a bit more! Thanks again!

    Audra

    Reply
  10. Audra

    Hi Lisa! I was wondering if you could help me with something. I am very confused about SLOs, AKA Student learning Opportunities. I was wondering if you could send me an example, if your district does these. I would like to see how other teachers are doing these documents. Thanks for your consideration!

    Audra

    Reply
    1. madameshepard Post author

      Hi, Audra. My current district doesn’t use them, but I did in OH. The Ohio Dept. of Ed worked with OFLA to develop proficiency-based objectives. I’m currently on my phone with an 8 hour drive ahead of me, but I think you’ll find a lot of info on the ODE site.

      Reply
  11. Marie A

    Hi Mme Shepard,

    I just love your teaching style and I’ve been wanting to implement an proficiency based classroom for a few years now. I have been exploring your work but have made the jump yet. Well this year I’m jumping right into it. Being a native speaker (Haiti, Canada) doesn’t seem to make it easier. I still find it very hard to stay in the target language. My students love it but than expect me to translate. Thanks for your wonderful work.

    Reply
    1. madameshepard Post author

      Hi, Marie. Thank you for your kind words! I think that it takes our students a while to become used to a new style and some of them lack confidence in themselves ( or don’t trust that we will make sure they understand us). I also think that many of us ( myself included) find ourselves using English at times when we’re exhausted or lacking confidence. Don’t be too hard on yourself!

      Reply
  12. Jennifer Geroux

    Hello Lisa! I would like to get your help and advice with my classes for next year. I have 3 sections of French 1 and 2 combined, 1 section of French 3, 4, and AP combined, and 1 section of French 3 and 4 combined. Do you have some advice regarding the lower levels especially? My e-mail address is gerouxje@tcaps.net.

    Thank you in advance and you continue to save my life with all of your work and sharing!
    MERCI MILLE FOIS!!!!!!

    Reply
  13. Audra

    Hi Lisa! I was wondering if you had any videos of yourself teaching with this method. I would love to view them! I could use some new ideas, and I am trying to incorporate the same type of grading in my own classroom.

    Reply
    1. madameshepard Post author

      Hi, Audra. I’m afraid I don’t have any videos of me teaching. As a somewhat socially anxious introvert, the thought of video-taping myself makes me almost break out in hives. I will say, though, that there wouldn’t be much to see, in terms of what I do during a typical class period. Most of my work is in creating the learning experiences that I share here. During class I generally give short explanations on our activity and then circulate and monitor my students’ as they work on interpersonal, interpretive and presentational activities.

      Reply

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