The Proficiency Path: Step 2

Posted by Kara Parker on June 21, 2012 in 1 Planning, 4 Assessments, Proficiency

Now that you are familiar with the proficiency levels, it is time to set realistic expectations for your students. The last thing you want is for them, and you, to be frustrated. Think about your own or a child’s language learning experience. First they say words (many difficult to understand), then phrases, and then eventually sentences. I used to “force” my students to always answer in complete sentences. Now I understand that there is an important progression of language learning.


First let’s look at some research. This 2010 study from the University of Oregon states that most U.S. students are at Novice High/Intermediate Low after 4 years of the language. I find this disappointing. After 4 years, most could only use simple sentences. As the leaders of our classroom, WE create the learning environment to push them to do more if we keep our focus on proficiency.

Here are the JCPS proficiency expectations and corresponding grades:

I have used this for 3 years and it seems to be very appropriate and motivating for my students. I’ve seen the JCPS data and we are achieving NH on the STAMP test in level 1 now.

Remember that one size does not fit all. Also students will develop their language at different rates. So if a student takes all year to reach NH, should their grade be lowered because of NM scores earlier in the year? This is the number 1 reason my Final Assessments are worth 40% of their grade. I would make it worth more if I could. Furthermore, I have set some individual goals lower for specific students based on their background and learning plans (IEP). For example, I had a student who loved Spanish that wanted to take Spanish 3 her Senior year. The last time she had Spanish was Sophomore year and she learned mostly grammar. After she did a pre-assessment, we set her goal one level lower. In the end, she ended up catching up with the rest of the class anyways.

Do you set proficiency expectations for your students?

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10 comments for “The Proficiency Path: Step 2”

  1. This is great! Thank you for sharing this and everything else on your wonderful blog. It has been a source of inspiration for me for a few years. I was wondering, how do you present these proficiency grading guidelines? How do you develop a rubric? Is it based strictly off of the ACTFL proficiency levels or are there any specifics that vary from assessment to assessment? ¡Gracias! 🙂

    1. Kara says:

      The rubric was developed by a district cohort based on the ACTFL prof levels. If I understand what you are asking, the specifics don’t vary, use the same rubric. The assessments state what is needed to complete the task (at bottom of rubric). If a student doesn’t complete the task, I make them retake it. Other teachers may treat this situation differently, and that’s up to them. I present the guidelines using this free powerpoint:
      I show this to students and parents. Did I answer your questions? Honestly, OPI training helped me more than ANYTHING to be comfortable grading this way. (expensive, but worth every penny)

  2. Erica says:

    Students don’t receive lower than a C in the first semester of Spanish I?

    1. Kara Parker says:

      Yes, if they are attempting to complete the assessments. Some may fail if they don’t do anything. Here’s a big positive I saw though. It really encouraged them to even try because they knew a C was the worst that they could get. Many of them were very insecure, especially to talk in Spanish. This gave them a huge relief. In the end, very few had anything below a B. They were (and felt) successful by having clear goals for their language skills. For 7 years I graded without this. Once I switched to this system I also had better conversations with parents that were concerned about their children’s grades. I loved it and they did too.

  3. Jenny says:

    I’m a HUGE fan! I am basically a disciple of yours and I tell people about you and Megan all the time!
    I am finally on a team of teachers where I can really implement all of the wonderful things I have learned from stalking this blog for the past 4 years.
    Can you give a link to a pdf of this “Performance Assessments – Grading Guidelines”?

  4. Kara Parker says:

    How exciting to have a supportive team! Great news. And thanks for the kind words. Here’s a link:

  5. Lori says:

    My apologies if this has been asked. Where do you rate a beginning language student on their very first PBA? I’m sure I will get asked this question. A letter grade of “C” seems low to give a Novice Low if it is their very first attempt. So if they get all these correct would they be Novice High?

    I can say….
    My name and age, where I am from, the date and time, My birthday, and My phone number

    Could you show me what a Novice Low and a Novice High are for the above.


    1. Kara Parker says:

      I would rate them where they are, but avoid assigning it a grade right away. I would track their progress in my grade book as NL, NM, NH. If the school required me to assign a grade (like 1 grade needed per week) I would adjust the grades lower so that is considered meeting expectations.
      “Correct” is not exactly what I’m looking for. I’m looking at structure and vocabulary. So for those goals at NL looks like (with errors):
      Yo Kara, de Indiana, vent y tres agusto, uno-dos-tres-cuatro-cinco-saes-siete.
      NH is in sentences with some details (with errors):
      Soy Kara y soy de Henryville, Indiana. Es muy pequeno. Mi cumpleaños es veinte de noviembre. Mi numero telefono es uno-dos-tres-cuatro-cinco-sies-siete…. Llámame!

  6. Lori says:

    Thank you so much for your expedient reply!!!!! I’m turning over a new leaf and really trying to implement PBAs this year. I am one of 3 Spanish teachers at my school and the only one (so far) trying to model this approach. Our French teacher is ON BOARD. Our other Spanish teachers focus heavily on grammar production so I am sort of Flipping the classroom this year when it comes to grammar. My hope is that my students will do at home lessons from http://www.studyspanish.comwhatever based on whatever I can find that relates grammatically to my current lesson based on proficiency. That way, if they matriculate up to another teacher who relies heavily on grammar and conjugation drill teaching it won’t be a foreign concept to them. My level two’s and three’s are not accustomed to proficiency based teaching so it will be a learning curve for them and me. My level one’s don’t know what to expect, so with them it will be easy. I really appreciate all the tools you guys provide here. It is extremely helpful.

    1. Kara Parker says:

      Exciting changes! Sounds like you have a solid plan. Like any class (or anything in life really), as long as the expectations are clear, they will adapt. I’m glad we can help!

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