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Listen Closely: The Avant Annual Proficiency Report

Data whispers.


We need to get close and sit quietly to discover its secrets. And we must be good listeners. If we show up with a headful of opinions and assumptions, we might miss subtle truths and glorious surprises.


As a service to the field, Avant has released its annual report on STAMP test results from 2016-17. The proficiency ratings in this report represent the best national snapshot we have of student performance. Some of these stories are familiar, but others have surprise endings. Let’s start with two common beliefs about language learning and see what the STAMP data can tell us. 


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Avant ADVANCE: Bringing the Standards to Life

Art Fry was so frustrated, he almost said a bad word in church. 


Every time he opened his hymnal, his bookmarks fluttered to the floor. Then he remembered that one of his colleagues at 3M had recently concocted a strange glue that wasn’t very sticky. He applied some of it to scraps of paper and, lo and behold, his bookmarks stayed in place. When 3M secretaries got ahold of the little papers, they started sticking them on memos, folders, and cubicle walls. Today, 3M sells about 50 billion Post-Its each year. 


Avant VP for Education and Assessment Kyle Ennis wasn’t in church when his “Aha!” moment came. He was in New Jersey. “Supervisors there were telling me that teachers moonlighting as STAMP raters were doing amazing things in the classroom. They thought we must be giving them methodology workshops or something. In reality, they just went through RaterConnection, our online rater training and certification system and began scoring student responses with detailed criteria.”


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Training Raters, Transforming Classrooms

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

                        - Will Durant


Avant gets calls from schools around the country every day. But this one was different.


“What have you done to Marie-Pierre?” asked the principal. “She is a totally different teacher. Her classroom is so alive and her program is growing. Whatever you are doing is working.”


At first, the question baffled Maury Ennis, who manages Avant raters like Marie-Pierre. They hadn’t done anything special with Marie-Pierre, just run her through the Avant Rater Connection program so that she could accurately score STAMP 4S speaking and writing responses. And they certainly hadn’t told her how to teach French.


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Interview with Dawn Samples of Lexington School District

Imagine that your dream came true. 


Your district superintendent reads deeply and thoughtfully about World Languages and says, “OK, let’s provide proficiency-based language learning to every student in the district. Let’s make sure that at least 75% of graduates achieve at least Intermediate proficiency. Then World Languages can be a model for other content areas.”


This is just what Dawn Samples’ superintendent in Lexington, S.C. told her in 2009.


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Interview with Better Chinese's James Lin

Interview with Better Chinese's James Lin

James Lin’s first ACTFL Conference in 2005 was a lonely time. The foot traffic to his booth for his company, Better Chinese was light. 11 years later, over 1100 ACTFL attendees are offering Chinese to their students. Better Chinese is thriving.


I catch up with Lin —where else?— on a California highway near his office.


“We are inquiry-based and student-centered,” he says. “Connecting language learning with Chinese learners’ lives and concerns. That’s the magic sauce that keeps us successful.”

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Interview with Marzanna Owinski of The Polish Mission

“My kids are in Poland now, using their Polish to communicate with family, make friends, really connect with people there.”


The proud mother, Marzanna Owinski, is also a language educator leading efforts to improve and expand Polish language education in America. Her organization, The Polish Mission, has worked for 130 years to preserve and promote Polish culture among Michigan’s abundant Polish-American population. The next step towards that goal is establishing a Seal of Biliteracy in Michigan.


“If a child’s heritage language is recognized and rewarded, they are morel likely to maintain and develop it,” says Owinski.


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Avant STAMP and the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines

Avant STAMP and the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines

STAMP was originally developed by the Center for Applied Second Language Studies at the University of Oregon to meet the need for an online proficiency assessment that was based on the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines. The "STA" in STAMP stands for the "Standards" in the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines.


Why Avant STAMP Does Not Add Levels to the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines

Avant STAMP continues to hold true to the main ACTFL Proficiency Guideline levels of Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced and the three sublevels of Low, Mid, and High. The Proficiency Guidelines are the standards that are used to establish the World Language learning standards in virtually all of the states in the US. We believe it is important to maintain the integrity of the three sublevels as defined by ACTFL. Avant does not believe it is appropriate or psychometrically justifiable to create additional sublevels without substantially lengthening the assessment and publishing the specific criteria or details that would differentiate these micro-levels. However, the field has asked for a way of providing more granular levels than the three sublevels the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines define. In order to address this need, Avant has generated scaled scores of 200 to 800 for the Listening and Reading sections based on a psychometric analysis of testing data. We believe that this approach is more scientifically valid than artificially adding sublevels that do not exist in the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines 2012(2012 publication), and that do not exist in any of the other major proficiency scales, ILR or CEFR. 


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WHY PROFICIENCY ASSESSMENT MATTERS

WHY PROFICIENCY ASSESSMENT MATTERS

Proficiency is a much-discussed and frequently used word in the language education field. Our company and others deliver “proficiency” assessments. But which proficiency is most important to assess? Is it a student’s proficiency at conjugating verbs or reproducing dialogues memorized in the classroom? After all, this is the traditional way of teaching language in the U.S. and in Asia. A student who does these tasks well is probably proficient at memorizing grammar rules and set phrases. But do assessments of these skills tell us anything meaningful about the ability to use that language in the real world? Isn't that the real objective of learning a language?

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HOW DOES AVANT RATE SPEAKING AND WRITING RESPONSES?

HOW DOES AVANT RATE SPEAKING AND WRITING RESPONSES?

Who rates the STAMP tests?

The human rated responses in the Avant STAMP, PLACE, Arabic Proficiency Test and the Spanish Heritage Language tests are rated by Certified Avant Raters who are language educators/speakers who meet the following minimum requirements:

  1. LANGUAGE SKILL: Raters must maintain advanced or higher level of language skills (determined by phone interview or test score from an approved assessment, i.e., STAMP4S, OPI, ILR Interview, MOPI, or Praxis/state teacher certification.)

  2. EDUCATION: Raters must hold a bachelor’s degree or higher

  3. TRAINING & CERTIFICATION: Raters must complete the language specific Avant Rater Training Program and score 90% agreement in the certification assessment

  4. AVAILABILITY: Raters must be available to score a specified number of items (student responses) each week (determined by the specific language Rating Manager and rater)

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WHY AVANT NOW RECOMMENDS AVANT STAMP 4Se BEGINNING WITH GRADE 2 STUDENTS

WHY AVANT NOW RECOMMENDS AVANT STAMP 4Se BEGINNING WITH GRADE 2 STUDENTS

Background Information

Avant STAMP 4Se was developed especially to assess the language proficiency of elementary students.


Although STAMP 4Se is a real world proficiency assessment, it uses only questions (items) and content based around daily school and home life for students who are attending an elementary school in the U.S. To make the assessment appropriate for elementary students, and in order to make sure that we are not assessing their English reading ability, written directions are very limited and are always provided aurally so test takers can listen to them. All critical instructions are given in English for all languages tested. For three languages that have a large number of test-takers who are heritage learners: Spanish, Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese, other instructions and tasks for speaking and writing in the target language are given in both English and the target language. All other languages receive the other instructions and tasks in English.


The STAMP 4Se project was initially developed through a Foreign Language Assistance Program (FLAP) grant to the state of Wyoming, which assembled a consortium with five states (South Carolina, New Jersey, Georgia, Kentucky, and Virginia).  The Center for Applied Second Language Studies at the University of Oregon (CASLS) and the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) in Washington, D.C., developed content for the assessments and piloted the tests in collaboration with elementary schools in the cooperating states.

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WHY HERITAGE LANGUAGE LEARNING MATTERS

WHY HERITAGE LANGUAGE LEARNING MATTERS

The United States is a country of immigrants, but historically the second generation of these immigrants has lost their parents’ language – making our country poorer for it; economically, linguistically and culturally. Why has this happened repeatedly throughout our history? One reason could be the pressures of acculturation and the need to quickly fit into America's English speaking society. But in today’s interconnected world does it make sense to allow these valuable skills to just vanish? Fortunately, states across the country have finally begun to recognize the value of maintaining this treasure of linguistic and cultural heritage.

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AVANT STAMP RESULTS - NATIONAL AVERAGES 2016

AVANT STAMP RESULTS - NATIONAL AVERAGES 2016

Avant is pleased to release the first report on National Avant STAMP Data since 2010. The report breaks down the data into individual languages and program type:  Elementary Immersion, Secondary, and Higher Ed. We welcome your feedback and questions.

 

AVANT STAMP RESULTS - NATIONAL AVERAGES 2016

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THE CHICKEN OR THE DATA?

THE CHICKEN OR THE DATA?

Which comes first in your language classroom, the student, or the data tied to that student? Fortunately, the answer to that question is not an either/or response. In fact, do an Internet search for “Teachers and Data” and you will quickly find multiple approaches for gathering data about our students. You will see an increasing amount of literature about the need for teachers to not just have ‘assessment literacy’, but ‘data literacy’ as well. To highlight this point, the National Board for Professional Teacher Standards will unveil a new component this fall, which will ask teachers to show how they incorporate data about and from their students, families, and communities into their decision-making processes.

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THE CODING IS EQUIVALENT TO WORLD LANGUAGE MYTH – SHOULD WE LOOK IN THE MIRROR?

THE CODING IS EQUIVALENT TO WORLD LANGUAGE MYTH – SHOULD WE LOOK IN THE MIRROR?

Some state legislatures have proposed that students who learn to code should earn world language credits. Is learning to code equivalent to learning a world language? The very idea of this seems absurd to a language professional. Coding is certainly a valuable skill in today’s world. It is also understandable that legislators and school administrators need to find space in an already crowded curriculum to squeeze in more learning. However, we believe it is a mistake to replace world language, the one place in the curriculum where students can learn crucial skills for success in our increasingly connected global society and economy.

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TEST RELIABILITY AND VALIDITY

TEST RELIABILITY AND VALIDITY

These are two of the most misunderstood terms in language testing. Both are very important in determining whether a particular test is appropriate in a given situation.


Simply stated, reliability means that if you give the same test to the same student s/he will get the same score. This is not easy to accomplish. For computer scored questions (items) in reading and listening, a test developer needs to conduct a statistical analysis of the items. This process is called psychometric analysis. The analysis is conducted on data from a number of test-takers, who ideally have a wide range of skill levels. If the item is a good one, the analysis will confirm that it consistently discerns the accurate level of the test taker. In other words, if it is an intermediate-low item, novice-level test takers will consistently get it wrong, and intermediate and above test takers will get it correct. The more consistently an item performs this way the better it is at differentiating the test taker’s language skill. The analysis will put each item on a spectrum from easy to hard. The result of that effort will show that not all intermediate-low items are created equal with some items at the same level being harder than others. That degree of difficulty within a level needs to be taken into account when building the test. A computer scored test that consists of a well laid out set of items that have been psychometrically identified as good items should be a highly reliable test of those skills.

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FIXED FORM vs. ADAPTIVE TEST DESIGN IN LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY TESTING

FIXED FORM vs. ADAPTIVE TEST DESIGN IN LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY TESTING

There are two fundamental test designs in language testing: Fixed Form, and Adaptive. In a fixed form test, every test taker receives the same items (aka questions) and can be delivered on paper or computer. An adaptive test can only be delivered on a computer. The computer algorithm scores each item as the test taker answers it, then based on the score of that item or cluster of items, the computer algorithm adjusts the level of the next item or cluster of items to the next “challenge” level. Until the era of computers, it was not possible to do adaptive testing on a large scale. It is still not possible to apply computerized adaptive test design for speaking and writing tests on a large scale. But it is now quite easy and common to use adaptive testing for reading and listening tests.


There are many advantages to adaptive tests. Because the level of difficulty of the items adjusts to the level demonstrated by the test taker, s/he is consistently challenged by items without being overwhelmed by overly difficult items, or bored by easy ones. With an adaptive test, the test taker can rise to the top of the scale based on her/his performance. In an adaptive test, test takers will take various paths through the test so that cheating is much more difficult (yes, it does happen anywhere). Because the adaptive algorithm hones in on the actual level of the test taker quickly, it is able to deliver more items across a wide range of levels that are at or close to the test taker’s skill, increasing the confidence that the final score is accurate - all in a shorter amount of time than a fixed form test. In Avant STAMP, we also use the adaptive reading score to determine the level of prompts we deliver for the writing prompts, and the adaptive listening score in the same way for the speaking prompts, thus making the productive sections semi-adaptive and more appropriately leveled for each test taker.

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HOW STANDARDS ARE USED IN LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY ASSESSMENT

HOW STANDARDS ARE USED IN LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY ASSESSMENT

Language proficiency assessment can seem complex or even mysterious – a black box that just spits out a score. However, it isn’t that complicated once you get familiarized with a few basic concepts. I will be describing some of these basic concepts in the next few blog entries. Here is the first. 


Standards-Based (or Criterion-based) vs Norm-Based (or Norm-Referenced)


Today, most proficiency assessments are standards-based, meaning that the test measures what test-takers can do against a set of fixed standards. Avant STAMP (STAndards-based Measure of Proficiency) assessments use standards that are aligned with the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines. The world language standards for virtually all of the states in the US describe proficiency levels based on the ACTFL Guidelines. Often the standards are operationalized by testing organizations into benchmarks or rubrics. Avant has done this by adding some granularity to these standards to make it possible to use them to score learner responses to test questions. Here are the Benchmarks and Rubrics for Avant STAMP. Other standards-based language tests use a rubric as well to identify specific standards. Here for example, are the rubrics for the AP Spanish Language and Culture assessments.

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WHAT IS PROFICIENCY?

WHAT IS PROFICIENCY?

It is definitely NOT what I learned in my college Japanese courses. 


Proficiency is a much-discussed word in the language field. Our company delivers Avant STAMP and other “proficiency” tests. But what proficiency are we assessing? Proficiency at conjugating verbs or reproducing dialogues memorized in the classroom? After all, someone who does these well is probably proficient at memorizing grammar rules and set phrases. But do assessments of these skills tell us anything meaningful about the ability to function with that language in the real world? The problem with real language is that it is messy and unpredictable, not neat and orderly like a verb conjugation table or a classroom dialogue.


I studied Japanese for two years in college before heading off to Tokyo to study in earnest.  In college we learned the famous “Jordan Method”, rich in set phrases and constructions to memorize. If A then B. If B then C and so on. When I got to Japan I quickly realized that even when I remembered A, instead of B coming next, it was C or K or Z that I heard, and I was completely lost. 

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PROFICIENCY vs. PERFORMANCE vs. ACHIEVEMENT

PROFICIENCY vs. PERFORMANCE vs. ACHIEVEMENT

Simply stated, Proficiency is the ability to use language in a real-world situation, Performance is the ability to use language in a limited and controlled situation such as a classroom or controlled situation-based exchange, and Achievement is the ability to repeat language elements that have been taught and mastered at some level. Each has a role in language learning, but only proficiency is what people use to communicate in the real world. 


Language learners at the novice level need to focus on memorizing vocabulary and the basic building blocks of language so achievement exercises/tests are particularly appropriate and important at this level. So you can just ignore those ads for some language learning programs that claim you won’t need to do any of that needless memorization. Memorization is important, but it is only part of the picture. Without beginning to apply those memorized words and phrases into an unscripted proficiency-based learning environment, learners will not learn how to improvise and respond to the unexpected and incompletely understood situations they will experience in the real world. Instead they risk becoming fearful of any situation in which they do not know every single word. This fear of the uncertain is the experience that many learners have sadly been given in traditional classrooms that focus on rote memorization and regurgitation. So, achievement assessments are important, but if used excessively, can produce learners who are incapable of real world use of the language elements they have learned in class.

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Contributors

David Bong

David Bong

Co-Founder & CEO

The Polish Mission Works With Avant to Establish Nation’s First Standardized Polish Language Test

From the Polish Mission Press Release - September 1, 2017

 

Orchard Lake, MI -- The Polish Mission of the Orchard Lake Schools (TPM) has entered into an agreement with Avant Assessments LLC to establish and distribute a Polish language proficiency exam.  The program was generously supported by the Polish Consulate in Chicago, the Polish Teachers’ Association, and other organizations and individuals.

 

The test is a formal measure of language proficiency, allowing Polish language students to be formally recognized for their bi-literacy, in cooperation with the Seal of Biliteracy.

 

”Polish is one of Europe’s great languages, and Polish Americans are the fifth largest ancestry group that built America. Why wouldn’t their kids have the opportunity to take Polish exams and earn credit for them at American schools?” said Konrad Zieliński, Vice Consul at the Polish Consulate in Chicago, who originally introduced the idea to the staff of The Polish Mission.

 

The test is a STAMP (STAndards-based Measurement of Proficiency) format, designed for grade 7-to-adult speakers.  Currently, STAMP tests are offered in 11 languages, and utilized around the world by schools, colleges and universities. 

 

According to TPM Polish Language Coordinator Marzanna Owinski, “Even though there are about 10 million Polish-Americans, Polish speakers in the United States have never been acknowledged for language proficiency in their own schools, nor even by national language organizations.” She continued: “It was quite surprising to learn there was no such test offered by any American test developers!” Owinski is a member of a Michigan Department of Education workgroup in Lansing assigned with implementation of the Seal of Biliteracy to Michigan schools, and teaches the only high-school Polish language program in Michigan at St. Mary’s Preparatory.

 

Although the test will be offered across the country, it is expected that the three states with the largest Polish-American populations, New York, Illinois, and Michigan, will see the most usage.  Each state has just under a million citizens of Polish descent.

 

According to TPM Director Marcin Chumiecki, “We are proud to have undertaken this--it is a symbol of the vibrancy of Polish culture and heritage in the U.S., and it is part of the mission of our founder that goes all the way back to 1885.” Fr. Józef Dąbrowski (1842-1903) founded the Orchard Lake Schools with a Catholic Seminary in Detroit in 1885.  Still in operation today, the seminary was the first institute of formal higher education for Polish speakers in the U.S.  Chumiecki continued: “The mission of our founder is alive and well; we do this in his honor, and in honor of all Polish-Americans across our great country.  And, there is a special reason we do it on September 1st: It’s the official first day of school in Poland.  There was no better time to announce such a program.” The exam will be ready in Spring 2018.

 

 
 

po polsku

Orchard Lake, MI – W dniu 1 września 2017 roku Misja Polska przy Zespole Szkół w Orchard Lake zawarła umowę z Avant Assessments (amerykańską firma specjalizującą się w opracowywaniu testów językowych), na podstawie której zostanie opracowany pierwszy ogólnokrajowy egzamin z języka polskiego jako obcego w Stanach Zjednoczonych.

 

Realizacja tego projektu jest możliwa dzięki wsparciu finansowemu Konsulatu RP w Chicago, Zrzeszenia Nauczycieli Polskich oraz wielu organizacji polonijnych i osób prywatnych.

Test jest oficjalnym sprawdzianem znajomości języka polskiego, dzięki któremu uczniowie otrzymają specjalną pieczęć dwujęzyczności na ich świadectwach ze szkoły średniej w ramach programu "Seal of Biliteracy". "Język polski jest jednym z najważniejszych języków europejskich, Amerykanie polskiego pochodzenia są potomkami piątej pod względem liczebności grupy etnicznej, która budowała Amerykę. Dlaczego więc nie mielibyśmy mieć szansy zdawania testu z języka polskiego i otrzymania kredytów na uczelniach wyższych"- powiedział Konsul Konrad Zieliński z Konsulatu RP w Chicago, współinicjator projektu.

 

STAMP (ang. STAndards - Based Measurement of Proficiency - standaryzowany sprawdzań biegłości językowej) przeznaczony jest dla osób od klasy siódmej do wieku dorosłego. Obecnie testy STAMP są oferowane w 11 językach i używane na całym świecie przez szkoły podstawowe, średnie i uczelnie wyższe.

 

Według koordynatora języka polskiego Misji Polskiej, Marzanny Owińskiej: "W Stanach Zjednoczonych mieszka około 10 milionów Amerykanów polskiego pochodzenia, jednak język polski nigdy nie był uznawany na poziomie krajowym w amerykańskich szkołach, ani w organizacjach językowych takich jak ACTFL (Amerykańskie Zrzeszenie Nauczycieli Języków Obcych)". "Było dla mnie olbrzymim zaskoczeniem, że żadna amerykańska organizacja zajmująca się opracowywaniem i dystrybucją testów językowych nie posiada standardowego testu dla języka polskiego!"

 

Owinski jest członkiem komisji w michigańskim Departmencie Edukacji w Lansing, pracującej nad wdrożeniem Seal of Biliteracy do szkół w Michigan. Jest również nauczycielką języka polskiego w St. Mary's Preparatory, jedynej szkole średniej w Michigan z takim programem.

 

Test będzie dostępny dla każdej szkoły na terenie Stanów Zjednoczonych , oczekuje się jednak, iż największym zainteresowaniem będzie się cieszył w trzech stanach (Nowy Jork, Illinois i Michigan) charakteryzujących się największym skupiskiem Polonii, gdzie w każdym z trzech stanów mieszka około miliona naszych rodaków

 

Zdaniem dyrektora MP, Marcina Chumieckiego "Z dumą mogę stwierdzić, że nasze działanie jest symbolem witalności kultury polskiej i jej dziedzictwa w Stanach Zjednoczonych, szczególnie, że jest to kontynuacja misji naszego założyciela, która rozpoczęła się w 1885. Właśnie w tym roku ksiądz Józef Dąbrowski, uczestnik Powstania Styczniowego i polski duchowny, za zgodą papieża Leona XIII założył pierwsze polskie seminarium w USA imienia Św. Cyryla i Metodego w Detroit. Seminarium, działające do dzisiaj, było również pierwszą formalną szkołą wyższą dla osób polskojęzycznych oraz początkiem organizacji, którą znamy dzisiaj jako Zespół Szkół w Orchard Lake, a której Misja Polska jest jednym z trzech departamentów”. Chumiecki kontynuuje: "Cieszy mnie fakt, że możemy kontynuować misję ks. Dąbrowskiego i promować edukację, dziedzictwo polskie, a szczególnie naukę języka polskiego w Ameryce. Nieprzypadkowo umowę podpisujemy w dniu 1 września. To właśnie jest dzień, w którym pamiętamy bohaterską postawę polskich żołnierzy broniących Westerplatte przed nazistowski najeźdźcą ale również to dzień kiedy wszystkie polskie dzieci rozpoczynają nowy rok szkolny. To również dzień, który będzie symbolizował wprowadzenie pierwszego ogólnokrajowego standardowego testu z języka polskiego w Stanach Zjednoczonych Ameryki".

 

Egzamin będzie gotowy na wiosnę 2018 roku.

 

Please visit www.polishmission.com for more information

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Contributors

David Bong

David Bong

Co-Founder & CEO

Contributors

David Bong

David Bong

Co-Founder & CEO

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