Sandra Martins was a good Spanish student. But, when she finally visited Spain for the first time, she found much of what she had learned to be useless.
“All that studying, and I didn’t even feel comfortable buying a newspaper,” she says.
Sandra could easily have been one of those people who say, “I took Spanish in high school, but can’t say a thing.” Instead, she spent more time abroad, learned to communicate well, and became a Spanish teacher. Now, her mission is to ensure that students at College of DuPage, a two-year institution in Illinois, never repeat her demoralizing experience of being unable to communicate in a language they have studied. Her strategy starts with those students.
“We want to heighten their awareness of what it means to be proficient,” she says.
The ACTFL Guidelines and CanDo Statements are a great start, but making those abstract concepts come alive for students is a challenge. So, when colleagues returned from an ACTFL Conference buzzing about an online proficiency assessment they had discovered, she was all ears.
“When I saw STAMP’s individual student reports with the colorful visual data showing in a glance what students can do, I was sold,” she recalls.
So, every College of DuPage language student takes the Avant STAMP test at the end of each year and receives one of those individual reports. They have become such a part of the campus culture that online students have called up saying, “Hey, I want one of those, too!”
“We only look at program-level data, not individual teachers or courses,” she explains. “As with the students, the idea is to inform, not judge or punish anyone.” This value-added approach has led to buy-in from the full-time faculty.
Since College of DuPage implemented STAMP several years ago, Sandra has been promoted to Dean of Liberal Arts, and her vision for the power of proficiency assessment has broadened.
“We are working with K-12 schools that send us students and four-year institutions that receive our graduates,” she explains. “Proficiency scores are the perfect tool for articulating both internally and externally with these partners. We want College of DuPage to be known as a great place to learn languages.”
Using STAMP as a means for placement and credit-by-exam inculcates a culture of learning. As four-year institutions recognize proficiency scores for placement and credit, those colorful STAMP reports become valuable credentials that can save students money and reduce time to graduation.
As Dean of Liberal Arts, Sandra is looking beyond foreign languages. All disciplines are being asked to provide data on student learning. “So, when I talk with, say, the Philosophy Department, I ask them how they are defining student success,” she says. “Obviously, STAMP is not the answer for them, but it is a great model of how you might define and measure learning to improve your program.”
Sandra’s passion around the power of assessment to improve learning is palpable.
“Yeah, you can say I drank the Kool-Aid,” she laughs. “But, it isn’t fattening and tastes great!”
For more information about the Avant STAMP language proficiency test, click here.
For more information about the College of DuPage’s Languages program, click here.