In the early 2000’s, Cheryl Johnson, Instructional Technologist at Denison University in Ohio, first learned about the Avant STAMP™ assessment. At the time, she didn’t recommend it to her department. “It was new and untested,” she said. However, in 2008, Johnson had learned more and began to see how the language proficiency assessment could help improve their programs. She recommended it to her college language department, and they’ve been using it for years. Now, Denison’s language program assesses incoming students to the major, provides exit testing for graduating seniors to earn their Global Seal of Biliteracy, uses the data to improve curriculum, and makes their administrative reporting a breeze.
Crafting The Proficiency Formula
Today, Denison’s language department begins with assessing all intermediate-level students as an entry to the major: those typically going into 213 conversational courses or 215 Spanish writing skills. They have three language majors: French, German, and Spanish. The entry testing allows professors the opportunity to know what to expect of their students from the very beginning. For example, Johnson attended the IALLT conference one year and heard that the hosting university saw a trend in student listening skills being the weakest within their programs. Dr. Nausica Marcos Miguel, one of Denison’s Spanish professors, and Johnson had pulled their STAMP test data earlier and had found that their own student listening skills were not measuring up. Hearing that a large university, with much more STAMP assessment data to review, found these results validated that this skill is a challenge for many and must be focused on for improvement. Since then, they’ve been able to incorporate tools such as LyricsTraining.com and TEDEd to make learning more enjoyable and improve language listening skills. Even at the 100-level courses, they’ve been able to implement tools such as TalkAbroad and Boomalang where they converse with a partner whose primary language is the target language. The students very much enjoy those options to learn and improve. And, they are better equipped to enter the higher level courses.
Reporting, For The Win
According to Johnson, the reporting makes everyone’s jobs that much easier. When cultural knowledge and academic writing can be much harder to prove, language proficiency assessment provides concrete evidence of program efficacy. “Administration loves it,” Johnson said, “they know exactly what the department graduates know.” Over the years, Johnson has seen a definite improvement in their reporting abilities. She still has a three-ring binder of the paper results and spreadsheets she used to have to keep to recall and report on students’ testing scores. Now, she receives the results in a downloaded .csv file to print individual results or save as a PDF and email to students. Johnson says it is helpful to have a physical, printed result to hand them in class so each student can see exactly where they are in their skills.
Student Success Outcomes Proven
Over the years, Denison has refined its processes. They encourage students to stick with the major with the promise of “exit testing” their senior year to earn their Global Seal of Biliteracy. Every language learner has an opportunity to take the Avant STAMP, regardless of whether Denison has a major in that language, including Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese. Johnson hands them information on the STAMP test, the ACTFL standards and what they mean, a couple of short paragraphs on the Global Seal of Biliteracy, and the importance of putting the credential on their LinkedIn profiles. All students, according to Johnson, want to know how it can help them go on study-abroad, get an internship, or hunt for a job. After testing, Johnson will submit their names and scores for the Global Seal and, according to her, “several walk away with a Working Fluency credential.” This is just one more way for the department to demonstrate their program efficacy and tie their learning to student achievement. Over the years, they’ve even heard back from some students that have gotten jobs because of their language skills.
Denison is a model for how all institutions of higher ed can leverage assessment data for engaging students in language learning, retaining them for language majors, and graduating at higher academic levels. At a time when budgets are tight and program cuts seem to be a regular occurrence, evidence-based programs such as this have a distinct advantage.