Four Steps That Help
Language Learners Achieve
Higher Proficiency Levels
There’s no doubt about it: employers around the world are looking for multilingual skills and applicants1. In an increasingly globalized economy, workers with the ability to communicate across cultures, not just borders, is a must for upcoming generations. The stats on how bilingualism or multilingualism can increase your income2 is also overwhelming. So, why aren’t more U.S. schools embracing proficiency-based world language education? The reasons vary: from lack of funding to a shortage of teachers to simply not making it a priority. As such, teachers or faculty themselves are often the ones advocating for their classrooms and programs. With this four-step approach, you can turn your school’s, district’s, or institution’s world language program into a cycle of proficiency with measurable, year-over-year outcomes and proven program efficacy.
Start Where You Are Now
For many, improving upon or starting a proficiency-based language program can seem daunting at first. The benefit of understanding the cycle is that you can start wherever your program happens to be at that moment. There’s no one way to accomplish your goals. It does, however, take a commitment to incremental changes. By doing so, one step builds on the next and so begins the cycle that gains momentum each year.
Many schools, districts, and institutions are already using proficiency assessment such as the Avant STAMP™. Subjects taught across the board use assessment as a means to gather data on learner skills and identify areas for improvement. There’s no argument as to its effectiveness. Assessing for language proficiency, though, is still not a regular practice for many, let alone with any frequency. Assessing once a year, and usually toward the end of the school year is helpful for identifying areas for improvement or making adjustments for the next school year. For those that assess for a Seal of Biliteracy at the end of a graduating high school senior’s last year, the learner only has one chance to demonstrate their skills for this purpose. When most scholarship and college applications are required to be submitted in the fall of the high school senior year, even a learner scoring a higher level of proficiency still isn’t able to include their achievement on these applications. When assessment can be incorporated more than once a year, these adjustments and skill demonstrations have more opportunity to prove useful in the same school year.
Colleges and universities are also unable to verify the learner’s proficiency level upon admission, unless they test again. This often results in higher achievers entering into lower-level college courses to meet a requirement, getting bored and making it harder for institutions to retain them for language-based majors or minors. One superintendent, in San Bernardino County, California, is committed to changing that. Learn how he’s improving access and equity for the Seal of Biliteracy.
By conducting proficiency testing early in the school year, and throughout the learner’s high school and college tenures, you provide consistent benchmarks. At each interval, both learner and educator can identify exactly which skills need improvement and how to “power-up” their proficiency. As an added benefit: learners of today appreciate the ability to see improvement. Regular feedback helps keep them engaged in a language program beyond high school: propelling them into college and careers.
Regardless of the frequency, one thing assessment always yields is data. Compiling assessment data over time allows for benchmarking and setting improvement goals. Teachers and professors across the K-12 and higher education spectrums are often afraid that the data will reveal imperfections in their teaching. Contrast this with educators that learn data-informed practices and leverage the knowledge gleaned in daily curriculum. They are seeing dramatic increases in their student outcomes. Before they joined the Avant team, Bonnie Peterson, former district world language supervisor, and Roger Burt, former Spanish teacher, used the Avant STAMP tests in this way. Hear how they accomplished programmatic outcomes.
How do you use all that data once you have it? Sometimes it means starting with the basics: do you really know what proficiency means? Can you look at a learner’s written statement or hear an oral response and identify the characteristics that make it an Intermediate-Low versus Intermediate-Mid? Accelerating your program goals means growing educators’ skills alongside their learners. All of Avant’s assessments are currently based on the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines. Avant ADVANCE was designed to help educators better understand these proficiency guidelines using an affordable, self-paced, flexible, online tool. Educators everywhere are finding that their own knowledge of proficiency has increased their ability to adjust their curriculum more readily and effectively.
Avant MORE Learning is a next level resource for educators. Educators train educators on data-informed practices in a program tailored to meet the needs of the institution and those within it. Even if you’re the only world language teacher in your school, MORE Learning seeks to connect educators across the globe in a learning community. Check out this webinar on Understanding Proficiency Assessments and Their Data as an example.
It’s hard to find the right path until you know where you are going. Arguably, this could be your first step. That’s the great thing: it can be. Each world language program is just as different as each language learner’s journey to proficiency. Achievement is about setting goals. What outcomes would you like to see? In which skills would you like higher scores? How many more graduates would you like to earn a Seal of Biliteracy or commit to a language-based major? To which goals should your learners be looking toward, so they stay engaged with language? Whether you are just starting out or a seasoned educator, others have gone before you in this cycle and want to help others succeed along the way. Read one educator’s advice to her younger self in becoming a better, proficiency-based world language teacher.
Throughout these four steps, you are not alone. Avant can help you get started or continue to build your programs. Contact our assessment experts to discuss how you can unlock opportunities.______________________________________________
1 The Bilingual Advantage in the Workplace, Language Magazine, 2018.
2 How Being Bilingual Can Increase Your Income, Forbes, 202
About Avant Assessment
Avant’s mission is to improve the teaching and learning of language in the US and around the world through effective language proficiency testing and professional development. Our products are not only for educators but also for business and government agencies that see the significant positive impact from bilingual team members