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End-of-term assessments

March 1, 2016

Along with the holidays come something else that all teachers and students anticipate...end-of-semester assessments!!! While midterms and finals are often viewed as burdensome and intimidating--both for the students that take them and the teachers that create, administer, and grade them--they certainly do not have to be.

What should semester exams in language classes look like?

Let me debunk a couple myths before I show you some examples.

Myth #1: End of semester assessments are intimidating because they are cumulative.

End of semester assessments do not need to be long--they must simply require students to draw on knowledge gained from throughout the course of study. If your curriculum is driven by high-frequency structures, then your assessments will naturally be cumulative since language is cumulative, not isolated.

Much like learning to play a musical instrument, each new piece of knowledge builds on knowledge that has already been acquired. Specialized structures are scattered among basic structures in all modes of communication. (If you teach thematic/topical units, then this is a little more challenging, since the language from each unit does not necessarily transfer from unit to unit.) Both my Spanish 1 and my Spanish 2 curriculum maps are driven by high-frequency structures, and this short paragraph is an English translation of a cumulative reading that covers the first nine units of Spanish 1:

"It's 9:00pm, and there is a car in front of my house. My dad stands up and looks out the window to see who is in the car. He is angry when he sees that it is his brother because he knows that his brother always wants something. He doesn't want to help my uncle because he is tired. He has an idea..."

It's short and sweet. You could ask students to translate it or ask them comprehension questions about it (in English), and then you could ask them to describe (in the target language) what the father's idea is. See? Fast and easy, and students are required to draw on knowledge from each of the nine units. Cumulative assessment. Bam!

Myth #2: End of semester assessments are intimidating because they are summative.

Most people are probably aware of the difference between formative and summative assessments, the importance of both, and their unique roles. (If not, head on over to and start reading!)

In short, a summative assessment is any assessment that is given after students have learned about something and have demonstrated that they know it through informal, or formative, assessments. It is an assessment that is given at the end of a learning process as opposed to one given during a learning process.

Summative assessments don't have to be big, scary exams either. In fact, some of my favorite summative assessments are extremely short. When you create a summative assessment, it is not necessary that it require students to demonstrate everything that they know and can do; rather, it should require students to demonstrate what they know and can do with regard to a specific skill (reading, writing, speaking, listening--if your gradebook is set up like mine).

What is a formative assessment?

If you are teaching your students three new target language structures in one fell swoop, you might first expose students to the structures with a story. During the story asking process, you will have many formative assessments in the form of comprehension checks--quick questions that you ask your students so that you know whether they are following along with you or not. A 'wrong' answer to these questions has no consequence on the student's grade or otherwise; it simply serves as data for you as the teacher to know how well your students understand the material that you are teaching (you don't even need to formally record the data, unless your school requires you to). After story asking, you might do some follow-up story activities. Throughout the course of those activities, students might be required to read, write, speak, draw, listen, etc.

All of those activities are formative assessments, because they allow you to observe how well your students are acquiring the new structures. As you look at and listen to their responses to your questions and the language that they produce, you collect data that tells you to what degree they have acquired the new structures. As soon as the data that you collect (formally or informally) from formative assessments shows that students have acquired the new structures, students are ready for a summative assessment. This simply means that you have determined that students have already learned the material and are now ready to demonstrate their knowledge...but how?

What does a summative assessment look like?

A summative assessment can be similar in format to any of the formative assessments that you gave. The difference is that a summative assessment 'counts'. It's 'official'. Instead of being a way for you to gather data and decide how to proceed with your instruction, a summative assessment is proof that the content has been learned. It's going in the gradebook. Below is a list of ideas for short, summative assessments. If they are composed of language acquired across all units in the semester, they are also cumulative.

As you read through the list, you'll notice that each of the examples requires students to interpret the target language and then complete a task in English. I insist that this is the only way to accurately assess comprehension. Read why here.

Myth #3: IPAs are daunting by nature.

"Integrated Performance Assessment": the name alone causes teachers to shudder and students to cower in fear. Don't let the name overwhelm you! An IPA is simply a three-part assessment that centers on a single theme, with each of the three parts assessing a different mode of communication (interpretive, presentational, interpretive). Each of the three components can be very short, so there is no need to be overwhelmed by this kind of assessment! See the overview of an example Bullfighting IPA in the image on the left. 

Note: the editorial mentioned in the overview would have been teacher-created--NOT AUTHENTIC--so that the assessment assesses students' comprehension of the course material. I only use #authres as the main components of Novice and Intermediate assessments if they are comprehensible to students. You can often task an #authres for a Novice activity, but assessments take away the opportunity to scaffold the resource and so it is rarely possible to make them comprehensible enough to use as the basis for an assessment.

Myth #4: If I give assessments that assess multiple modes of communication or skills, I need to have an 'assessment' category in my gradebook.

Nope! When I give my semester exams that consist of several parts (each one assessing a different skill), students get a separate grade for each component that goes into the corresponding category in the gradebook. Each component is weighted the same as all other grades within that category. For example, if I give a final exam that consists of 2 reading parts, 2 listening parts, 1 writing part, and 1 speaking part, students will get 6 separate grades for the assessment. They will get 2 reading grades that go into the reading category of the gradebook, 2 listening grades, 1 writing grade, and 1 speaking grade. This is how the grades work for my Alma, Llorona, and Espantapájaros assessments.

Summative assessment ideas for proficiency-based language classes

Short, Summative Interpretive Assessments:

  • Listen to (or read) several sets of three statements (two true and one false) and identify which statement is false or otherwise inaccurate.
  • Listen to (or read) three statements in the target language and transcribe and illustrate each one. (Use this form!)
  • Listen to (or read) several statements in the target language and write down their translation in English.
  • Listen to (or read) a series of statements in the target language and put them in a logical order (chronological or otherwise).
  • Listen to (or read) pairs of statements in the target language and identify which happened first and which happened second. (Consider doing it as a 'partner quiz', but realize that the results might be inaccurate and therefore not the best for inclusion in the gradebook.)
  • Listen to (or read) statements in the target language and identify who said or would have said each one. (See a detailed description here.)
  • Listen to (or read) a selection in the target language with omitted words and write down which words would best complete the selection.
  • Listen to (or read) a statement in the target language about an image and determine whether it is an accurate description or not.
  • Listen to (or read) several statements in the target language and determine which statement best describes each image in a series.
  • Listen to (or read) a short selection in the target language and write down a concise summary in English.
  • Listen to (or read) a selection in the target language and illustrate it.

Short, Summative Presentational Assessments

  • In the target language, describe (in writing or speech) an image or series of images provided by the teacher.
  • Read a statement in English and write or say it in the target language.
  • Read or hear a question in English or the target language and respond to it in the target language. If you give students the question in the target language, it is a good idea to also ask them to write down what they think the question was asking. That way, if their response is way off, you know whether it was because they misunderstood the question or because they didn't know how to express their answer. Creating accurate assessments ain't easy!
  • Read several sentence starters in the target language (I think that..., It's good that...) about a specific topic and complete them in writing or in speech in the target language.
  • Students re-write a text in a different tense or from a different perspective.
  • Students draw several cards from a pile and have to write or tell an original story that incorporates all of them. They could draw the cards all at once, or they could draw them one at a time, forcing them to add each card to the plot in order.

Short, Summative Interpersonal Assessments

DISCLAIMER 1: I never gave summative interpersonal assessments; interpersonal mode was always used in activities only (not formal assessments). Read more about my thoughts about interpersonal assessments here. 

DISCLAIMER 2: by "short", I mean that your assessment of each student is quick. It will still take you awhile to assess the whole class!

Simultaneous Presentations: Students find a partner using a Kagan structure (like One Stay, Two Stray or Stand Up Hand Up Pair Up, Inside/Outside Circle, or Parallel Lines). Each partner shares something (retells story, describes an illustration, gives a response to a prompt, etc.), and the other partner asks at least two follow-up questions that the pair discusses. Then, they find new partners. The teacher participates in the activity so that students are paired up with him or her for assessment.

Interrogation: Teacher assigns a topic (ex: family, The Dirty War, etc.) and student rolls a die with a different question word on each face. Student asks a question that starts with that interrogative about the topic  (ex: if student rolled "what", s/he could ask "What do you like to do with your family?"). Teacher responds, then rolls the die and asks a question to the student about the topic. Go back and forth 2-3 times.

Quiz Quiz Trade: Teacher participates in the activity and assesses students when they are paired with him/her.

Random Role: Set a scene or use a familiar story, then have students randomly select a person from that situation or story to represent. Ask students questions, and they must respond from the perspective of their assigned character. (They could start by looking at a picture, reading a story, or drawing on prior knowledge of a story or historical event. If the picture was of a restaurant scene, they could be assigned the role of the waiter, one of the clients, the cook, the restaurant critic, etc.)

Information Gap: Two students have matching infographics or stories that are each missing different information. For example, one copy of the story could give the name of the mother, and the other copy of the story might not have the name of the mother, but it does have the name of the father. Students have to ask each other questions to find the missing details until both students have complete infographics or stories. The teacher can participate or can observe two students in order to get through the assessments for the class twice as quickly.

Quick summative assessment ideas for Spanish teachers and any language teacher!

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