Ninth & Tenth Departmental Meetings
Ninth Departmental Meeting
Using Rubrics to Assess Student Performance
Joan: Welcome to our first session on assessments. At our last meeting I asked Ramon to bring examples of the rubrics he uses with his students to assess their performances in the three modes of communication. He has brought copies of the rubrics for each of you so you can follow along with the presentation.
Ramon: I know I am not the only teacher in our department who uses rubrics to assess student performances. So, please, those of you who are familiar with rubrics, feel free to make comments or suggestions during my presentation. Let me start by telling you that I have used several different sources to create my rubrics. Two years ago I attended a workshop on assessment at our state World Languages conference. The presenters shared their rubrics which I used to develop my own set. The presenters talked about their need to use rubrics because their curriculum required all the teachers in the department to use a common assessment instrument. First, they agreed on using a holistic rubric based on a 9-point scale. A 9-8 labeled, “Exceeds Expectations,” describes the qualities of an excellent performance. The second level, a 7-6, labeled “Meets Expectations,” provides descriptors of a proficient performance. At the third level, a 5-4, labeled “Approaches Expectations,” describes a performance which is not yet proficient but lets students know the areas which need improvement. The fourth level, a 3-2, labeled “Needs Intervention,” is a pretty strong warning to students that they need to get extra help.
Carol: I assume you use the numbers on the rubric when you calculate student grades. Please explain what the numbers mean and how you use them.
Ramon: We haven’t really talked about how each of us grades our students, but because the school district requires us to give letter grades to our students I use a 9 point scale with 9 being an A; 8 is an A-; 7 is a B and a 6 is a B-. A score of 5-4 is a C and a score of 3-2 is a D.
Joan: I know most of us use a point-system to calculate student grades. Do you convert the rubric score to points, and if you do, could you please explain the system you use?
Ramon: Yes. I still use points to arrive at the grades for my students. For example let’s say I use a rubric to evaluate a student who participates in a conversation with another student. If the student receives an 8 on the performance and the performance is based on 20 points, then the student receives 18.5 points. I have a 9-point scale conversion chart which lets me convert a holistic score for evaluations worth a range of 20, 30, 50, to 100 points. For example, for a 50 point evaluation, a holistic score of 8 would be 46 points and a holistic score of 6 would convert to 41 points.
Giselle: What are the advantages of using rubrics? It still seems a bit complicated to me.
Ramon: I have found that the biggest advantage to using rubrics is that my students know exactly what they need to do to demonstrate their proficiency in a given assessment. For example, when my students have a writing assessment, they receive the scoring rubric well in advance of the assessment. With the rubric in hand, they know what they need to do to be proficient on the assessment. They know the criteria for a 9 or 8 as well as for a 7 or 6. My students know that a score of at least a 6 means they are proficient for that assessment. They also know if they score below a 6, that they need to push a bit harder by asking more questions, spending more time on their assignments, and getting extra help.
Marta: I can see that using rubrics can help motivate students to keep improving their performances. As Ramon said, when students know exactly how well they need to perform, it empowers them to make more of an effort to do well. Also, the rubrics give students immediate feedback on their performance by telling them in which areas they did well and in which areas they need to improve.
Carol: Ramon, please explain the process you used to create your rubrics.
Ramon: As I mentioned before, I first heard about rubrics when I attended a session at our state conference. The presenters gave us copies of rubrics they were using with their students. I started with their descriptors and have continued to revise my rubrics by using them with my students. Also, our national organization, ACTFL, has published Performance Descriptors for Language Learners. The descriptors, which range from Novice to Intermediate to Advanced levels of proficiency, define performance in terms of language functions: contexts/content, text types, language control, vocabulary use, communication strategies, and cultural awareness. When I create my rubrics I take into account which mode of communication is being assessed, the level of proficiency of my students, and the components of the task. For example if students are asked to do a written assessment, I decide what criteria I will use to define a score of 9-8 or an “exceeds expectations” performance. I have shared with you a copy of one of my rubrics for a writing assessment. You can see that I selected the following criteria for my rubric; fluency of the language, the amount of detail in the response, comprehensibility, organization, vocabulary, grammar, and style. Once I have defined the 9-8 level of performance, I can easily adjust the wording for the next levels of performance. For example, at the 9-8 level the student’s fluency is defined as, “strong ability to express ideas with fluency.” At the 7-6 level, a student is able “to express ideas with fluency.” At the 5-4 level a student is demonstrating “an emerging ability to express ideas with occasional signs of fluency.” At the 3-2 level a student has “limited ability to express ideas.”
Giselle: Most of the rubrics I have seen require a teacher to score each criterion separately. For example a teacher would provide a separate score for fluency, for comprehensibility, for vocabulary, etc.
Ramon: Yes. I have used analytical rubrics as well. However, I have become more and more comfortable with my holistic rubrics. I find they are less cumbersome, easier to use to evaluate the performances of my students, and the wording is clear and concise.
Joan: I think, as a department, we will need to come to a consensus on the type of rubrics all of us will use. I can see the advantages of analytical rubrics as well as the advantages of the holistic ones. I propose that we start with the holistic rubric and make adjustments as we implement the program.
Roger: I agree with Joan. It is important that we have consistency in the criteria we use to assess student performance. Without total agreement on the assessment criteria, we won’t be able to determine if a “9” for my students is the same as a “9” for the students in Ramon’s classes.
Carol: I suggest we begin with the rubrics Ramon has created for his students. We can use them on a trial basis for the next several weeks and see how they work for us and for our students.
Ramon: I will be more than glad to share my rubrics with the rest of you. I look forward to receiving your feedback. Also, I have begun to create rubrics for the different proficiency levels of my students. For example, I have a rubric to assess interpersonal speaking for my beginning students and a different rubric for interpersonal speaking for my advanced students. I am tinkering with rubrics for different levels of proficiency but am not convinced yet that the different proficiency levels really require a difference in the wording of the scoring criteria.
Joan: Since all of us will be using the same set of criteria to assess student performance we can begin to use a common set of rubrics to evaluate each other’s students as well as improve our own ability to score accurately our own students.
Carol: Since we are talking about assessments, I have recently read in one of ACTFL’s publications about IPA’s–Integrated Performance Assessments. The idea is to create assessments for the three modes of communication: interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational. But, instead of isolated assessments, the teacher integrates the assessments. For example, students read an article–the interpretive mode. Then, they use the information in the article to have a discussion with a classmate–the interpersonal mode– after which they make a presentation–the presentational mode–to an audience using the information from the article and from their discussion with their classmate. To prepare for the assessments, the teacher decides on a theme for the unit. The activities leading up to the assessments prepare students to read with comprehension, to discuss ideas with a classmate, and finally to prepare and present the material to an audience.
Ramon: I think the integration of the assessment tasks will make a lot of sense to our students especially when they see that the class activities and the assessments are all linked to a specific theme. I can already think of some themes which would be interesting to our students such as popular music, sports, social media, and friendships.
Joan: Thank you Ramon, for sharing your rubrics. I suggest that before our next meeting all of us try to use at least one rubric to assess our students. I would like for us at our next meeting to share our experiences with rubrics as a starting point for a general discussion about how we each determine the grades for our students.
Tenth Departmental Meeting
Determining Student Grades
Redefining the Credit
Phasing in the New Curriculum
Discussing Performance vs. Proficiency
Joan: This afternoon we will devote our entire meeting to a discussion of rubrics and student grades. I hope that all of you have had an opportunity to use at least one rubric with your students since our last department meeting. From personal experience I know that change of any kind can seem rather daunting. We all get use to our unique way of doing things. However, I have been looking forward to our discussion on student grading and hearing from all of you about your grading practices. Even though our school has a common grading scale, I doubt whether there is much of a commonality among the staff as to how each of us determines a final grade for our students. So, first I would like to open the meeting with a discussion about rubrics.
Carol: I have to admit that I am still quite skeptical about using rubrics to assess my students. My first reaction, after hearing Ramon’s presentation, was that the rubric descriptors are really too broad to let me accurately assess my students. For example, most of my quizzes and tests are more or less discrete items such as sentence completion, fill-in-the blank, and matching. With these assessments the answers are simply right or wrong. I don’t see why I would use a rubric to grade my students on the quizzes and tests I give my students.
Roger: I think Carol has a point. I also give my students several short, formative-type quizzes during the course of a specific chapter in the textbook. These quizzes are usually short answer which I score simply by giving a point for each correct answer. I add up the total correct points and that is the grade the student receives. However, I do give speaking quizzes which I discovered I couldn’t score in the same way I scored a short answer quiz because, in a speaking assessment, there isn’t just one “correct” answer. Therefore to grade a speaking quiz I start the rubric with what I would expect in an outstanding performance. I include many of the performance descriptors that Ramon shared with us at our last meeting. For example, my rubric descriptors include fluency of speech, organization of the presentation, pronunciation, range of vocabulary, and grammar.
Carol: What was the reaction of your students?
Roger: The transition was a lot easier that I had expected. I soon realized that all my students are very familiar with rubrics. The English teachers in our district have been using rubrics to grade student writing for quite some time. In fact, my students told me that they prefer rubrics. They use the descriptors to help them improve their scores. Also, since all the English teachers use a common rubric to score student writing, there is an accepted understanding among the teachers and their students of what makes a good writer.
Giselle: I, too, was surprised to realize that my students were already quite comfortable with rubrics. Several days before their writing assessment, I gave my students the rubric I would be using to grade their composition. Instead of re-creating the wheel, I used the rubric Ramon had shared with us. I went over each of the performance levels with my students so that they had a clear understanding of the expectations. I also stressed the importance of showing their proficiency on the assessment by getting at least a “6.” I used the discussion to let them know how important it is to consistently score at least a “6” on their assessments. They seemed to understand that being proficient in the language is a worthy goal rather than just scraping by with “C’s” and “D’s.”
Marta: I had mixed results with the rubric. Even though my students are familiar with rubrics in their English classes, they are not use to me using rubrics with them. I had some push-back from my students especially when they realized that I would now be using a rubric to score all their speaking and writing quizzes. Before Ramon’s presentation at our last department meeting I was using a somewhat modified rubric to grade their speaking assessments. For example, for each oral quiz I determined the number of points the quiz was worth. I would usually make a quiz worth 25 points so that each component of the performance was worth 5 points, and I would score each part separately. For example, I would score points for vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, organization, and fluency. My students liked to see a separate score for each of the components of the rubric rather than just receiving one composite score. However, I do like the ease of grading with the holistic rubric. I think students still receive sufficient feedback on their performance with the holistic rubric.
Joan: I thank all of you for trying out the rubric. I, too, found that my students adapted quite well to the use of rubrics. I am encouraged by all your comments. As we move forward with our discussions I propose that we continue to use holistic rubrics to assess student performances. At this point, I would like to begin the discussion on student grading.
Giselle: I use a point system to calculate student grades. My students earn points for quizzes and tests, homework, class participation, and on occasion I give students extra credit when they need a few extra points to raise their grades. I don’t “weight” the grades. In other words the points for quizzes and tests are counted the same as points for homework and class participation. Because I give homework almost every day, the points for homework really add up over the course of the nine-week grading period. It sometimes happens that the homework points often equal the accumulative points for all the quizzes and tests during the same nine-week grading period. I often worry that the grades are not really an accurate reflection of what my students can actually do in the language.
Carol: I have the same concern. I also use a point system very similar to what Giselle just described. I try to strike a balance between points for quizzes and tests and what I call the “soft” points for homework and class participation. However, now that we have been discussing the possibility of creating a curriculum based on proficiency and performance, I am beginning to think that my grading system tends to inflate student grades. Giving points for homework, class participation, and extra credit can often give a less-than-accurate picture of how well my students can actually use German for communication.
Joan: I have been fortunate to teach at least one Advanced Placement class each year for the past several years. I follow the AP guidelines so that by the end of the course my students are prepared to take the AP exam. To be honest, I have often been disappointed with the scores my students receive on the exam. You know I get the top students in my AP classes. Most of my students come to AP class with straight “A’s” in their previous Spanish classes. I also use the point system to calculate student grades. I include points for homework and class participation when I figure the final grade. Now, I am wondering if our grading systems are contributing to the mismatch we are seeing between the grades our students receive and how well they can actually speak, listen, read, and write in the target language. The AP test measures only how well students can use the language for communication. Maybe we should think about giving grades based solely on performance. I know this is a pretty radical notion and we might get some complaints from our students. However, I think the change would benefit our students in the long run. What do the rest of you think?
Giselle: If we based our grades exclusively on how well students perform on quizzes and tests, wouldn’t our students resist doing homework if they were not going to receive points for the work? What would motivate our students to do homework and participate in class if they were not getting points for their efforts?
Ramon: I think several of you know that my students do not receive points for homework or class participation. At first, I worried that my students would have a difficult time adjusting to being graded solely on their ability to perform in the language. To make the transition, I give them copies of the rubrics I use to evaluate their performances so that they know ahead of time how to study to do well on the performances. I explain that the best way to prepare for the performances is to participate in class and do their homework. It is hard to believe but I have more students than ever before participating in class and doing their homework. They get the connection between being prepared for class and doing well on the performances. I have to admit that before starting to implement this new policy many of my students thought homework was just busy work. Plus, I was spending valuable class time each day going around and checking student work. We still go over the homework but now my students know how important the homework is because it relates directly to how well they will do on their performances. Honestly, the change was a lot easier than I had expected. Once students know that their performance is what counts, they do what it takes to be ready.
Joan: Several months ago we had a discussion about credit for performance. We all agreed that a proficiency-based curriculum made more sense if we tied credit to performance. You may recall that we discussed the possibility of linking credits to a given proficiency level. For example, students who demonstrate proficiency at Novice-High receive one credit and move on to Intermediate-Low. When they demonstrate proficiency at Intermediate-Low, they receive one credit and move on to Intermediate-Mid, and so on through Intermediate-High. Knowing for certain that our students who complete two credits are able to demonstrate their proficiency at Intermediate Low becomes the rationale for the change. I also remember discussing the need to correlate our grading system so that students who are getting “A’s” and “B’s” are also demonstrating proficiency. In other words, we agreed that “A’s” and “B’s” equal proficiency, and that proficient students are ready to move to the next level.
Roger: Now I understand why our discussion on student grading really makes sense if we go with a proficiency-based curriculum. How can we use grades to indicate proficiency when all of us grade a bit differently? The only way I see the program working is if we all agree to use the same grading system.
Ramon: So if we are talking about performance, then we need to grade our students only on their ability to perform.
Giselle: I can see the reasons why we all need to agree on a common policy for assessing our students. If we all agree on the descriptors of what students need to do to demonstrate proficiency at a given level, then we must agree to assess our students using the same methods, which means we all use the same rubrics and the same grading policies.
Carol: If we were to get Board approval, I still think we would have a very difficult time implementing this program. For example, many of my current students in third-year German are having a lot of difficulty doing the work. They have come into the third year with very few skills. Even though they have been in German classes since seventh grade, they are still only proficient at a Novice-High. What do we do with students who are in the higher levels but are still functioning at a Novice-High? And to make matters more confusing, their records show they have two credits in German even though their skills are pretty minimal.
Joan: I see your point. How can we change the rules of the game when our students have been moving through the levels based on the requirements of our current system? I don’t see us able to “take away” credit once it has been given.
Ramon: Let’s suppose that we phase-in the program. We could begin the program with our seventh graders. They would have two years to be proficient at Novice-High. Then, the second year when the seventh graders move on to eighth grade, we could begin the Novice-High level at the high school for those students who didn’t take a language in middle school or for our high school students who want to begin a new language. In the third year we continue the Novice-High levels at both the middle and high school and phase in the Intermediate-Low level. In the fourth year we phase in Intermediate-Mid followed by Intermediate-High in the fifth year of the phase-in. Students who begin in seventh grade and continue in the program each year could reach an Intermediate-High by the end of their junior year. We currently have four levels of classes at the high school. To encourage seniors to stay in the program we could call the sixth year of the program Intermediate-High AP.
Joan: A phase-in of the program would definitely make more sense to our administrators as well as a selling point to our Board. Beginning the program with our middle school students would give us a full year to see how the program is working. Also, the teachers can monitor the progress of their students and measure their performances against the standards for Novice-High. As students move on to eighth grade they are still moving toward proficiency at Novice-High. At the end of eighth grade all students who demonstrate proficiency at Novice-High receive one credit and move on to Intermediate-Low at the high school.
Roger: Another difficulty I see in selling the credit-for-performance program is trying to overturn the ingrained belief that one year equals one credit. The whole notion of our credit system is based on the amount of time students sit in class. Now we are considering changing the meaning of the credit from seat-time to performance. We all know some of our students would probably not be able to demonstrate a Novice-High level after one year in our classes. However, in our current system they sit in our classes for one year, receive at least a “D,” and still get the credit. Do the rest of you see a problem with redefining the credit?
Ramon: Credit based on performance just makes more sense to me. Why do we continue to give our students credit when, in many cases, the credit does not necessarily mean that a student is proficient? When a student gets a credit, it should show that the student is proficient and ready to move on to the next level.
Roger: Yes, but how do we tell students and parents that it may take some students longer than one year to demonstrate proficiency at a given level? What will be the reaction when students realize that it might take two years to become proficient at a certain level and still only get one credit?
Ramon: Yes, but isn’t that more honest in the long run? Haven’t we already begun to make the shift from seat time to performance? I thought the whole movement towards standards was to define what students should know and be able to do. What good are the standards when students are only meeting the standards at a “C” or “D” level? Again, for us in World Languages, the emphasis is on “doing,” not “sitting.” If I had my way, schools would do away with a required number of credits for graduation. Students graduate when they can demonstrate what they have learned in real world situations. For us in World Languages we are talking about having our students demonstrate proficiency. We can use the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines to define our expectations. At least for now we are still required to give credit. So let’s make the credit mean something.
Joan: I think I am hearing an agreement to go ahead and redefine credit from seat-time to performance. I think we can sell credits based on performance to our administrators and to the School Board. For the past two years the emphasis in our district has been on authentic assessment. To me, “authentic” is another word for “meaningful.” A credit based on proficiency means that a student has met the standard. The credit is meaningful and therefore authentic.
Marta: I have been reluctant to join in the conversation because I am basically in agreement with everything we have been discussing. However, at this point I think we need to have a discussion about the differences between proficiency and performance. Thus far in our discussions we seem to be using the terms interchangeably. From what I have read from ACTFL, there are specific differences between the two terms. ACTFL defines performance as practiced ability with the language. In other words, when students “perform” in the target language, students are using the language they have learned and practiced in an instructional setting within familiar contexts and content areas. On the other hand, students who demonstrate a specific proficiency level use language in a non-rehearsed, spontaneous interaction which is independent of a specific curriculum, content, or context. To determine a specific proficiency level, a person must be able to demonstrate all the criteria for a particular level, all of the time, as described in the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines. For me the main difference between performance and proficiency is that performance is based on language which is learned and practiced in an instructional setting whereas proficiency is the spontaneous use of language regardless of where the language was learned.
Ramon: Even though it may appear that we are “splitting hairs” when we make a distinction between performance and proficiency, I see that we can still use both performance and proficiency when we describe our program. As I see it, we use the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines to define our expectations for what our students need to do to be proficient at Novice-High, for example. The Proficiency Guidelines clearly express what Novice- High speakers, listeners, readers, and writers are expected to do in the target language. Within a proficiency-based curriculum we use performance to define what our students can do in the language after they have learned and practiced that language in the classroom. Remember our discussion on rubrics. The rubrics define the performance so that students know if they have met or exceeded expectations. The rubrics also give students important feedback on their performance. If they haven’t met expectations, they know what they need to do on their next performance to be proficient.
Carol: I think I hear Ramon saying that we use the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines to describe what students are expected to do with language at a specific level of proficiency and student performance in the language is what we can measure in our classrooms. We expect our students to perform, to show us what they have learned.
Roger: I suggest we use the levels of proficiency as defined in the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines to provide the structure for our program, and we use performances to determine if students are learning what we are teaching them.
Giselle: Let me return to our discussion of the hologram as an analogy for what we are trying to do. Just as each piece of a hologram contains the whole picture; our proficiency/performance based curriculum provides a complete picture of our program. Even when we consider that we teach three different languages and there are six of us, each one of us will hold our students accountable to the same standards. We will use the same proficiency descriptors to define the levels of our classes, and we will use the same assessment strategies to define the performances of our students. Each piece of our program contains the whole picture.
Joan: I think this might be a good time to stop and summarize the components of our proposed program. First, we have decided to use the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines to define the levels of our program. We will begin with Novice-Mid with our seventh graders and end with Intermediate-High AP at the high school. We will use the Guidelines to explain to students, parents, administrators, and School Board our expectations for what our students can do in the target language at each level of proficiency. Second, we have decided to phase in the program beginning with students in seventh grade. During our first year of implementation the students in seventh grade will be enrolled in a Novice-Mid language class. At the end of eighth grade, they will demonstrate their proficiency at the Novice-High level. At the end of eighth grade those students who meet the requirements for Novice-High will receive one credit and continue on to Intermediate-Low in ninth grade at the high school. During the second year of the program we will begin Novice-High classes at the high school. Each year we will continue to phase in a level up to Intermediate-High. Students who are proficient to continue beyond Intermediate-High can enroll in a class which we will call Intermediate-High AP.
Ramon: I think at this point we need to explain our thinking on credit for performance rather than credit for seat time. I think all of us would agree that earning a credit for performance might be the most controversial part of our program. We need to be ready to have a convincing rationale for this change.
Roger: For me, the “credit for performance” is the linchpin of our entire program. We haven’t really said it in so many words thus far, but the program we are proposing really ups the ante for our students. Students will no longer be able to just squeak by and still get their credit. Some of them will need to put a lot more effort into their work if they want a credit for the class. We need to convince them as well as their parents that students who complete this program will be prepared for college and career. Also we are pretty confident, based on our experiences with students over the years, that students who succeed are motivated to continue with language study. At the minimum, it will be clear to everyone what a Novice-High student is able to do in the target language.
Carol: I think we often underestimate our students. I have seen time and again that students can rise to the expectations that we set for them. It is ironic, but the easier the class, the less a student works. You would think it would be easy to get an “A” in an easy class, but when the class is too easy, students don’t work hard enough even to get a good grade.
Giselle: I think once our students understand the rationale for credit for performance, they will be motivated to do what it takes to get the credit. We know students work hard when the goals are clear and attainable. I have done a lot of thinking about our discussions over the past several months and have come to the conclusion that our proficiency/per-formance-based program is based first and foremost on student success. By that I mean our program is grounded in the best thinking in our field, and all of us are committed to graduating students who can communicate in another language.
Joan: It is very exciting to hear all your comments. I realize how important it is for each of us to own these changes. The fact that each of us has contributed to the change process has made us all the more confident that we can convince others to support us and our students as we move forward.
Roger: Our discussions over the past several months about student assessment have been the most enlightening for me. For one thing, I am eager to start using more rubrics to assess my students. The few times I have used rubrics with my students, their reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Several students told me the rubric motivated them to improve their performance because they knew specifically what they had to do to get a “9” instead of a “6.”
Giselle: I am eager to try out the new grading system. Since our previous discussion on grades, I have explained to my students that the scores on their performances will be the only factor I will use to calculate grades. I told them the performance is everything. If they participate in class, do their homework, and prepare for their quizzes and tests, they will succeed. They get it!
Joan: Now that we have the foundation of our program in place, I propose that our upcoming work needs to focus on lesson design. We need to take a close look at how we will go about preparing our students for their performances. Here are a few questions to consider: Do we use our same textbooks? How do we integrate more authentic materials into the program? How do we use more technology? What will our lessons look like? With our emphasis on performance assessment, how will we need to change our current assessments? Should we create theme-based lessons? How will we integrate more culture into our lessons? How can we use more target language in our classes?
Marta: At our last state conference, I attended a workshop on the topic of Integrated Performance Assessments. The idea of the IPA is to begin with the end in mind. In other words, the first thing we do is create assessments for each of the three modes of communication–interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational. The assessments are linked together around a common theme or task. After teachers create the assessments, teachers design activities to prepare their students for the assessments.
Joan: At our next department meeting I propose we take a more in-depth look at Integrated Performance Assessments.
Marta: I will be glad to share with all of you the information I learned at the workshop. I have several handouts which I will bring to our next meeting. I look forward to a lively discussion.