Assessing the Proficiency of Young Chinese Language Learners

Ask the Experts

Question: What assessments and rubrics can we use to assess the language proficiency of young learners?

Duarte M. Silva, Executive Director of the California World Language Project in Stanford, California, asked what assessments are available to use or modify to assess the language proficiency K–3 students in their Palo Alto immersion program. The assessment that they have developed is based on a set of pictures that make up a "short story." Students list or describe (depending on their proficiency level) what is going on in the pictures, with the goal that they will use as many sequencing terms as possible. The team wonders if there are assessments of young students' language proficiency that also assess cognitive skills; for example, if they create a story plot based on the pictures. The Common Core State Standards focus on developing and assessing students’ language, content, and cultural knowledge and their cognitive skills, and the field needs assessments for all of these areas.

Responses From the Experts

Michael Bacon, Assistant Director of Dual Language Immersion Programs in the Portland (Oregon) Public Schools, and the team there have used the SOPA and ELLOPA (Student Oral Proficiency Assessment and Early Language Listening and Oral Proficiency Assessment), developed by the Center for Applied Linguistics [CAL], which are designed for use with young learners, are translated into Chinese, and have a scoring rubric that is aligned with the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines.

Michele Anciaux Aoki, World Languages and International Education Program Supervisor in the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Olympia, Washington, and the team there have found the STAMP Benchmarks and Rubrics to be useful tools. STAMP 4Se is designed for use in grades 3–6, but it may be appropriate for grades 1 and 2 as well, especially when students are in an immersion program or are heritage language speakers. Helpful workshops on STAMP, LinguaFolio, and the rating of performance tasks are available online. According to Michele, they are not specifically focused on younger learners, but they could be.

Christina Howe, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Global Village International (a Charter School Collaborative started in Northglenn, Colorado), has worked with Eileen Lorenz to develop a screening tool for students entering grades 2–5, focused on speaking. It is used as an informal screening for students entering the immersion program after first grade. Typically students do not enter the program unless they possess a benchmarked level of proficiency, by grade.

A Proficiency Scale for Use with Young Learners

A related question, asked by Kevin Chang, Director of the Chinese Program at the Chinese American International School (CAIS) in San Francisco, California, is whether there is a language proficiency scale for young learners (Grades K-8) that aligns with ACTFL’s Proficiency Guidelines.

Lynn Thompson, K–8 Foreign Language Assessment Specialist at the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, DC, explains that the term “Junior” as a component of a proficiency scale helps to address this question. The “Junior” level for younger learners was adopted by the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL), following its use by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). The term is used to distinguish between the performance of younger and older learners (high school, college/adult). The language proficiency of young children is related to what they know and can do in the language as well as to their cognitive development and life experience. CAL’s COPE/SOPA Rating Scale (CAL Oral Proficiency Exam/ Student Oral Proficiency Assessment) focuses on children learning the language in a social and academic context, while the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines include focus on adult contexts (social, academic, business, etc.). Lynn suggests that assessments used to understand young learners' language proficiency need to be appropriate for the ages of the students; aligned with the curriculum; and understandable to staff, students, and parents. A good source of information about benchmarking language learning in grades K–5 is available from the Georgia Department of Education.

Additional Resources

For additional resources on assessment in Chinese early language and immersion programs, see the Assessment pages on Asia Society’s website.

Webinar: “Did I Get an IH?” Formative Assessment and Student Empowerment
In a webinar presented in June 2014, David Kojo Hakam and Chiung-Chen Yu discuss the ways that formative assessment in secondary school immersion classes can empower students to take responsibility for their learning and improve their proficiency levels. The presenters share integrated performance assessment (IPA) strategies and technology tools they have used to elevate students’ self-assessment skills and to increase proficiency outcomes. The discussion focuses on incorporating the 2012 ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines in technology-based language instruction, specific scaffolding tasks to maximize language performance, and effective assessment tools and feedback strategies to generate improved outcomes and move students toward advanced proficiency.

View the recorded webinar online. This presentation was first made at the National Chinese Language Conference in Los Angeles, May 10, 2014. Download the presentation.

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    Experts in the field of Chinese language education answer questions that practitioners working in the field ask about.