Does your school do benchmarks for Spanish classes? Our school did them pre-Covid, but we have not given benchmarks for the last two years. To be honest, our team has really struggled with benchmarking, and this post is perhaps a reflection and call for ideas and comments.
Finding the Purpose For Benchmarks in Spanish Class
A benchmark is supposed to be a measure of a students skill or proficiency measured from their starting point until their end point, with the hope of gaging progress throughout the school year.
Benchmarks can be useful when the results and data gathered are used to inform instruction. For example, if we find that 30% of our students are at a Novice High proficiency level for speaking at the beginning of the year, the target for those students can be set at Intermediate Low by the end of the year.
Ways To Administer Benchmarks in Spanish Class
There are several ways teachers can design and implement a benchmark system in Spanish class. I will mention 2, but I would love to read comments or receive emails from readers who may have other ideas!
- A Standardized Test: One example is the AAPPL Test by ACTFL. It’s a computerized test that comes in 2 versions. Students are tested on their reading, writing, listening and interpersonal speaking skills. The test is designed to start at one proficiency level and as students move through the test, the difficulty of the tasks increase. Wherever students stop being successful is the proficiency level at which they score.
Advantages of this kind of benchmark:
-someone else does the grading for you! (Some sections are auto-graded and other sections are graded by trained AAPPL Test scorers)
-students are rated by proficiency level
-the test is created (meaning teachers don’t have to do that step)
-teachers have no control over what their students will see on the test
-districts would have to pay for this testing
-often, when districts pay for a standardized test, it becomes required to use this data in a teacher’s yearly goal-setting and evaluation plan
Another option is for teachers to create their own benchmarks. In our school, before Covid, our administrator chose Speaking as the mode she wanted all of our Spanish teachers to focus on.
We worked in teams by year of study to design benchmarks for our students for beginning, middle and end of the year.
We also created our own spreadsheets and rubrics to score and record our data.
-full teacher control over what students would encounter on the benchmark
-full teacher control over grading
-teachers had to find time to create and score all of these benchmarks 3 times a year
-despite numerous attempts to perfect our rubrics and norm our scoring, teachers had a really hard time coming up with the same score for students. (For example, if we all listened to student A, there might be 3 different scores by 3 different teachers.)
Challenges of Benchmarks in Spanish Class
Colleagues, here is the part where I want to express the challenges I have faced, and ask for your ideas! I’m sure many of you have had the experience of knowing what is “best practice” but living in the reality of the classroom often does not make best practice possible. That has been my experience with benchmarks so far!
- Teachers had a hard time agreeing on what to include in the benchmark. Should we include what they already know, what we want them to know by the end of the year, or a combination? Should we test all 4 modes of communication or focus on 1 or 2?
- How can we get better at norming our scoring (if we are doing it ourselves)
- Do we enter benchmarks as a grade? We found that when we didn’t, students didn’t take it seriously. When we did, we changed what we put on the benchmark to make it fair! But then it wasn’t really a benchmark anymore.
- Is it worth the lost class time to administer benchmarks? Students already have so many!
- What if your district asks you to do benchmarks, but they don’t use the data in any meaningful way? (Ex: a student does not reach the desired benchmark by the end of the year, but is promoted to the next level anyway)
- Is it fair to use this data for teacher evaluation? What if a teacher is doing his/her job, yet a student is not making progress? Should this count against the teacher?
- What if you get really good data with the benchmarks, but the reality of school is that you cannot personalize and differentiate appropriately for all students? (So frustrating!)
Colegas, I’d love to hear from you about benchmarks! Feel free to leave a comment on this post or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org