There has been a lot of talk in the foreign language world about how to incorporate standards based grading (search #sbg on social media like Twitter or Instagram) to better reflect proficiency levels.  Just one week before Langchat covered this topic (see this summary for some great ideas), I saw a video that really affected me.  It was a spoken word music video by Sully Breaks entitled “I Will Not Let an Exam Result Decide My Fate”.  Have you seen it? If not, then you should.  I won’t post the video here, simply because I do not want to risk unintentionally insulting any superiors.  It is absolutely G-rated, though.

This video put words to some thoughts that I have had for a while: there seems to be nothing I can do to avoid attaching grades to effort, and vice versa.  And if grades unavoidably reflect effort, what is the point in them?  What is the point in paying me to teach if all a student has to do is complete an assignment to get a grade?  Is there any way that grades can reflect learning?

I was to the point of giving up on grades, and I probably am still at that point.  Sure, I will put in my required number of grades a week, but it is meaningless to me.  What IS meaningful to me is learning. I want my students to learn, no matter what it takes.  And I could not care less what grade they have in the gradebook.

So this raises two questions.  If I no longer care about the grades: 1. How do I know if students are learning? 2. How do I let students know where they stand in their learning so that they can actively set goals and strive to meet them?

This is where Standards Based Grading comes in!  It all starts with designing assessments that are performance-based and measure proficiency.  It ends in valuable feedback to the students.  The assessments and proficiency measures are something our department has dabbled in already this school year, adopting a proficiency assessment rubric designed by Sara Elizabeth Cottrell at (see her post about measuring proficiency). The part that I have been unsure of is valuable feedback.  We all know that feedback is essential for students.  But how do I give meaningful feedback that helps students set goals for moving up?  Do I just correct the errors?  Leave kind messages using the “sandwhich” method: pick two good things and sandwich them around one error?  I think that I’ve found the answer, and it has been staring me in the face all year.  It’s in the RUBRIC!

Let me take a moment to define some terms very quickly.  According to the ACTFL, performance assessments assess what the students have learned. Proficiency assessments assess students’ levels independent of what they have learned.  With our latest assessment in pre-AP Spanish II, we have simultaneously assessed performance and proficiency.  That is to say that I have used a task that based on what we have covered in the last unit to assess students’ ability to perform.  The task is broad and does not limit students, and therefore may also be used to assess proficiency, in my opinion, at least.

I have taken an extra amount of time to score the students’ work (thank you for the snow days!).  I have written encouragement about where the student is now, level-wise, with a list of all of the indicators from that level that are evidenced in the students’ work.  Next to this, I have written “Next Goal: (next proficiency level)”, with a list of indicators for the next level.  The idea is that students will constantly refer to this as we progress through the next unit and be better equipped to inherently self-assess.

This may sound a little confusing to some, and others are reading this thinking, “duh, what’s the big deal”.  But in our area of the world, this idea of standards based grading is not very common.  It may not even be well-received.  Here are some examples of the way I am now providing feedback to students:

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There are a couple of things that I want to note here.  First of all, you’ll notice that I’ve corrected spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes.  A lot of foreign language teachers feel that this should not be done because when students look at their paper, they see all of these marks and shut down.  They can’t process it as valuable information to use for improvement.  I agree with this 100%, if  the corrections are the only feedback; however, I am hoping here that my students will see the goals set at the bottom as encouragement, and that they will be encouraged by the fact that these mistakes, indicative of their current proficiency levels, are not detracting from their grade. And this brings me to my next point.  Remember how I said there must be some sort of grade in the gradebook?  That’s where task completion comes in.  At the top of the pages you can see the number circled next to task.  This tells the student how completely he or she completed the task (again, effort based, not standard based).  This grade is given on a scale from one to five, with five being only 1/2 a point higher than a four because five is going “above and beyond” what is asked.  The Musicuentos rubric  has a “language control” grading option along with the task completion, but again, I am hoping to encourage my students to keep pushing their level, not to break down their confidence when they take risks.  Afterall, these mistakes are indicative of their levels, so why should they have points taken away from them when it’s something that is to be expected?

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I want to show this assessment because this student is a heritage learner.  I know that this student can write better than this; however, the student must show me what he or she can do in order to be assessed at their highest ability.  By providing meaningful feedback, this student will know exactly what is expected.  This example also demonstrates how critical the “comprehensibility” component is.  For heritage learners, the thing that hold them back from being understood by a wider audience are grammar, punctuation, and especially spelling and accentuation.  Now this student has a clear reason to pay attention to these rules for language control.


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I have included this last example because, well, it’s really great!  I had to go off of the rubric and I turned to the NCSSFL-ACTFL Global Can-Do Benchmarks to give feedback to this student.  You’ll see that I gave her a suggestion at the bottom for alternative tasks in our next unit to assess her level (I love the Can-Do Benchmarks!). This student sample is also a prime example of WHY OUR DISTRICT NEEDS A HERITAGE LEARNERS PROGRAM.  Why is this student sitting in a classroom with non-heritage Novice-Mid level learners?  What good does that do her?  Yes, I can differentiate until I am blue in the face, but can you image the possibilities if she were in a class filled with other heritage learners who could scaffold her learning and development?  Also, according to our district policies, this student would be required to take another level of Spanish before she could move on to AP Spanish Language and Culture.


So, what do you think about Standards Based Grading?  My next goal is to develop a way to assign grades based on improvement.  Can it be done?  Do you have any suggestions?

Happy language-learning and as always,

¡buena suerte!

Profe Cochran