Skip to main content Skip to main content

Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: A Library of Classroom Practices

Assessment Strategies

This program offers a detailed look at efforts to improve assessment in the foreign language classroom. Three case studies feature foreign language teachers using innovative assessment methods such as the Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA) model, Performance Tasks, and Backward Design. Each of these case studies follows a teacher as she works through the process with her students, from setting guidelines and modeling to giving immediate and helpful feedback on performances.


People still think that assessment is what you do after teaching and learning are over as opposed to thinking of assessment as giving feedback to help you to achieve your goal.

– Grant Wiggins, Educational Consultant



This video introduces assessment strategies aligned with the World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages, state and district standards, and curriculum and instructional practices. Three case studies with comments from teachers, students, and experts in the field illustrate how several teachers are assessing their students’ language skills.

The first case study examines an Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA) in a French IV class in Springfield, Massachusetts. In the second case study, Spanish IV and French IV students in Nanuet, New York, present a performance task. Finally, in Pleasant Hill, California, a teacher uses backward design to plan a lesson and assessment for eighth-grade French students.

Use “Assessment Strategies”

  • to learn about or refresh your understanding of different assessment strategies,
  • as the focus of a professional development workshop, or
  • to launch a discussion about assessing foreign language learning.


formal assessment
During a formal assessment, all students in a class are evaluated in the same manner. Their examination involves the same content, format (for example, chapter test or oral report), and testing conditions (for example, length of time). Results are reported as a grade or a score and are used to determine individual students’ abilities in a specific area of learning.
informal assessment
During an informal assessment, a teacher evaluates students’ progress while they are participating in a learning activity, for example, a small-group discussion. Results are typically used to make decisions about what to do next, namely, whether the students are ready to move on or whether they need more practice with the material.
negotiation of meaning
In this process, teachers and students try to convey information to one another and reach mutual comprehension through restating, clarifying, and confirming information. The teacher may help students get started or work through a stumbling block using linguistic and other approaches.
performance assessment
During a performance assessment, students demonstrate their ability to use the target language in real-world activities, namely, things that native speakers might do. For example, students might create a newspaper, respond to a want ad, or conduct an interview to learn about a cultural topic. Teachers can evaluate the performance using a rubric and/or assign traditional grades.
Spiraling is the process of teaching a theme or language rule to different levels of learners by creating multiple tasks that are increasingly complex. For example, a lesson on weather can be spiraled as follows: (1) Novice students can describe the weather in short formulaic sentences; (2) Intermediate students can talk about the weather and its effect on their activities, or gather information from broadcasts or newspapers; and (3) Pre-Advanced students can tell a story about a frightening weather-related event or follow a description of weather in a literary piece.
story map
A story map is a graphic organizer that leads students to discover specific elements from a written or oral text. It is built upon common elements such as characters and characteristics, place, plot, resolution, and moral or lesson, or a “who, what, when, where, how, and why” format.

Assessment Profiles

Integrated Performance Assessment
Nancy Gadbois
French IV, Grades 10-12
High School of Science and Technology
Springfield, Massachusetts

The Springfield School District participated in the ACTFL Performance Assessment Project, which used the ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners (see Resources) to help measure student performance. The project focused on creating authentic, content-rich assessments that integrate the three communicative modes. Nancy Gadbois began doing Integrated Performance Assessments (IPAs) as part of this pilot project. Currently, teacher use of IPAs in Springfield is voluntary, and district-wide assessments do not include performance tasks.

In this case study, Ms. Gadbois’s students complete two portions of an IPA focused on a French music video. For the first task, students interpret the song’s meaning by observing visual cues in the video and by reading the lyrics. After receiving feedback on their interpretations, students complete an interpersonal communication task by discussing in pairs topics inspired by the music video. Ms. Gadbois later concludes assessing the students’ communication skills by having them share what they learned with a French-speaking audience — a presentational communication task.

Spanish and French Performance Assessments
Wendie Santiago/Maureen Pizzutello
Spanish IV/French IV, Grades 11-12
Nanuet High School
Nanuet, New York

Authentic assessments are a district-wide initiative in Nanuet, New York, driven in part by the New York State Board of Regents mandated tests (see Resources). The Regents tests encourage authentic assessments and performance tasks in foreign language education. Nanuet has a spiraling language program, which cycles content at increasingly complex levels from grades 7 through 12. Thus, while the culminating activities used by Ms. Santiago and Ms. Pizzutello were designed to meet the needs of their classes, both teachers used standard, departmental rubrics to assess students’ performances.

In this case study, students write and illustrate a children’s story, then record it on audiotape and perform it for younger students. This culminating activity measures students’ achievement in the level IV class as well as their cumulative language learning in the Nanuet program. The students use rubrics for the written, artistic, and oral components of the project to help them draft their text and rehearse their presentations. The rubrics also serve as the teachers’ assessment tool. Using the same rubric for both purposes ensures that students meet their teacher’s expectations.

Backward Design
Paris Granville
French, Grade 8
Pleasant Hill Middle School
Pleasant Hill, California

Foreign language classes are an elective at the middle-school level in California, so there is no standard assessment required by the state or district. Paris Granville uses the backward design process to create her own multiple assessment methods. For each unit, she begins with the relevant district curriculum objectives, determines her outcome goals, and then designs the students’ final performance or product and how it will be assessed. She then works backward to plan the individual lessons and make connections to the local and national standards. This process ensures that the lesson objectives mirror the assessment, and that individual activities lead to the intended outcomes.

In this case study, Ms. Granville assesses students individually on their interpersonal communication skills using a task that mirrors a previous class activity. She first reads to a group of three students a story similar to one they had read in class, then discusses it with one of the students. During the discussion, Ms. Granville negotiates meaning with the student as the student creates a story map with the information. After the exchange, Ms. Granville uses a rubric to provide the student with immediate feedback. (For more information on Ms. Granville’s class, see A Cajun Folktale and Zydeco.)

Analyze the Video

As you reflect on these questions, write down your responses or discuss them as a group.

Before You Watch
Use the following questions to discuss or reflect on your current assessment practices.

  • How do you presently assess students’ skills in these areas: interpersonal communication, interpretive communication, presentational communication, and cultural knowledge?
  • What guidelines does your school or district provide for assessing students in foreign languages?
  • How do you design assessments so that you are testing what you’ve taught?

Watch the Video
Watch this video in its entirety, or pause for discussion or reflection after each case study. Take notes on each teacher’s assessment strategies, particularly how she provides students with feedback and what her assessments reveal about student performance.

Reflect on the Video
Review your notes, and then respond to the following questions:

  • What kinds of information do these case studies give regarding student performance? Regarding instructional strategies?
  • How would you describe the role of rubrics and feedback in the featured assessment strategies?
  • In the first and second case studies, what is the impact of assessing over a period of several days or weeks rather than over a single class period?

Look Closer
If time allows, take a closer look at the individual case studies. Use the video images below to locate where to begin viewing.

Case Study: Integrated Performance Assessment

You’ll find this segment approximately 5 minutes and 30 seconds after the video starts. Watch for about 22 minutes.

Respond to the following questions:

  • How does the initial interpretive communication task lead students beyond basic comprehension?
  • Following their interpretation of the music video, what kinds of feedback do students receive and what are their reactions?
  • How is the student-to-student interpersonal communication task enriched by the preceding interpretive communication task?
  • During their discussion, what evidence is there that the students are using language in new ways? That they are negotiating meaning?
  • How does the presentational communication task that students do next draw on the two previous tasks?
  • How are rubrics used in the various phases of the IPA?


Case Study: Spanish and French Performance Assessments

You’ll find this segment approximately 28 minutes after the video starts. Watch for about 15 minutes and 30 seconds.

Respond to the following questions:

  • While all three communicative modes are visible in this strategy, the main focus is on a presentational task, both written and oral. How does the children’s story project illustrate key characteristics of presentational communication?
  • How do the teachers’ rubrics address individual student strengths?
  • What evidence do you see that students are engaged in this assessment?
  • How do the teachers work together on this unified assessment? What are the advantages of this kind of collaborative effort?


Video Case Studies: Backward Design

You’ll find this segment approximately 46 minutes after the video starts. Watch for about 7 minutes and 30 seconds.

Respond to the following questions:

  • How does Ms. Granville use backward design to create authentic classroom assessments?
  • How does Ms. Granville assess interpretive communication?
  • How does Ms. Granville assess interpersonal communication?
  • How does Ms. Granville use feedback to both inform students about their performance and shape her future instruction?
  • How do Ms. Granville’s classroom assessment techniques illustrate the adage “test the way you teach”?

Put It Into Practice

Try these ideas in your classroom.

  • If you are new to performance assessment, begin by incorporating smaller, informal assessments into your lessons. For example, turn a classroom activity into an individual task, as Ms. Granville did with the Cajun folktale. Or, if you used a story map to guide students through a class reading, your assessment can include an opportunity for students to map a new story that they have read independently. This approach allows you to examine students’ reading strategies as well as their language abilities. If you are focusing on a commonly taught topic such as weather, include in your lesson an interpretive/interpersonal communication task in which students research the weather in different locations, discuss their findings in a group, then decide where they will travel. The assessment can mirror the learning activity, perhaps with new locations, and can be used to gauge vocabulary acquisition, research skills, and exchange of ideas.
  • Use a compelling topic from your curriculum to build an assessment using the IPA model. Begin with a motivating and engaging video, musical recording, or written text as the prompt for an interpretive communication task. Next, create an interpersonal communication activity that allows students to incorporate content from the interpretive task that they found engaging. The final presentational task, which can be done in pairs or groups, allows students to develop a performance or product that demonstrates, both to themselves and to you, their ability in the language and their knowledge of the culture or content. If possible, try to spread the integrated assessments over several weeks, so that students can better absorb the feedback from one phase and use it productively later on. The ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners (see Resources) can help in the design of rubrics that communicate clear expectations to students.


General Assessment Resources

ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners

Wiggins, Grant, and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1998.

Case Study: Integrated Performance Assessment

“À Nos Actes Manqués” a/c: Jean-Jacques Goldman, pub: JRG Editions Musicales, Music Video: dir: Bernard Schmitt, SONY Music Entertainment (France). Words and music from the album Fredericks Goldman Jones (1991).

American Association of Teachers of French
Note: This site has Carole Frederick’s music videos and accompanying teacher’s manual available for purchase.

IPA Interpretive Task Worksheet (PDF, 16 K)

IPA Project Description (PDF, 16 K)

IPA Student Feedback Sheet (PDF, 20 K)

Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks

Case Study: Spanish and French Performance Assessments

New York State Regents Examinations

Portfolio Project Description: Spanish (PDF, 16 K)

Case Study: Backward Design

California Department of Education Foreign Language Curriculum Frameworks

Rubric for Interpersonal Task (PDF, 16 K)


Series Directory

Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: A Library of Classroom Practices


Produced by WGBH Educational Foundation with the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. 2003. 2016.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-731-2