ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines are a CI Teacher’s Best Friend

We just finished a week of assessment and I was very pleased with the results. The students universally reported feeling proud of their work, I got a break, and I got to see how well they’re comprehending in listening and reading, and how they write when given no support and are allowed to create with the language.

I’m sometimes at a loss for how to rate them on the ACTFL scale. The Proficiency Guidelines are designed to accommodate students from all kinds of classrooms, and if you read between the lines it’s pretty obvious that ACTFL almost expects kids to be working on thematic units and memorized lists. If you look at all the Novice sub levels, across all four skill sets (reading, writing, listening, and speaking), the text type students are expected to control is isolated words and phrases. My comprehension-taught students have never spent much time working with this text type, so I have never had a student produce Novice-level writing nor be unable to comprehend spoken or written passages above the Novice level. The only Novice-level performance I would expect to (briefly) see would be speaking, as speaking is the last to develop. I don’t assess speaking in the first year. By the time I ask them to speak, in the second semester of second year, they’re already able to form sentences and are thus at least Intermediate Low speakers.

Intermediate High listeners are supposed to be able to derive information from sentence-length speech. But my students, after five and a half weeks of class, can universally comprehend multi-paragraph discourse. That’s Advanced-level discourse. However, the text is a familiar (yet relatively complex) story created in class. So it’s a highly-scaffolded (and one might argue, practiced) text. I’m not clear where that puts my kids. To be safe, I say it’s Intermediate High until later in the year when I begin using previously-unknown stories and texts to assess. See the ACTFL Listening Proficiency Guidelines for more detail.

Here’s a randomly-chosen Listening sample from a first-year class. It’s a description of a One Word Image.

Reading comprehension develops more quickly than listening, most likely due to the reader’s ability to re-read as well as the extra layer of textual support (at least in phonetic, alphabetic systems). Intermediate High readers are expected to derive meaning from connected texts using high-frequency vocabulary. Again, due to the practiced nature of the class-created stories we are using now at the beginning of the year, I am more apt to rate them Intermediate Mid, which specifies that readers bring personal interest or knowledge to the task. See the ACTFL Reading Proficiency Guidelines for more detail.

Here’s a reading sample and the text I gave them.

In writing most of my students begin their journey at Intermediate Mid where, the ACTFL Writing Proficiency Guidelines specify that writers are able to produce strings of loosely-connected sentences mostly in present tense that closely resemble oral speech. There are sometimes significant grammar errors. Even Intermediate High writing contains so many errors that their readers’ comprehension might sometimes be affected.

Here are a few random writing samples.

I located a study from the University of Oregon and it says that only 2.6% of Oregon high school students achieve Intermediate Low and 0.4% achieve Intermediate High reading proficiency by the end of Year One. My comprehension-taught students are clearly reading at an Intermediate Mid or High level after six weeks. In writing, only 3.9% of students are writing at Intermediate Low and 0.1% at Intermediate Mid at the end of Year One.

On these charts the scale is

1-Novice Low

2-Novice Mid

3-Novice High

4-Intermediate Low

5-Intermediate Mid

My little seventh graders are outperforming high school fourth-year classes after six weeks. CI works!!

3 thoughts on “ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines are a CI Teacher’s Best Friend

  1. frenchcreekgardens

    Yeah, well, those 4th year kids can conjugate the subjunctive and plus-que-parfait! What do you say to that? 😜

    1. tinahargaden

      I could too! Then I went to France and tried to talk. Whoops. They say pride goeth before a fall. 😳


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