Rubrics to Assess Typical Proficiency and Performance Levels in Years One through Three

I just wrote this, the first time I have formalized the “system” I had inside my head to assign grades to portfolio assessments.

We use an ACTFL-Aligned Rubric (provided at the end of this Manual) to provide feedback to the students on their level of performance on the task. Generally, first-year students score an Intermediate High or Advanced Low on reading and listening performance tasks. This is because they are able to derive “substantial meaning” from narration in paragraph-length discourse with which they have personal experience and some developed background knowledge. In the lower levels of proficiency, the students are able to “derive partial” meaning from sentence-length discourse. Clearly, the students are able to handle longer discourse than sentence-level discourse, because they have heard and read full sentences and paragraph-length discourse since their first day of school.

See this research publication from CASLS at the University of Oregon:…/tenqu…/TBQProficiencyResults.pdf

Excerpted from the study:

Question: What level of foreign language proficiency does the typical student achieve in a high school program?

Answer: The majority of students studying a foreign language in a traditional high school program reach benchmark level 3 or 4 by end of the fourth year of study, regardless of the language studied. These levels are similar to the ACTFL levels Novice-High and Intermediate-Low.

I get back to my own writing here:

Because students who receive high doses of comprehensible messages in the language and opportunities to interact in L2 generally meet or exceed the expected perfoemance/proficiency targets, either these research findings or the district/state expectations, most students make As on the summative assessment. I set a “moving, achievable target” for an A. For example, Portland Public Schools expects students at the end of the first year of language study to demonstrate a Novice High to Intermediate Low proficiency level in Group One languages (cognate-rich languages such as Spanish, French, and German) and Novice Mid to N0vice High in less-closely-related languages sich as Mandarin Chinese and Arabic. Therefore, I backwards plan my grading from that expectation by the end of Assessment Cycle Six, and set my grades at the following levels throughout the year. Note that at first, the level is based on performance and later it is based on proficiency (facility with an unfamiliar text). You can choose to make the Proficiency Tasks Optional or Required, depending on your students’ social-emotional needs.

Most students will score As and Bs on these summative assessments. This can raise eyebrows in some school populations. This is why it is important to keep portfolios and align our assessment to the standards, using an ACTFL-aligned rubric (such as the one provided in this Manual). In my opinion, we should be celebrating the well-informed educator who can, through using best practices that align to the national standards, guide almost all of their students to achieve the performance/proficiency targets. A mark of truly effective teaching is the educator’s ability to guide all students to achieve the standards of their subject matter.

The chart below is based upon the expectation that by the end of the first year, students will have a proficiency level in the range of Novice High to Intermediate Low (PPS’ expectation) and may need to be modified to fit your individual situation.


Year Two



Year Three



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