Friday, August 9, 2013

The case for preliminary assessment

As a Spanish 2 teacher, I have used preliminary assessments for several years.  It gives me a good idea of the structures and vocabulary that the students know coming in.  Since my school, like many TPRS schools, teaches in both past and present in Sp 1, I give the test in the past tense.  This immediately points out the students who have never had past (transfers or freshmen from feeder schools) and students whose acquisition is deficient in essential Sp 1 vocab.  I then give a writing assessment.  By the way, neither of these are given a skill-based grade.  They are given a completion grade.  However, the students know that they are being assessed, so they do their best.

The vocabulary assessment serves two purposes:  it shows me what structures from Spanish 1 should be retaught, and it shows me what students need extra help.  I am always surprised at how very clear this is.  It is a 50-item test, and most people score within 5 points of one another.  Then there are always a few people who have scores significantly above the rest.  They are earmarked so that I can carefully review their writing.  If their writing is also above average, I recommend them for 2 honors.  Others are significantly below the average--for example, most people score between 37-42, but there are also 2-3 who score in the low 20s.  They are given mandatory tutoring so that they can catch up to the rest.

In Spanish 1, we give the school's placement test during the first week of class.  The reason for this is twofold:  we want to make sure every student has had the test, and we want to make sure that the students are in the proper level.  The placement test is followed by a writing sample.  This sample was eye-opening to me, a new Sp 1 teacher.  It showed the wide disparity of the Sp 1 students.  The majority wrote lists or very elementary sentences, but there were some who wrote stories that showed that they definitely should not be in Sp 1.  It also lets us see if there are native speakers who didn't take the test (or who took the test but didn't self-identify) because they don't feel that they can write well enough to be in a Heritage class.  Their writing, even though it is full of mistakes, has certain characteristics that show that the person writing is a native speaker (ke for que, for example, llebo for llevo, etc).

If you are wondering about assessment, I'd say to definitely give it a go.  It gives you a clear idea of where your students are, and it shows you what you need to know to help them to be successful this year.

By the way, my writing assessments are purposefully very general.  Second year:  un chico quería comer en un restaurante nuevo.  Tenía un problema--quería ir a un restaurante en otra ciudad y no tenía un carro.  Then in English I tell them to give him a name, explain the problem, find a solution that doesn't work, then find a solution that does.  This gives them the idea to go into past.  I don't count them down if they stay in present, but it does let me know that they probably had no past tense in first year.

In first year, the prompt is even simpler:  un chico quiere una amiga/novia.  In English, I tell them to describe the boy, describe where he lives, etc.  They can write a story where the boy tries to find a friend then finally finds one.   I tell them that I understand that this is Spanish 1.  There is no pressure to write a story-if they can't, then please make phrases or even just a list of the Spanish words that they know.  Very quickly, I saw that there were 3 categories:  the brand new ones, the ones who have had classes but who have never written and don't have sufficient vocabulary, and the ones who have vocabulary but are better off with a review year than with Sp 2.  This doesn't count the misplaced students, of course.

Next time:  what do you do to teach Sp 1 in the first weeks--unless, of course, I change my mind :)

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