Canned Tests – A Request

Alisa would like to hear from anyone who may also have some insights into the assessment money grab as described below:

Since I don’t give grades in elementary, my question for y’all is a bit different but still in the Assessment Arena. It turns out that many schools/districts use a normed assessment like the SOPA or the STAMP to see how their WL students are doing over time. These test makers make lots of claims (like all test makers do) about the usefulness of the test results – helping guide instruction, show student strengths and weaknesses, blah, blah, blah$.

Besides the fact that said tests don’t really align with the research (they submerge the Ss in ‘real-life’ language situations that are above their level of acquisition/proficiency), and many employ all 4 language skills even for novices (video-recorded oral interviews – so painful to watch!), I want to know whether anyone on this PLC can write to me about their experiences using such ‘normed’ languages tests with novices. If no one else here is interested I totally get it – we’ll take the poisonous discussion off of the PLC! Please send me your reflections of specific canned assessments if given in preK-5th grade. ELLOPA, SOPA and STAMP or AAPPL are the ones I’m most interested in.

I have written here about my district’s fling with the SOPA, and my absolute rejection of it as inappropriate for an elementary CI -based program. (Our instruction is based on input; but the SOPA is built on an oral interview (output) plus other dumb ‘activities’ including lotsa discreet vocab with a filter igniter!) I think the folks at the Center for Applied Linguistics learned a lot from us when they came to town!

It served the district’s purposes, though – to have kosher looking data showing that our outcomes have improved with onset of CI instruction – but at the expense of the volunteerkids’/test-takers’ nerves. They were trying so hard to please me and make us look good, even though they didn’t know how to say “under the bookshelf” and other classroom directions and terminology.

Please contact me if you have used a canned assessment and are willing to write up a reflection about it – what were the plusses, if any? How (if so) was the assessment useful? Shortcomings?
I want to address the perceived need for WL proficiency data and some schools/districts’ reliance on these tool$ (for a project I’m working on – plus our district needs to use or create better cornerstone/other WL assessments that reflect progress over time for our evaluations).

Thanks in advance!



4 thoughts on “Canned Tests – A Request”

  1. This is truly a noble endeavor. Affecting change. If I were teaching elementary school or had my kids taking such tests I would be riding your wake, Alisa!

  2. I remember that when I used to work in a language immersion school we have this oral proficiency interview based on SOPA guidelines, but adapted to our situation. This was optional for parents to enroll their child in this learning tracking process. The interviews were recorded and we were trained in how to conduct them. We used a very colorful European posters (people in the park having a picnic, animals in the jungles, etc.) and some toys, and from there we basically interacted with the child and ask specific questions in the middle of this interaction. The whole thing used to take between 10-15 minutes, and the idea was that the assessment was a very low anxiety trigger for the child. I suppose it would be very time consuming to do on a school-wide level in a public school: A lot of work.
    Alisa, you are right, CAL is very output driven.

  3. Yes, Carmen – we did a statistical sampling of the SOPA, but the proctors from CAL were pretty rigid about using thematic sets of vocabulary for the content. They didn’t seem to have a rationale for a lot of the choices they enforced on us…
    Here’s a critique I wrote about the SOPA:

    I am not a fan of the SOPA. Here’s why:

    1. Alignment: It is an output-based test for a program that has shifted considerably to input. Plus the CAL proctors insisted on some thematic and semantic sets of language that we specifically omitted from our instruction (certain classroom objects; prepositions of place): “Put the globe under the table. Put the teacher next to the flag.” We knew a day in advance what the language of the commands would be and told the proctors that our students, for example, didn’t know ‘flag’ or had not acquired ‘next to’ but they insisted on using it anyway, as though guessing or ‘context clues’ would reflect our Ss language acquisition…faulty reasoning if we’re trying to assess what they’ve mastered FROM OUR CLASSES…to me it’s like throwing some multiplication questions on a 1st graders’ math test to see if they extrapolate the algorithm…more formative than summative. Useless for gleaning program efficacy info.

    2. Insensitivity of the instrument: Since at 4th grade oral production is still so paltry, I felt like the instrument wasn’t sensitive enough to reflect all the language that our students have acquired – cuz our target vocab and structures weren’t utilized (selected by the proctors, even with our guiding input) in the oral interview. The older grades (6th, 8th) did experiment w/some storytelling in the oral interview, and felt a bit better about the tool as a reflection of student capability than we at 4th.
    I don’t put a lot of stock in this data for 4th grade, despite the fact that we look good in it….When I saw my individual student scores they did not jive with what I see in the classroom – i.e., my ‘high” students came out w/lower scores than some of my “low” students…so to me it’s unreliable at the student level.

  4. Hi Alisa,

    My department is going to test all students next year with the AAPPL Exam. We did a pilot with 25 students this year. Of course, most of those students (we asked for volunteers for the pilot) were “diligent” students so it’s not REALLY an accurate sampling. We did however find situations where a student in level 2 scored higher than a student in level 4. We had a student in one of our TPRS classes who is in level 2 but got an intermediate low on speaking. This had totally motivated this student even more.

    The topics on the AAPPL are very much like the vocab that would be “covered” in Bryce Hedstrom’s “persona especial” interview.

    This opens up the discussion about how language gets into your head and how language learning is slow, dynamic, and stage-like. Already, I have seen teachers starting to talk about 90%TL use after this pilot and this opened the door for me talking about WHY 90% is even a thing (acquisition is input-dependent) and how to do it without the kids shutting down (comprehensible input).

    My ONLY concern is that I don’t know how accurate these tests are as far as giving a sample of language that is actually in your head. I don’t know if it is possible that a student could get a question that just happens to be one that was “rehearsed” in a class.

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