The topic of assessment raises several questions: what do we assess, how do we conduct the assessment, and where is our data used? When correctly framed, these questions imply a deeper set of inquiries: what can teachers take from innovative assessment to better their teaching, empower their students, increase enrollment, impress parents and administrators, and strengthen advocacy for their programs? This paper will explore how I have improved my teaching and assessment as I worked with my state modern language association over the past five years. Although my students are happier and less stressed, there has not been a drop in the level of learning, so parents and administrators also remain satisfied. In fact, the overall achievement level of my students has risen with all students finding room to excel.
In a world where education is increasingly being treated as a commodity rather than a right, “consumers” are demanding evidence that they are getting what they pay for. This elusive goal has led to a climate where educators work to provide the new evidence for which parents, administrators, and legislators are eager. Because I work at a private institution, I am safe from No Child Left Behind (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act), but I still must consider administrators and trustees who are seeking innovation and accountability. These watchdogs are decreasingly satisfied with anecdotal evidence as to the efficacy of programs and the worth of the humanities. They want not only solid programs but also cutting edge approaches because these factors also play a part in accreditation applications and marketing campaigns.
Latin teachers not only have to justify the presence of the humanities in a curriculum dedicated to STEM and the Common Core, but we also must demonstrate with more than grades what our students have learned. In learning more about assessment, I have substantially changed the way I deliver content, moving from a traditional “grammar, homework, test” classroom to a flipped environment increasingly cognizant of backwards design (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005). Many secondary teachers already promote their programs or find that administrators evaluate them by their students’ achievement on national tests like the Latin AP or the National Latin Exam—or perhaps soon the new ACTFL Latin Interpretive Reading Assessment (ALIRA)—but teachers might also be asked to use less traditional options to show their students’ progress. They might use portfolio assessments such as LinguaFolio, an assessment instrument intended to aid individuals in language learning, or the new NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements, which help learners understand what is required for a specific level of proficiency. A Classicist usually needs to adapt these instruments, and the APA/ACL Standards for Classical Language Learning and those for Teacher Preparation are vital for this adaptation. Similarly, the 2012 Course and Exam Description for the Latin AP has a set of learning objectives and evidence statements along with achievement level descriptions which teachers can mine for their assessment process. Whether being evaluated through a district plan or a national online environment, Latin teachers must find ways to remain true to their goals but also to meet the expectations of many different groups. As I have employed strands of the many options available, moving toward formative and performance assessments, not only has retention improved in my program, but students in my required Latin 1 classes are also finding more success and joy in the material. Learning about assessment can be a test of one’s convictions, but it can also lead to truly positive results.