Reporting Student Progress

Evaluating Students’ Work

An important part of any evaluation system is the manner in which information is reported to students, parents, teachers and administrators as it relates to the communicative performance of students during the course of a lesson, a unit, a semester, or the entire year. Moreover, it is equally important that reporting instruments be reflective of the philosophy predicated by the program of studies, in addition to being congruent with the manner in which students have been evaluated. Therefore, all evaluative instruments and reporting procedures need to mirror each other in order that the same type of information is transmitted. In this sense, reporting procedures will need to provide information which has been derived from evaluation instruments which have measured the language skills both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Nevertheless, the methods used for reporting student progress will vary, either by the school jurisdictions’ evaluation policy and/or the grade level of the student. However, student progress does not necessarily need to be limited to a mark. Anecdotal reporting procedures provide another alternative to quantitative grading, by describing to parents what a student can do in French. Observation or objectivation charts are excellent tools which can be used effectively for reporting student progress on a continual basis or anecdotal reports can be prepared for report card use. Below are two examples of anecdotal reports which could be written on the comments section of a report card. These comments are based on formal observations and on the completion of a particular communicative task.

This type of information is useful to parents as it provides them with insight as to what kinds of concrete activities the students are carrying out in the classroom. However, most schools will expect teachers to prepare a formal mark (letter grade or percentage) which is based on a number of evaluation activities, including the final mark on educational projects and the accompanying listening, reading, writing and speaking activities of these projects. In fact, this mark will more than likely be based on a wide sampling of student work and will need to be balanced out so that it properly reflects the amount of time spent on each language skill.

However, in order to provide students with a better understanding of their language development, other forms of reporting need to be provided. This involves assessment procedures which go beyond the standard notation format (e.g., percentages) and are composed of a variety of evaluative instruments which provide students with information on their progress over the course of the school year. In order to carry out this type of assessment successfully, it is important to formalize an evaluation plan which identifies how the data will be gathered and the recording procedures which will be used to quantify and qualify this information. These assessment procedures can be carried out in a number of ways. One of these is through the use of task-based assessments which principally judge students’ performance by means of criteria, indicating what they know and how well they are be to apply this knowledge. Other formats include self-, peer evaluations and portfolio assessment. Assessment of this sort focuses on learning and student success. Moreover, it also assists teachers, students, parents and administrators in identifying the students’ weaknesses in a more positive fashion and in turn, facilitating in the identification of more effective teaching and learning strategies. This can result in student improvement in these areas and help decrease the chances of learning deficiencies remaining undetected.

A reporting procedure which is becoming increasingly popular as a means of discussing students’ progress is through the use of portfolios and language competency profiling. A portfolio involves the organized collection of a variety of examples of students’ work in the four language skill areas which is illustrative of the attainment of instructional objectives and performance-based outcomes. The examples are also accompanied by an analysis and description of each piece of work for two purposes:

  • 1) to relate to students important information regarding their success in different areas and
  • 2) to provide diagnostic information to future teachers regarding the students’ language proficiency.

The portfolio, then, contains examples of how students are demonstrating their oral and written comprehension in a variety of texts and examples of what students are capable of doing orally and in written form. Thus, portfolios represent the “students’ language learning journey” (Powell) as they progress through the proficiency levels and are made up of selections of the students’ most representative works and not every piece of student work.

The annotated descriptions which accompany the portfolios are given in holistic terms which inform students, parents, and any other interested parties of the range of authentic communicative tasks which the students are capable of carrying out and to what degree. In addition, the portfolio illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of the students’ abilities as they relate to each of the language skills and the components of the program of studies. Portfolios also include students’ reflections on their own work and may include parental feedback if so desired. Including students’ participation in the development and maintenance of the portfolio requires students to actively participate in the learning process and the acquisition of the language skills. Portfolios also allow students the autonomy to decide what should be contained in their portfolio as a means of making them more accountable for their own learning. Thus, the use of portfolios provides teachers, students and parents with an overview of what has been accomplished in terms of students’ learning over a period of time and promotes active student participation and responsibility in the learning process.

The advantage of portfolio assessment is that the language samples can be used for placement as well as diagnostic purposes. In addition, this type of assessment demonstrates to students, and others who wish to view the portfolio, the progress which has been made in concrete terms, as opposed to the sole reliance on a mark for information. This can be quite motivating for students, because they can trace their progress from the beginning to the end of the school year, or semester, or from year to year. It also allows them access to their own communicative growth, so that they can see how the same communicative tasks can be carried out at different language levels and how the same tasks will vary in their richness and precision as students move along the levels’ continuum. This information should be shared not only with students, but also with parents, other teachers, administrators and future employers as an indication of the students’ language proficiency as it relates to the program.

The process of incorporating a portfolio assessment procedure into an already established evaluation plan can often be a complex and arduous task, which takes time and careful planning, but once in place, becomes a routine rather than a burden. However, in order for portfolios to have educational value, an organized system for gathering examples of student work and a marking schema must be in place from the start. Students must be informed right from the beginning as to what will be contained in the portfolio and what criteria will be used to judge the portfolio. Students also need to know the reason behind the use of portfolios and how they fit into the entire evaluation schema; i.e., what value is being attributed to the portfolio, both quantitatively and qualitatively, in relation to other summative evaluation instruments, such as the marking of assignments and tests. Further, they need to be informed of the fact that portfolios can also be used for placement purposes as it relates to the next proficiency level. Thus, it is very important to determine the role of the portfolio and to indicate to the students how the portfolio will be evaluated and used to inform others of their progress and language development.

To facilitate the assessment of the portfolio, a “Language Competency Profile” can be used to describe what students are capable of doing in each of the four language skills and to what degree. It provides a global picture of students’ language performance as it relates to the learner objectives of the program of studies. If necessary, the global statements can be quantified using a rubric system which will further define whether the students are performing at the desired level or not. “Language Competency Profiles” can also be used for each language skill. In this way, they can be used for diagnostic or reporting purposes such that they can detail the students’ strengths and indicated areas which are in need of improvement for a particular language skill. What is most important to bear in mind, though, is that portfolios can consume a lot of time in their evaluation if evaluation checklists are not prepared beforehand and a maximum amount of time is allocated to their evaluation. Thus, the use of portfolios must be planned for in advance otherwise its use can become a harrowing experience for both the teacher and the students. However, if portfolio use is well planned, it can become an enriching experience for all.

What follows are examples of how student data can be profiled for assessment purposes. The first example (Figure 20) illustrates how a teacher could write a profile for a particular skill, in this case oral production, based on data gathered from a formal evaluative situation. One reason for reporting students’ progress in this manner, may be to assist a student in gaining confidence with the language in a way that is less threatening than a mark. Or, it can be used in addition to the mark, so that students can see where they are doing well and what areas need to be improved. Or, the profile could be sent home so that the teacher could communicate to the student’s parents how their child did in a particular communicative situation as a means of reporting student progress in between formal report card periods. Although Figure 20 is presented in a qualified manner, language competency profiling can be quantified in terms of percentages or through the use of a point system. This decision will need to be taken by the teacher in keeping with school jurisdiction requirements.

The second example demonstrates how a year-end language competency profile may be written so as to provide information on placement for the following year, in addition to describing the degree of attainment of the level as it relates to the achievement standard (Figure 21). This type of reporting can be valuable for the students, their parents, other teachers and administrators, especially in the case of placement. This information defines, in clear terms, what the student is capable of doing in all four language skills and in relation to the objectives of the program of studies.

As the examples will demonstrate, reporting student progress is no longer limited to a mark; rather, it requires that a number of different methods be used in order to inform students of their progress, to let them know where their strengths lie and to indicate what areas are in need of improvement. This form of reporting, then, will assist students in not only improving their ability to use the language, but will increase their confidence and motivate them to learn.