PAA Students Excel at AAPPL Exams, Language Proficiency

“I want to change the conversation from grades to proficiency,” says Rita Barrett, Portland Adventist Academy teacher.

Barrett, who has grown PAA’s language department from two levels of Spanish to four, has made it her education mission to motivate students to desire proficiency in a language instead of simply to pass a classroom test.

“Proficiency is how well you can communicate in a language without practice,” Barrett says. “It is your ability to have a spontaneous conversation with a native speaker, to read something you have never seen before or to write something you have not rehearsed.”

While measuring language proficiency isn’t easy, the ACTFL (the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language) Assessment of Performance toward Proficiency in Language (AAPPL) is an exam that comes close.

This year, every PAA Spanish student was able to take the AAPPL exam, thanks to a generous Don Keele Excellence in Education Award granted to Barrett by the North Pacific Union Conference board of education.

Students in Spanish I and II took the interpretive reading and listening components of the AAPPL test, while upper-level students were tested on interpersonal listening and speaking and presentational writing.

All four classes measured better on the AAPPL than expected. Barrett was inspired by scores from Spanish I. “I felt very strongly that my Spanish I students were a highly motivated, engaged bunch,” says Barrett. “Their performance on the exam did not disappoint. But no matter where students rated on the proficiency scale, it is obvious that every student is acquiring the language. Language acquisition takes time, and I want my students to use test results to motivate them to hang in there.”

Senior Charli Jo Davis is an example of why this exam is so exciting to Barrett. “She achieved what usually takes a year abroad to accomplish: an advanced rating,” says Barrett. “Her score is even more impressive when taken into account that she started at the novice level in Spanish I her sophomore year. ... Now she converses, reads and writes with ease in Spanish, which is the greatest reward for her efforts. Receiving the AAPPL rating was simply confirmation to her of her achievement.”

Even through all the excitement of test scores and awards, Barrett continues to be grounded in the core belief that learning should be loved. “My goal for the Don Keele Award was not to use a standardized test to rank students or to pat ourselves on the back for high achievement,” says Barrett. “I see this testing experience as a way to open their eyes to a new way of thinking about acquiring a second language. Instead of reaching for an A, I want my students to reach for the next level of proficiency and to become lifelong language lovers and learners.”

August 22, 2016 / Oregon Conference
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