Middlebury Interactive Languages Assessment

What Makes the Middlebury Interactive Assessment Model Unique?

How the proven assessment models utilized at Middlebury-Monterey Language Academy evaluates students’ progress and provides language proficiency outcomes.

June 20, 2014

“…the great promise of assessment is its deployment in the service of instruction, its capacity to inform the judgment of faculty and students regarding how they can best advance the quality of learning.”

-Lee Shulman, President Emeritus of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

What makes the Middlebury-Monterey Language Academy unique is its fidelity to the immersion language pedagogy of Middlebury College’s famed Language Schools, which for nearly 100 years have enabled business leaders, diplomats and educators to master world languages and make deep global connections. This signature teaching methodology is captured in the mission statement of the Language Schools, which defines the teaching of other languages and cultures as a seamlessly integrated and holistic learning objective.

The immersion approach, utilized at Middlebury Interactive Languages and the language Academy, allows for students to develop language proficiency in conjunction with cultural understanding and intercultural competence. However, the evaluation of the effectiveness of immersion teaching requires an equally distinctive approach to assessing student learning.

Our Assessment Model

At the Academy, our goal is to improve students’ language proficiency and equip them with the skills to compete in our 21st century global marketplace. While language proficiency and real-life communication skills are essential, it is equally important for our students to acquire the cultural understanding necessary to live in an increasingly diverse and rapidly changing global society. In this spirit, we have designed an assessment model to measure student learning across a broad spectrum of outcomes in the areas of language proficiency, cultural knowledge, intercultural communications and 21st century learning strategies.

The Academy’s assessment plan builds upon the most recognized guidelines in the field today: the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages’ (ACTFL) Proficiency Guidelines and the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). One limitation of these measures is that the focus is more on language proficiency and less on the cultural and intercultural growth of the learner inherent in the pedagogical approach of Middlebury College’s Language Schools and the Academy. 

Both ACTFL and the CEFR have developed materials focusing on learners’ cultural awareness and intercultural skills (e.g. ACTFL’s national standards for foreign language education, the European Autobiography of Intercultural Encounters and The European Language Portfolio) through which students can record and reflect on their language learning and cultural experiences. However, there is an additional need to measure student outcomes that demonstrate the impact of immersion on linking the language learning with a deeper understanding of culture.

At the core of our immersion pedagogy is an experiential approach that goes beyond language proficiency to impact the whole individual. The primary educational goals of the language Academy are for students to:

  • Develop a new attitude towards new languages and cultures
  • Acquire new language and cultural skills
  • Gain new language and cultural knowledge
  • The specific knowledge, skills and attitudes that define the Academy are articulated in our Student Learning Outcomes centered in four domains:

1. Language Proficiency (based on ACTFL and CEFR)

2. Intercultural Competency (based on Michael Byram’s Framework of the Intercultural Competence Assessment (INCA) Project, 2004)

3. Learning Strategies

4. 21st Century Skills

How Do We Know What Students Have Learned?

At the beginning and end of the four-week session, Academy students are assessed in the four key areas of world language study: listening, speaking, reading and writing.

To measure students’ learning, the following assessment tools are utilized at the language Academy:

1. Value-Added Assessments

To measure the increase in learning that occurs during the Academy, there must be a baseline measurement at the beginning of the program. Each student’s knowledge, skills and attitudes are assessed through external and internal pre- and post-tests:

• Avant Placement Test completed prior to arrival (external assessment)

• Middlebury Interactive Languages pretest completed online prior arrival and Middlebury Interactive post-test completed online at the end of Academy

• Avant STAMP (STAndards-based Measure of Proficiency) test completed at the end of Academy

2. Student Learning Portfolio

The portfolio, developed by Middlebury Interactive Languages, is a purposeful collection of student work that demonstrates the student’s efforts, progress and achievements during the Academy. The portfolio documents the student’s reflections and assessments of their learning and provides a framework for dialogue with their teacher following the completion of performance-based activities and assessments.

3. Common Task-Based Projects and Rubrics

Each week within the academic program, specific student learning outcomes across all levels and languages are aligned with can-do statements and group projects. Students work on projects in groups, and teachers use the rubrics to evaluate student performance. The project evaluations are added to the portfolio

4. Qualitative and Direct Observation/Assessment of Student Participation in Co-curricular Life

Each week of the Academy, the residential staff uses the ASK (Attitude, Skills and Knowledge) checklist to provide feedback on students’ skills, attitudes and intercultural competency as part of the residential program.

Student Outcome Results

At the end of the program, students and parents receive a comprehensive academic report that details the student’s performance. In 2013, in just four weeks at the Academy, 88% of students accelerated their language learning by one full level on ACTFL’s language proficiency scale, while 45% of all students gained two or more language levels.

Sonja Burrows
Sonja Burrows holds a Ph.D in Spanish from the University of Oregon, and has taught at the University of Oregon and Middlebury College. Her fields of expertise and research aim to bridge the disciplinary gaps between literature and linguistics, and include Spanish Heritage Language pedagogy, Spanish in the U.S., and English-Spanish bilingualism. At Middlebury Interactive Languages, Sonja brings her experience with second- and heritage-language pedagogy to the areas of student performance and ELL curriculum development. A newcomer to Vermont, Sonja’s most important task consists of raising her three young children with good humor and hope, together with the help of her tireless husband.
A Summer Living Immersed in Language: Highlights from the 2014 Middlebury-Monterey Language Academy Middlebury Interactive Languages Assessment