Monday, July 23, 2012

ACL Institute: The ACTFL Latin Reading Test

I am sincerely sorry that I haven't been posting as of late.  As most of you who are teachers know, summer is a time of rest; it is also a time to research and learn, plan and collaborate, and restore your family connections.  I spent a great deal of June traveling with my son, and less time focusing my energy on writing.

I did, however, attend the American Classical League Annual Institute in Las Vegas this summer, and though I was often busy with various duties (I am a board member in the Excellence Through Classics committee), I was glad for the chance to attend several presentations.

Over the next few posts, I'll be writing about some of the presentations that I attended.

ACTFL Latin Reading Proficiency Test
Presented by Sherwin Little and Sally Davis

One of the things that sometimes makes it difficult to be a Latin teacher is the way we're perceived by the wider world and even the smaller world of language teachers.  I can't count the number of times that I have been disregarded with well-meaning smile and a simple, "Oh, well, that doesn't apply to Latin, does it?"

Several wonderful people have been working on at least a step towards unifying Latin and modern language assessment.  A team of teachers and experts, composed of both ACL and ACTFL members, has been creating a reading proficiency test for Latin.  The important thing to note there is it's a reading proficiency test.  Not translation.  It's an important distinction.

Reading indicates a process of comprehension that is holistic instead of step-by-step.  If a student doesn't get a word or understand a point of grammar, can the student still comprehend the passage?  In a traditional translation-based test, both of those setbacks can be worth points off.  In a reading-based test, these setbacks don't necessarily prevent a student from understanding the passage itself and correctly and accurately answering comprehension questions concerning the passage.

Proficiency reflects the skill students display when reading a text they have never seen before.  Can they cope with new textual readings?  Are they only capable of reading simple lists or can they comprehend a paragraph as they read it?  The test will measure student capability and assign it a designation based on the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines for Reading.

What is great about this test is that it only tracks progress.  A proficiency test does not assign a grade or measure our students against students in other places in the world.  It simply reflects the skills students have developed under the guidance of a teacher.  I could see this as a great tool for those of us who are being asked to start measuring student progress from year to year as proof of our educational success.

Okay, so what is in the test?  I've been talking a lot of theory and not a whole lot of reality.

The test is comprised of Latin texts at all levels, and comprehension questions in English.  There are no glossed words, just the text and the questions.  When the student answers a question right, the test will automatically probe into a higher proficiency level by asking a harder question.  If a student answers a question wrong, the test will move back into a question that is aimed at a lower proficiency, until it finds an area of consistent comprehension.  This type of test--computer-adaptive--has existed for a while but until now it hadn't been applied to Latin.  

Five years ago when I asked a company's representative--he was at a conference to present over their new computer-adaptive tests in different languages--whether there could be one in the works for Latin, the answer was "there isn't enough demand".  

Luckily, ACTFL is not just about supply and demand.  And perhaps they noticed a trend in Latin instruction that could support such a project.  The test itself is only $10 and is administered on a computer.  Because my district is asking us to start measuring progress in our classrooms, tools like this have suddenly become very valuable to me.

So, overall, I'm very happy about this initiative.  I believe it is a step forward toward a culture of Latinists who read Latin for pleasure, not for the privilege of parsing the words.