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7 Steps to Creating an Integrated Performance

Assessment (IPA)
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Although I am embarrassed to admit it, I had never heard of an IPA (or IP-
Yay, as one of my classes calls them) until May, 2013 when I attended a presentation by my states
foreign language association. Because our state was including a student progress measure on our
teacher evaluation system for the first time, our association took an active role in encouraging us to
use a measurement of student proficiency, rather than as assessment of vocabulary/grammatical
accuracy to document our students learning. Although I had been somewhat familiar with various
proficiency descriptors, I had never designed my instruction to increase and assess student
proficiency until attending this important session. However, as the result of this presentation and two
others that I subsequently attended, I made dramatic changes to my instructional and assessment
strategies in order to encourage student proficiency, rather than simply grammar and vocabulary
accuracy. While I read what I found online about IPAs, I did not have a good overall understanding
of the specifics of this type of assessment until I finally stumbled across the manual found
here:http://www.actfl.org/publications/guidelines-and-manuals/implementing-integrated-performance-
assessment . While I make some modifications based on my own teaching situation and students
needs, I have relied heavily on this manual when developing my own assessments. However, I am
no expert in this process and have not received any specific ACTFL training. The ideas expressed
here reflect only my current understanding of proficiency-based assessment. What I can say for
sure is that the transition from traditional tests to IPAs, has improved student learning in my classes
more than any other change Ive made during my 25 year teaching career.

Based on my own experience, here are the steps that I suggest when designing an IPA:

1. Decide what you want to assess. Based on the principle of backwards design, writing the
summative assessment is one of the very first steps in developing a unit plan. Therefore, I
write my IPA before developing any of my lesson plans for the unit. I recently heard a
speaker say, You teach what you test. While this seemed counter-intuitive to me at first, as
I thought about it more it made perfect sense. When we choose how to assess our students,
we are demonstrating what we wanted them to learn. If its not on the test, we probably
didnt think it was that important. In a proficiency-based classroom, that means that we
assess our students ability to communicate across the modes of communication. So, the
first step in designing an IPA is to choose a benchmark for each mode based on the ACTFL
Can-Do Statements (http://www.actfl.org/global_statements ). Note: The bold print statement
is the benchmark, and the statements which follow (preceded by a box) are
examples. Sometimes I choose one of the examples, but other times I create my own based
on the theme I have chosen for my unit.
2. Choose an authentic written text. Based on the interpretive reading benchmark I have
chosen, I find an authentic, culturally-rich text that will enable the students to demonstrate
that they have achieved the benchmark. The type of text that will be appropriate depends on
the proficiency-level of the students. Novice learners are highly dependent on using visuals
when interpreting so I use infographics, picture books, brochures, catalogues, or comic strips
for these students. Note: Try using Google Images, rather than just Google when searching
for texts for these students. Here are some other resources I use for Novice learners:

http://www.iletaitunehistoire.com/genres/documentaires

https://www.envolee.com/fr/catalogue/1/8-du-plaisir-a-lire (Although there is a fee for downloading


these texts, I have found this to be money well spent.)

http://www.scholastic.ca/education/envol_en_litteratie/downloadablebooks.html (Also worth the fee)

While Intermediate Low to Mid learners are able to interpret lengthier texts, they are often unable to
understand authentic texts written for their developmental age (in language programs that begin in
high school). These students usually enjoy tapping into their inner child by reading magazine
articles and online material written for younger students. I find it helpful to use a childrens search
engine when researching materials for these students. Here are a few that Ive used:

http://www.takatrouver.net/takamag/index.php

http://www.coolgo.fr/

http://www.kidadoweb.com/

http://www.lespagesjuniors.com/

http://www.webjunior.net/

When possible, I use articles from authentic childrens magazines for interpretive tasks. These
materials are often more visually rich than online materials. I have found several relevant articles for
French 2 students in Astrapi, while I prefer Okapi for my French 3 students. My level 4/5 students
are able to interpret the texts written for teenagers in Phosphore.

3. Write the interpretive reading task. Once I have chosen the authentic text, I write the
actual assessment based on the template found
here:http://www.actfl.org/publications/guidelines-and-manuals/implementing-integrated-
performance-assessment . While I think the template is self-explanatory, I thought Id share a
few tips for each section.
#1: I write the Key Word Recognition section by typing about the English translation of about 10
words/phrases from the text that I think the students will already know, based on prior instruction or
the activities in the unit being assessed. Note: Sometimes I cheat here to introduce a new
vocabulary word that the students will need in order to interpret the text. I do so by writing the entire
phrase in which the word appears. When searching for the phrase in the text, they will be able to
use the context to determine the meaning of the targeted vocabulary item.

#2: Main Idea. Most of my students dont write the main idea until they have completed the
Supporting Details section. It would probably make sense to move this section accordingly when
typing an IPA. When assigning a literary text, I change the wording here so that the students are
writing a 2-3 sentence summary, rather than a main idea.

#3: Supporting Details. This is the core section of the task, where students will really have a
chance to show you what they know. Remember that these are statements, not questions. The
students are not providing answers, theyre writing details to show that they understood more than
the main idea the text. I try to give them a chance to really show off here by writing very general
statements, so that they can use as many details as possible. Although the template suggests
writing 8 statements (3 of which will be distractors) I often write more based on the length of the
text. I have noticed that I often learn more about my students comprehension from their errors on
the distractors than on the details they provide for the correct statements. Because most of my
texts are informational in nature, the students can use their background knowledge to provide logical
answers, without actually understanding the text. However, when they provide a detail for a
distractor, I know that they are using what they know rather than what theyve read. Note: I
generally omit the requirement that the students write the letter of the detail next to where it appears
in the text. I did not find that this step was difficult to assess and didnt supply me with any
additional information about what the students understood.

#4: Organizational Features. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I sometimes omit
this section. While I recognize that identifying the organizational structure is an important top-down
process, I do not feel that assessing this skill provides much additional information about the
students comprehension of a text. For novice learners who are interpreting infographics or other
simple texts, the organization is so obvious that the students often see this step as needless
busywork.

#5: Guessing Meaning from Text. My students consistently score the lowest on this section of the
interpretive task. As suggested in the ACTFL manual, I type the entire sentence in which the word is
located, as well as provide a description of where in the text the sentence is located. The students
often respond with an English word that is similar in spelling, but not meaning to the French
word. This indicates to me that they are not using the context clues to infer the meaning of the
word. Because of the difficulty of this task, I usually include more than three items in this section so
that students have a greater opportunity for success. In addition, Ill continue to encourage them to
rely more on context for these items.

#6: Inferences. The ACTFL template gives great examples of appropriate inference tasks. Make
sure to note that for novice learners its appropriate to give a choice of possible inferences and have
the students choose which one is supported by the text and provide justification. When I began
using this template, I was pleasantly surprised by how much this section demonstrates the depth of
the students comprehension.

#7: Authors Perspective. While I think this task is very important for my upper level students, it is
often not applicable for the types of texts that Novice learners read. Although I suppose we could
say that the perspective of the author of a menu is that the food is delicious, I dont think requiring
the students to explain this is a good use of their time or mine.

#8: Comparing Cultural Perspectives. I again rely heavily on the suggestions given in the ACTFL
template for this task. I have found, however, that the students need more specific directions for this
section. For example, I have had to explain that It would be written in English. Is not an acceptable
response to the question regarding how the article would be different if it was written for an American
audience. I have also been quite liberal in the type of answer that might demonstrate a perspective,
rather than just a product or practice. While this distinction is an important one, Novice learners are
sometimes not able to even identify the relationship between practices and perspectives in their own
culture, let alone a culture about which they know very little.

#9: Personal Reaction. I generally omit this section from the interpretive task. Because the
instructions state that the response should be in the target language, I consider it a presentational
rather than an interpretive task. I do consider this prompt, however, when I design the
presentational task for the unit.

Although it is writing the interpretive task is the most time-consuming part of designing an IPA, Im
only a little bit embarrassed to say that I think its kind of fun. I like the creativity involved in writing
the tasks and always look forward to seeing what the students are able to achieve.

4. Choose an authentic recorded text. In my initial research on IPAs, I was surprised to find
out that most authors advocated using either a reading OR a listening interpretive task rather
than both. Even the ACTFL IPA manual has very little to say about listening comprehension.
In my opinion, we do a great disservice to our students if we do not adequately address the
importance of interpreting oral texts. As a matter of fact, I believe that of all communicative
tasks, this is the one for which the students need us the most. They may be able to use
Google Translate to interpret written texts or provide comprehensible written messages, but
they will not be able to understand what they hear without being exposed to a wealth of
authentic recorded texts in an instructional setting. For these reasons, I nearly always
include both an interpretive reading and an interpretive listening task on my IPAs. When
selecting an appropriate text, I rely almost entirely on YouTube videos. Because Novice
learners need a lot of visual support, I often use cartoons with them. Trotro lAne, Petit Ours
Brun, Caillou and Peppa Pig are a few cartoon characters whose videos Ive used
successfully with Novice learners. More proficient students are able to interpret amateur
videos made by French teenagers on a variety of topics or on authentic instructional
videos. My French 4/5 students can generally interpret news videos related to the topic of
study.

5. Write the interpretive listening task. Unfortunately, the ACTFL IPA manual provides very
little direction when it comes to interpreting an oral text. While teachers are encouraged to
use the same interpretive template to assess both reading and listening, this would not work
very well given the constraints of my teaching situation. Because I have only 8 computers in
my classroom, students circulate between the reading and listening sections of the IPA.
Therefore, I need to limit the amount of time that an individual students spends at the
computer. The nature of the tasks on the Interpretive template would require the students to
listen to the videos in their entirety several times, which would be extremely time-consuming
without necessarily demonstrating deeper understanding. In addition, many of the sections
on this template would not adequately address listening comprehension. It goes without
saying that any word or phrase that is written in the target language on the IPA becomes a
reading rather than a listening assessment. While I will continue to evolve in my
understanding regarding listening comprehension, I am currently relying heavily on English
comprehension questions for the videos I include in my IPAs. Although I write the questions
in the order in which the students will hear them (to save time), I try to vary the types of
questions in order to assess the various levels of comprehension that are included in the
ACTFL interpretive template. In addition to informational questions about what is happening
in the video (supporting details), I also ask the students to provide a main idea or summary
after watching the video. When possible, I will also include a few items which require the
students to infer the meaning of a new word, based on the context of the sentence (with the
understanding that the inclusion of the written sentence will negate the role of listening).
When appropriate, I might also include an inference or cultural context question. Note:
because some of the cartoon videos might not come from the target culture, they may not
provide a cultural context. However, I consider them to be authentic in that the French
translation was produced for a target culture audience.

6. Write the interpersonal task. Based on my observation, I think this may be the area in
which we have the greatest opportunity for growth. I think that many of us are labeling oral
performances as interpersonal when there is little or no negotiation of meaning. It seems to
me that if a student knows in advance what s/he or the other speaker will say, it is not an
interpersonal task. In addition, if a speaker is required only to give answers, rather than also
questioning, the task cannot be considered interpersonal. While Novice Low to Novice Mid
learners can only communicate using memorized phrases, this does not mean that they
should be expected to reproduce memorized dialogues. For these learners, I often rely on an
information gap types of activities to provide contextual support while at the same time
allowing for unscripted language use. For example, students might be given a series of
pictures and asked to discuss them in order to ascertain whether each one is the same or
different. This type of activity allows for a continuum of proficiency (some will use single
words, while others will use simple sentences) and requires each student to both ask and
answer questions. As students become more proficient, they can manage more open-ended
tasks such as discussing familiar subjects such as preferences, activities, family, eating
habits, etc. While the actual task will be highly dependent on the theme of the unit, the
benchmarks in the ACTFL manual provide many good examples. Because my upper level
classes are organized around a novel or film, rather than a broader theme, I often assign role
plays for interpersonal speaking tasks. Rather than asking them to replay a scene from the
film/book, I create a hypothetical situation (which could have, but did not happen) and ask
the students to role play the situation. Although I might allow them advance practice in class,
they will not be assigned a role or a partner until I call on them to be assessed. Note: With
more open-ended tasks, I think its important to give the students a minimum time
limit. While students might prepare some of their statements in advance, based on the topic,
I think its the stretch that takes place when they run out of things to say that increases
proficiency in this skill.

7. Write the presentational task. Most of my IPAs include a written presentational task, but
not a spoken one. Because I assess their interpersonal skills, it would often be repetitive to
also assess their presentational speaking, as they would use many of the same vocabulary
and structures. In addition, multiple class periods are required to listen to 30 students
present on a particular topic, which I have determined is not the best use of my limited
instructional time. When developing written presentational tasks, I again rely heavily on the
wording used in the IPA manual. Thus, Novice Low-Mid students write lists and Novice High
Intermediate Low students write hypothetical blog posts, e-mails, etc. in which they
express their personal experiences as they relate to the theme. Ideally, this task will be
dependent on the interpretive task. For example, when my French 1 students read an
authentic post by a family looking for an au pair, they wrote a similar post for their own
family. Likewise, after my French 2 students read a magazine article about a Canadian
students typical day, they wrote a magazine article about their own typical day. Because
many of my upper level students will be taking the AP test, I rely heavily on prompts requiring
persuasive speech that is expected on this exam. As with the role plays, I often ask them to
write a letter from character in a film/novel to another, persuading him/her to perform some
action. Given the nature of each of the Presentational context, in most cases I assign a
rough draft of the task as a formative assessment. I then provide feedback on this draft
before having them produce a final draft on the IPA.