Make IPAs Work for You!
Jill Gomez and Leah Henson, Miami University Regionals, Senior Lecturers
Our introduction to integrated performance assessments (IPAs) began in 2009 with a familiarization workshop at the annual American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Annual Convention and World Language Expo. In our journey since then, we’ve moved through three primary phases:
- using a shortened IPA format with text resources as practice before chapter exams
- creating blended exams that included IPA components with traditional formats
- creating five-part IPAs as end-of-unit assessments
While five-part IPAs for every unit might sound overwhelming, know that we transitioned gradually as we gained experience and confidence! In addition to the 2009 familiarization workshop, we have had multiple opportunities to learn about IPAs and to see how others implement them in their classes. We attended numerous sessions on IPAs at the OFLA, Central States, and ACTFL conferences. In 2013, ACTFL offered a series of three webinars (Improving Language Learners’ Performance through Integrated Assessments) presented by Dr. Bonnie Adair-Hauck and Dr. Frank Troyan. In 2014, Dr. Troyan presented an all-day IPA workshop for faculty in Miami University’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese. The same year, we adopted the learning outcomes produced as a result of the Foreign Language Initiative.
The combination of our experience with IPAs and the Foreign Language Initiative learning outcomes led us to pilot five-part IPAs for the 2016-2017 academic year in our SPN 201 and 202 (intermediate level) courses. The learning outcomes include five areas: interpersonal communication, interpretive listening/viewing, interpretive reading, presentational speaking, and presentational writing. Because those modes of communication aligned so closely with IPAs, we decided to pilot five-assessment IPAs in place of the blended exams we had been using.
How do our IPAs differ from those you might see in ACTFL’s Implementing Integrated Performance Assessment book? First, our IPAs include five assessments, one for each of the learning outcome areas, instead of three (one for each mode). For the interpretive tasks, we often do not include all questions on the ACTFL IPA template. Our IPAs are sometimes integrative instead of fully integrated; for example, while the activities are combined in a real-word way, students don’t need the information from an interpretive listening/viewing to be able to complete the interpretive reading. Second, our IPAs do not occur over three separate days with feedback days in between. Instead, our students complete IPA-like activities with regular feedback all throughout the unit, working on the skills they need to interpret, present, and communicate in the language. At the end of each unit, students complete an assessment for each of the five outcome areas, typically over 1.5 class days and often with a presentational or interpersonal assessment completed outside of class (recorded through the learning management system). We adopted this approach since most of our classes meet two days per week for 80 minutes; the three days of assessment plus three days of feedback approach would not work with our scheduling. Last, we have modified the ACTFL IPA rubrics to allow for weighting categories by points. For example, at the novice level, we weight key word recognition and main idea detection more heavily than at the intermediate level.
What have students said about this new format? We piloted the five-assessment IPAs at the intermediate level in 2016-2017, revised them for 2017-2018, and implemented them at the novice level for 2018-2019. On our end-of-semester anonymous course evaluations, students have had overwhelmingly positive comments when asked about IPAs as assessments as shown here:
- They’re effective because it questions a broad range of the language.
- I feel like the things I practice and study are things that will actually help me speak the language and understand it better, especially if I was in a Spanish country, rather than simply regurgitate this vocab/ grammar.
- There are multiple sections on the assessments so if you do bad or mess up one section you won’t automatically fail.
- … helpful for the various styles of learning among students, as well as the various test-taking strengths.
- … allows students to grow in multiple areas of language study.
- … take the pressure off of doing perfectly in a new language. I know that I stink at speaking Spanish, but I can write better.
- … allows me to show that I understand in multiple ways and gives me more confidence in my overall Spanish speaking capability.
- … focus on the practical use of Spanish instead of memorizing for a test.
Overall, we have been pleased with this approach to assessment, and our goals now move to creating multiple IPAs for each unit and to transition the online course formats (currently using the blended approach) to the five-assessment IPAs.