SBG Journey Step 2: Understand ACTFL’s Proficiency Levels

This is the second post in a series called, “Señora Dentlinger’s Standards Based Grading (SBG) Journey.”

Sra Dentlinger's SBG Journey - Step 2: Understand ACTFL's Proficiency Levels | Shared at

Sra Dentlinger’s SBG Journey – Step 2: Understand ACTFL’s Proficiency Levels | Shared at

Step 2: Understand ACTFL’s Proficiency Levels

The Confusion

I think this is the most important step to conquer when trying to implement a SBG grading system for world language classes; however, this was the hardest step for me to wrap my head around.

I believe my confusion derives from the fact that I had modeled my first SBG system after other teachers who used terminology like Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced in their gradebook and rubrics instead of assigning letter grades.  I thought it all sounded perfect because these are key terms and the description of the level seemed to match what I thought the student should be able to do in order to receive that “grade.”

However, I have since seen rubrics that incorporate all of the levels: Novice-Low, Novice-Mid, Novice-High, etc., and the levels are explicitly written and labeled on the rubric.  Martina Bex’s free Speaking Assessment Rubrics for World Language Classes is a perfect example of the latter.  I believe the prior models included this information, but I needed to see the exact term and how it corresponds to what the student should be able to do.

Some of my confusion also came from the fact that I dived in head first before I really understood the nuts and bolts of SBG in the world language classroom.  I am one of those people that need to “just do it” and fix it after I learn my mistakes for the next time.  It’s a blessing and a curse.

The (Official) Trainings

As a discipline we are VERY blessed because our national organization, The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), has done the proficiency work for us.  If you are able, I would highly recommend attending one of ACTFL’s proficiency workshops.  I have been unable to attend due to limited funding, but if you’re interested check out their workshops here.  If you cannot attend one of these sessions, make sure to check out the documents in the next section!

The Literature

Through my Master’s coursework, I became more familiar with ACTFL’s literature on proficiency.  Here are some important documents that will (hopefully) help you better understand the differences students should display at each level:

  • ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines 2012:  Provides very thorough description of the four skills and what they should look/sound like at each and every level.  This was very helpful for me to discern the difference between Novice-Low and Novice-Mid, Novice-High and Intermediate-Low, etc.
  • ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners:  The chart on page 13 that shows you where students will end up if they study a language in grades 9-10 (Novice-High!) versus grades K-12 (Advanced-Low) is fascinating and helps put my goals for each level into perspective.  Side note: I’m curious about how traditional classes and TPRS/CI classes would compare on a chart like this.  This document also addresses the difference between proficiency and performance.  The truth of the matter is we can only assess   students’ performances towards proficiency because proficiency is what happens in the real-world (a notion reiterated by Dr. Paul/Pablo Hoff of Concordia College).  The document provides the parameters in order to assess a students’ performance, and describes what each Interpersonal, Interpretive, and Presentational look/sound like for Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced students.
  • ACTFL Can-Do Statements: These are AMAZING checklists for each level in Interpretive Communication, Presentational Speaking, Presentational Writing, Interpretive Listening, and Interpretive Reading.  They are super comprehensible for students.  The document says it is meant to help set goals, select strategies, self-assess, provide evidence, and reflect before setting new goals.  This is exactly what this document does!  Check it out now!

The Application

Most of my application of the proficiency levels was with Dr. Paul/Pablo Hoff of Concordia College.  I will share some of the activities we did in his classes that allowed my to apply my knowledge of proficiency levels to my classroom, as well as some other teachers’ resources that helped me set goals for each of my courses.  Stay tuned!

One thought on “SBG Journey Step 2: Understand ACTFL’s Proficiency Levels

  1. Pingback: Señora Dentlinger’s Standards Based Grading (SBG) Journey | La Clase de la Señora Dentlinger

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