Question About Benchmarks

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25 thoughts on “Question About Benchmarks”

  1. Guy, you may be able to find copies of the “old” NY Regents tests. I know they don’t give them anymore but perhaps you could use it as a template to design a test that you could share with your department that would be more CI friendly. I think Laurie and her colleagues had to re-write exams that mimicked the Regents. You need a mini version of a CI friendly final for a mid year benchmark. You could take a look at the STAMP test too and just abridge them for your purposes. It will be more work for you, but leading the horse to water may be the place to start. If you can sell it to them as standards based while being CI friendly, everyone wins! I tutored a young man this past year and saw a benchmark for the first time. It was very grammar centered – write out the verb paradigm, fill in the blank, random vocabulary and a small writing sample. Awful! There was no connection to ACTFL or NJ standards and so it goes.

    Since returning from Vegas, I have been weeding through TPRS handouts that I have collected over the years. I have tossed a lot but I found this on assessing verbs – if you must. This is from Susie Gross. Translate: 1. fue 2. fuiste 3. voy; Match:
    1. fue 2. fuiste 3. voy a. I go b. he went c. you went; or translate in contexte: El chico fue a LA. The boy___________to LA or The boy ________to LA. El chico ___________ a LA.
    Or, multiple choice El chico __________ a LA.
    a. fuiste b. fue c. ir d. vamos
    She goes on to explain in her post that the commonality in all of these types of questions is that comprehension is involved. The above questions can be applied to adjectives, pronouns, etc. This may not be the kind of assessment that a CI teacher wants to give, but at least these examples speak to comprehension, not just the rule or heaven forbid just grabbing an infinitive and manipulating the endings!
    Just an aside: I have thrown out a lot of handouts circa 2003, but I was surprised at the number of posts that I had saved from this blog – many are keepers!

    1. Carol (sorry Guy, this is not on topic for your request),
      I made it my goal this summer to file the three file boxes worth of paper that have ben collecting under my desk from the past 10 years of teaching. I got my pendaflex files all ready by grade and started sifting through the papers. Guess what? I tossed them ALL into recycling! They were all from pre-TPRS and there’s no way I would use any of them again, even for a sub. It was so liberating I think I can even forgive myself for teaching that way as long as I did. Woo hoo!

      1. This fits perfectly in with our theme of simplicity here. Others have recently done the same and their posts and comments have been wonderful to read. Thanks for the reminder. We decided last year in no uncertain terms here as a group that a clean and simple classroom makes what we are trying to do a lot easier, like a ton easier, because a clean and simple classroom reflects a clean and simple and therefore effective lesson. Congratulations on that major tossout, Anny.

      2. Ooh, I did this too, just before heading to Breckenridge! A wise person told me once: “If you want clarity, clear the space.” It is indeed liberating and calming and energizing all at once! I still have a long way to go in my classroom. Last year I had cleared out all of the extraneous textbook detritus to create space for real books in my classroom library…only to have someone move all that shit back in. Argh! I am determined to get that stuff OUT in the next 2 weeks! Oh, now that I stated that in public I will be held accountable 🙂

        Teaching real live kids by engaging in real live interaction requires little in terms of “stuff.” My students are puzzled and delighted on the first day when I tell them to leave their backpacks in their lockers. You can’t really package the energy in a given class and use it in another. That is what I find so exciting about what we do. My “lesson plan” is picking out one of the Matava or Tripp scripts. I use the same one in all my classes, but they turn out wildly different, which I find fascinating and the kids also like reading what the other class came up with!

        1. Thank you so much, chill, for steering me toward those two resources. This helps alot. No matter how I slice it, it is going to be a challenge to put these together! I welcome the comments on clarity and simplicity, I have blown out a ton of worksheets from my file cabinets, too!

      3. I just purged over a thousand files in the My Documents folder in my computer! It was a tough decision, that’s A LOT of worksheets and all kinds of other crap. But that’s what it was…..crap. So I flushed it all. Buh bye!

        1. Right on, you two. Good courage there in purging all those worksheets. Not easy, but the right move. When they clean pigs intestines in the South, they just swing them around. A lot comes out. Chitlins. You may want to duck when you do that in purging your files, is my point.

  2. Hello Guy – I am in the same boat! I just started using TPRS this past year, and am the only CI teacher. The other three LOVE the textbook (one says it’s great bc it’s the only textbook she was able to find that also has a “Learning Lab” component — I now know that’s not necessary if the teacher uses 90-95% TL in the class like ACTFL states.)
    Anyway, I used the NYS Regents exams as well as the National Spanish Exams to cull types of questions from — if you google either of these you will find them. The Regents you can print off for easier looking through; the National Spanish Exams are on Quia and you can not print. I mostly used the Regents. (you might also want to try to google “NYS Proficiency Exam Spanish”) Denver also made their exams from that design, as do a LOT of people in the country. If you want, I can send you the exams that I created – I have one for Spanish 1A and 1B. I also made one up for Spanish 2B.
    But, definitely, I would look up both of those — they are very proficiency-based and not tied to a text. You can stress to your colleagues that “these are written on a national level, therefore if we want to be competitive with the rest of the country, why not give a similar test to OUR students — it’s coming down the pike anyway with common core; AND they are going to face it with AP….these tests are a precursor to the AP (in that they prepare them for a national language exam) and NYS Regents have been around FOREVER (my mother graduated in 1939 and took them; my sister said she thinks my g’mother who graduated in 1919 also took them!)

    1. Hi mb, I’ve been following this discussion closely because my school also requires benchmarks. Last year, we created a benchmark on Quia only for Spanish 2. This year, our admin wants us to roll out Spanish 1 and Spanish 3 benchmarks. Would you mind sending me the benchmarks you made? If I can figure out how to share my Quia Spanish 2 benchmark, I will.


    2. Hi mb and all…
      I would love to see these assessments! I’d like to pass them on to my Dept. Head. / admin. along with Robert’s eloquent post about all the college board / AP stuff.

      Like Robert, I also just got back from a trip: four days after Breckenridge I left for rural Dominican Republic, a batey community of Haitians, Dominicans, and Dominican-Haitians. My head is spinning right now because I had not yet processed Breckenridge and then I jumped right into a whole other world. I thought I would have the chance to do some CI classes in the summer camp we helped to run, but that didn’t happen. BUT…we did have a read-aloud day, and the hundreds of kids there crave this attention and really want to learn! Any time there was a “down-time” between activities, kids would grab books and want to “read!”

      I was able to talk to a few of the young community leaders there, many of whom are studying to be teachers or want to teach languages—it’s a real need, since some community members speak kreyol and some speak Spanish. Anyway, I donated my 2 Matava books to them and they seemed really receptive to teaching this way. Whoa, better order some new ones immediately!

      Ok, so a long off-topic ramble but now that I am down to 2 weeks before teacher meetings, I want to get my act together so my dept. head can see that there is logic to how I’m operating. I have this “loose cannon”/ “slacker” reputation, and even though I feel extremely focused, she has 20+ years of me being scattered, so her perception of my teaching is through that filter. I totally own this, too, since I just could never get through the book. Ever.

      Having these benchmarks will help bridge our personalities and styles, and also might come in handy this year because we are doing reaccreditation self-study and will be having a visiting committee come to observe us in the fall!

      I’d love to see anything anyone has created. You can e mail them to me at this address:


      1. jen send me your address and I will have those books in the mail today. I can send books to people in Haiti as well – just send me their names and regular mail addresses. Ebooks is another option to supply these people with what they need. Just let me know. Anyone who knows people who want but cannot afford any of my materials pls. let me know that and I will do all I can to share my materials at no cost with anyone in genuine need.

        One thing, y’all, about the benchmarks. They conflict with what Krashen says. They conflict with how he has figured out we learn languages. They can become stakes to keep what we do tied to the ground and therefore useless. They can interrupt the unconscious process of language acquisition.

        Susan Gross said in her keynote speech in Las Vegas that mixing the book with stoytelling is worse than using the book by itself. That is a strong statement. If we let benchmarks drive a process that is completely unconscious, then we run the risk of doing what tons of teachers have already done – watered down the process of CI so much that it becomes useless and causing people to think that a prince of a teaching method is a toad, which has happened a lot, so much so that most people think that TPRS is an ineffective method when in reality the method has been wounded by dabbling around with benchmarks and grammar targets and the like. Just sayin’.

        1. Amen! I totally get this. I was thinking that it would be “good” to pass along this type of thing to my dept. head as a bridge, but now…hmmm. Not sure. I definitely don’t want to do this damage to our nascent CI program. What do you all advise on this?

          Dept. head is full on traditional who took the leap into CI this year without ever having attended a live conference. She used “Cuentame Mas” this year, but didn’t like it all that much. I think she is going to use Michael Miller’s books this year. Anyway, since we have not had a discussion / reflection / processing time, and I don’t anticipate we’ll have one this year either, I am still on my own using the scripts and FVR, etc. while she is using the books.

          We have this visiting committee coming this year and I guess in the last round of reaccreditation, 10 years ago, our dept. got flagged bc of too much English in the classroom. Thank goodness this was not based on a visit to my classroom 🙂 I don’t remember any of them coming to observe me. But this year I really want them to come to my class bc I am using at least 90% TL, and while of course I am a beginner at this, I am fully committed to the process and I know that a visitor would be able to see the power of CI or at least the potential of teaching this way. I’m not sure how I get that to happen, though. I am not saying what DH is doing is “wrong” or anything…I don’t really know what she’s doing. I’m sure it is way better than the drilling method.

          I feel like I am in a tricky position, since I have such strong feelings and have invested so much time and energy in this, yet I don’t really have a say in terms of “what our dept. is about,” even though (no offense) I think I am more of an “expert” on CI than she is. I am in no way claiming to be an expert, but as you all know, participating in this community is such deep learning that I am confident in what I know because I’ve been able to interact and reflect and learn from all of you. So my basic mode is to shut up and do my work and hope that will eventually speak for itself. BUT…I do want to advocate somehow. Ideas, please???

          And Ben, THANK YOU for your generous offer with the books. I will let you know if I need anything to send. I’m trying to get a feel for how this could work in this particular community without me imposing anything. I had a couple of in-depth discussions with one of the young men, an artist who is also an agronomy student and budding language teacher–he seemed really excited about it. I plan to send him some of my sample stories from my classes, because his English is not quite at the level where the Matava scripts were totally comprehensible to him. We went through the “thirsty” story together and I did a mini-demo with another guy who was there. Really rough, but they got the idea and seemed pretty jazzed. Anyway, I was just bummed that I didn’t have more time there, but we will definitely stay in touch and maybe this will take off. There is a lot of interest in this community for adult literacy in addition to second and third language learning (Spanish, Kreyol, English), so who knows?! The energy there for learning–anything–was just mind-blowing. Nothing I have ever experienced before. Sounds cliche to say but I’m so inspired and humbled by these new friends.

          1. jen fyi – in two years Lisa Reyes, who along with the wonderful Carol Sutton set Blaine’s conference up for him, is probably moving to Haiti to do this work there. I also see part of my retirement years spent down there. Let’s keep this topic open. I am formally offering my own help down there to your team, if not year round, at least part of the time. I plan on working with Bryce and Sabrina on trainings in the next years (more on that here later) and I could see the three of us going down there with you at some point. I believe in Haiti and I believe in my own responsibility towards them in this time in history.

            Now, you said:

            …I am not saying what DH is doing is “wrong” or anything…I don’t really know what she’s doing….

            I know what she’s doing. She’s hiding from you. She’s not stupid, she gets that teachers without CI skills will be jobless teachers in the future, but she lacks the confidence to dive in as you have done. She doesn’t believe in herself so she uses the books, Cuentame and all of that stuff that – can we tell the truth here? – have driven more teachers away from TPRS/CI than they have helped.

            Open up the lines of communication silently, is my answer. You cannot approach her with offers of help or working together. Notice how small our group still is here online (and I hope stays really small) – what do you notice? Think of skip, Laurie,lori, Anny, chill, all of us – these are fearless people who would rather run through a wall than go around it. Few teachers have those qualities. Most would rather tiptoe through their professions, changing only if they have to. (Believe me, now they have to!). So don’t approach her. Maybe use the method Saint-Exupery offers here in the Chapter 21 of Le Petit Prince:

            Que faut-il faire? Dit le petit prince.

            Il faut être très patient, répondit le renard. Tu t’assoiras d’abord un peu loin de moi, comme ça, dans l’herbe. Je te regarderai du coin de l’œil et tu ne diras rien. Le langage est source de malentendus. Mais, chaque jour, tu pourras t’asseoir un peu plus près…

            Le lendemain revint le petit prince.

            Il eût mieux valu revenir à la même heure, dit le renard. Si tu viens, pas exemple, à quatre heures de l’après-midi, dés trois heures je commencerai d’être heureux. Plus l’heure avancera, plus je me sentirai heureux. A quatre heures, déjà, je m’agiterai et m’inquiéterai; je découvrirai le prix du bonheur! Mais si tu viens n’importe quand, je ne saurai jamais à quelle heure m’habiller le coeur… Il faut des rites.

            Qu’est-ce qu’un rite? Dit le petit prince.

            C’est quelque chose de trop oublié, dit le renard. C’est ce qui fait qu’un jour est différent des autres jours, une heure, des autres heures. Il y a un rite, par exemple, chez mes chasseurs. Ils dansent le jeudi avec les filles du village. Alors le jeudi est jour merveilleux! Je vais me promener jusqu’à la vigne. Si les chasseurs dansaient n’importe quand, les jours se ressembleraient tous, et je n’aurais point de vacances.

            Ainsi le petit prince apprivoisa le renard.


            “What must I do, to tame you?” asked the little prince.

            “You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down at a little distance from me– like that– in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day…”

            The next day the little prince came back.

            “It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox. “If, for example, you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o’clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you… One must observe the proper rites…”

            “What is a rite?” asked the little prince.

            “Those also are actions too often neglected,” said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me! I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at just any time, every day would be like every other day, and I should never have any vacation at all.”

            So the little prince tamed the fox.

          2. BEN!
            Oh wow! I was at school having a purgefest yesterday, and I went to my mail cubby to clean it out and there was a package (hahaha…un paquet… mais je n’avais pas peur 😉 . Thank you sososososo much!!! What a delightful surprise.

            I just sat down and wrote out some notes attached to a sample story that I am going to send down to the program director at the Libertad community (btw, it is in NW Dominican Republic, in Valverde Mao, a couple hours from the border, a fully mixed community of Dominicans, Haitians, and Dominicans of Haitian descent.)

            I will follow up on your info about Lisa. There are some very cool possibilities, I think 🙂 🙂 🙂

            Oh, and I have said this before but I will say it again and again…I love how you reference Le Petit Prince for pretty much every situation. It is one of my all-time favorite books, and so I LOVE being redirected and reminded of deep truths via the wisdom and heart of this story!

    3. Thank you for the response, mb. There are alot of ideas in the NYS Regents that will help. The NSE on Quia are also helpful. I really appreciate your tip on “selling” these types of tests to my colleagues. Masterful!

  3. Hi Guy (and everyone else),

    I got back last night from my trip and am starting to catch up on things. Of course, the blog was one of the first items on my list.

    Your situation sounds a lot like my district. The benchmarks for Spanish are tied to a particular textbook to the point that when a new text is chosen, the benchmarks will be utterly useless. How in the world does that kind of test even begin to assess the ability to use a language?

    mb mentioned the AP test. I’m no fan of the College Board and AP, but here they can be helpful. Take a good look at the German and French exams. That’s what Spanish will look like as of next year. There is not a single discrete-item grammar question on the test. None. There are a lot of comprehension questions. So get your multiple choice benchmarks to measure how much of a text the students actually understand. This doesn’t have to be translation, either. It can include paraphrase in the target language. It can also include questions that ask students to choose the main idea of the text from a multiple choice list. Students can choose what ideas/concepts/points are part of the text and what is not (e.g. choose the argument/reason that was NOT presented in the text). Call this vertical teaming – all AP teachers know that AP preparation does not begin in the AP class; it must begin in Level 1, Day 1. Students need to be tested the way that the AP exam will test – and that is not grammar. I know an AP reader, and she said that at the instructional session for last year’s exam, they were told to grade holistically and on the basis of communication. They deducted from the written and oral portions of the exam only when errors interfered with communication (so, for example, a student who writes “el mano” gets full credit because the gender error did not detract from comprehension and communication).

    The emphasis on understanding texts is also a great way for you to discuss the idea of reading in the lowest levels as preparation for the AP Then you can talk about backward planning from a novel or reader. Then you can talk about how introducing vocabulary in context prepares students to encounter it in texts, both tailored and authentic. Voila! You have just moved into CI and TPRS without ever uttering either of the dreaded acronyms.

    Also, the CA World Language Standards are unnecessarily convoluted and try to be all things to all teachers. Nonetheless, there is a de-emphasis on grammar in the Standards. Key in on the introductory statements: we can no longer afford to teach students about language (emphasis in the original). Grammar instruction is exactly that, teaching about the language. How many of your colleagues teach grammar in the language? If they teach grammar in English, they are teaching a linguistics course, not a language course. Do an analysis of how much of the Standards is devoted to statements about grammar (morphemes, orthography, syntax, etc.). It isn’t much. Then emphasize that that should be the percentage of overall class time devoted to the subject as well, because the small amount of space indicates the priority. (You can also point out that CI/TPRS teaches the grammar in a natural way because it uses embedded grammar, not an unnatural construct called “grammar”.)

    Just a few thoughts on the subject.

    BTW, I’m part of COACH and glad to hear that you have benefited from what we do.

    1. Thanks you for the insightful comments and suggestions, Robert. Some of my colleagues are sympathetic on a general level (one of them attended COACH with me, but did not get “bit” the way I did) but seem very committed to teaching a grammar based approach. I think it will be very important for me to focus my conversations on the role of reading and on what the future of assessment holds. Last year I made the mistake of saying that I no longer teach grammar. That raised some hackles. I am going to start using the term “embedded grammar”. I look forward to crossing your path here in SoCa.

      1. Yeah make sure that they understand that when we use CI we teach the helck out of grammar. It’s just the real kind, grammar as correctly spoken speech, which I think is the point. They may have forgotten that the goal of a language program is fluency, not editing skills. Yeah, dude, you teach grammar. Big time. Don’t let them clutch to their small point here. They don’t know what the helck they are talking about. But we sure as helck do!

  4. …get your multiple choice benchmarks to measure how much of a text the students actually understand….

    This is huge. As much as an albatross as the AP exams have been, they are finally now forcing this kind of re-evaluation of pedagogy at the beginning and intermediate levels. That’s a start!

    …they [the AP readers] deducted from the written and oral portions of the exam only when errors interfered with communication….

    This is pretty much bigger than huge. It is a dagger into the middle of the front cover of the textbook and instruction of discrete grammar.

    …introducing vocabulary in context prepares students to encounter it in texts….

    What we have been doing in reading for years seems to be the new thing, right? How nice!

    …CI/TPRS teaches the grammar in a natural way because it uses embedded grammar, not an unnatural construct called “grammar”….

    My term for this focus on grammar as properly spoken language is to call it three dimensional grammar whereas what most people, those who will be losing their jobs over the next five years or so unless they can align with what Robert describes above, teach what can only charitably be termed two dimensional grammar, when in reality we all know it is nothing but one dimensional boredom.

    Obviously, Chris and others in your situation, your real job is now not about sheepishly trying to align your work in comprehensible input with a set of benchmarks, rather it is to confront and cojole your colleagues into grasping that the benchmarks need to change at the district level to align with the big train now coming down the tracks at fifty-seven miles an hour, taking a lot of jobs with it as it strikes the old ways of doing things and launches them way up in the air.

    Robert it sure is good to welcome you back, as you get right back in and start rocking our house with all that you offer the group. Hope the trip was a pleasant break from the hard work that we are now preparing for. We are all most happy that you are back!

    1. I am so thankful for the positive support here on this blog. It is good to not be alone in the good work that we do! I will be happy to share what we come up with in terms of BM assessments, too!

  5. On this theme of benchmarks, I just got this in a private email from someone not in the PLC but which is germane to the discussion:

    Hi Ben,

    It has been a while since we have communicated. You have been a great help and resource over the past five years of my teaching career. This year is my sixth year, and I am beginning my first adventure in a public school *gasp…hahah. I have only been using TPRS for the past five years, but now I am in the world of text books and countywide Final Exams. I teach middle school grades like yourself. I remember some time back reading about your approach to drill and kill the material for the county tests. How exactly do you go about doing that? Feel free to just send me the links from your blog, or just fill me in…whatever you have the time to do. Thanks again for helping us CI folks explore foreign language with the kids!

    Aree Ogir

  6. Ov course (tha’t my Russian blood talking in that preposition right there) I am no longer at the middle school level but it matters little. My hit on the middle school thing is that many high school teachers, those slated to be hit by the train referred to above unless they get off the tracks and make some changes pretty fast as per what Robert said, typically use benchmarks to whip middle school teachers into shape.

    Very often, level one and level two teachers in high school go running to administrators if middle school teachers like Aree above get out of line (don’t articulate with them, don’t do what they do). The benchmarks help them keep this ruse going. Aree is not in line and the high school teachers are smelling that.

    Aree needs some ammo. I will reply by sending Robert’s comment above and by reminding Aree of what I said four or five years ago, which was to do CI until April and then drill the grammar for the last six weeks, which always made the high school teachers think that I was doing grammar all year.

    It’s funny how that works. You do CI all year and then do discrete grammar (at least I used to but don’t have to now in DPS) in the last two or three weeks of the year (that’s all that they can take) and the grammar teachers see the nice scores and go about their business, satisfied that I am wearing a business suit and not a Turkish outfit as per Le Petit Prince.

    I guess I will cojole Aree to at least challenge the benchmark model just a little, out of concern for those falsely confident teachers who don’t see the CI Train coming just around the bend.

    As I said in another comment here, it is the teachers who adhere to the benchmarks and use the book as a convenient way to address them who will lose their jobs in the next few years, because the economy is no longer supporting education as it was, or because of low enrollments due to bored kids.

    As soon as Aree’s state gets through processing the torrent of information on current best practices and research that is about to engulf their world, it will be the teachers writing the benchmarks by copying the table of contents from whatever book they are using (I have seen this done! – won’t mention the school but it sounds a lot like Standley Lake High School in Jefferson County, CO) who will be asking Aree for tips on how to reach kids in a foreign language.

  7. Aree from Atlanta

    Hi everyone, I’m glad to be joining the PLC.

    As Ben stated I’m new to public school (been in private school for five years), and today was my first day with the students. At the end of first period I heard a big choral ‘awwwwww’ that class had ended. Everyone was ready to keep going. First day in and like all good TPRS vigilantes took things into my own hands. I feel I am really in my zone here, and based on what Ben says about the oncoming “train” of research and data that will soon hit head on with the current ‘standards’ I am terribly excited to be a catalyst for change. I am 100% idealistic and ready to show and prove what this is all about.

    I am dealing with this benchmark issue too, as we have a county-wide final that draws entirely from some 1990’s era text book. I am still unsure of what I am going to do. Right now I am thinking to just get all the vocab together and make sure I’m touching on the verb/theme content…and then just drill it the last few weeks as Ben mentioned.

    p.s. Anyone in the atlanta area? I am really trying to learn and grow. I’m five years deep into blindly bouncing around using TPRS, but I am really trying to push what can be done using the method(s) this year. Holla at me!

  8. Thanks for the reflection on your day Aree. Ben, when we do these should we email those to you directly so they can be posted in that section?

    I am looking forward to these… They are kind of like “class video” 🙂


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