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History of Checklists from LinguaFolio to Global Language Portfolio

American adaptation of checklists from the European Language Portfolio

Global Language Portfolio and its LinguaFolio K-16 predecessors modeled their checklists on those typically found in the European Language Portfolio (ELP.) Thus they had the following characteristics:

In Europe, national scales were correlated to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR.) All major European language testers and most textbooks eventually referenced the CEFR. The American state supervisors who saw the ELP firsthand in 2003 determined to establish an American K-16 version of the ELP.

Early LinguaFolio checklists blending European and American rating scales

The first set of LinguaFolio (LF) Virginia checklists was developed during the 2003-04 school year under the leadership of Virginia State Supervisor for Languages Faye Rollings-Carter. To develop a joint middle school, high school, and college pilot, she invited teachers at every level to participate in a series of statewide meetings in which they came up with the descriptors for checklists of what students “can do” at each level. Meetings included 6 college teachers from Virginia Commonwealth University, or VCU, and several dozen educators from the high school and middle school levels.

In May 2004 VCU researcher Dr. Patricia Cummins accompanied State Supervisor Rollings-Carter to ACTFL headquarters to discuss the LF Virginia pilot from the perspective of both NCSSFL and the American Association of Teachers of French (AATF) Commission on Colleges and Universities, for which Cummins served as Chair. For AATF, LF Virginia was seen as a national project following up on the national standards and the Five C’s of Language Learning. ACTFL executive director Bret Lovejoy indicated that ACTFL was not then ready to try to correlate American ACTFL “can do” lists with those of the Common European Framework.

Like Faye Rollings-Carter in Virginia, other state supervisors in Kentucky, Indiana, and Nebraska developed their own LF pilots with similar “can do” checklists in which they blended ACTFL and European scales, attempting to follow the process that had led to several national standards in Europe becoming one single European standard. University of Nebraska researcher Dr. Ali Moeller obtained funding to do a five-year longitudinal study on LF Nebraska.

There were limitations on the early LF pilots. The “can do” checklists blended both ACTFL levels and European levels but did not create checklists that corresponded perfectly to either scale’s descriptions. After the Advanced Low level in the checklists, the “can do” statements bunched together the ACTFL Advanced Mid and Advanced High descriptors, and they did not include the Superior level or higher. Correlations to the European scale were not clearly defined for any level. No particular mention was made of the Five C’s or the national standards in the LF pilots, although Language Biography templates did incorporate elements of all the Five C’s. In short, the first LinguaFolio pilots were simply a first step in adapting the European Language Portfolio for American needs.


Five-State LinguaFolio Pilot 2005-07, checklists and school-college collaboration

Consolidation was the next step in the LF pilot process. LF Virginia, which was focused more on secondary and college-level students, combined with LF Kentucky, whose LinguaFolio, Jr., developed under the leadership of Kentucky supervisor Dr. Jacqueline Van Houten, focused on Grades 5-8. The state supervisors agreed to using a Five State LF from 2005-07. The states where this updated version was used included not only Virginia and Kentucky, but also Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. All state supervisors provided to the group the feedback received from their states, but teachers at all levels ceased to be involved in revising checklists.

During this period,VCU used the Five State LF checklists not only in teacher training, where there was a direct connection to K-12, but also in second-year, third-year, and fourth-year college courses where there was an effort to promote student engagement. At the second and third semester levels it was used in 7 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Russian, and Spanish. It was also used for the capstone course for majors in French, German, and Spanish and in graduate courses.

During 2006, Cummins and new Virginia State supervisor Helen Small gave K-16 LF workshops at ACTFL and at other professional meetings, and in 2007 LF became the subject of both articles and book chapters. At the AATF 2006 national meeting, members of the Commission on Colleges and Universities from Missouri State, Kennesaw State, and the Rouen School of Management reported on their experiences with language portfolios. At the 2007 meeting, Dr. Suzanne Hendrickson, Chair of the Commission on Articulation, along with Dr. Susan Colville-Hall, Chair of the Commission on Professional Standards for Teachers, joined with the Commission on Colleges and Universities to plan a university-level Global Language Portfolio that would articulate with the K-12 LF pilots. In collaboration with ACTFL and European colleagues, AATF sought grant funds from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) to establish a GLP web site, but funding was not received.

NCSSFL K-12 supervisors’ isolation from K-16 teachers and researchers

In 2007 the National Council of State Supervisors for Languages (NCSSFL) leadership decided that while feedback from teachers was solicited, only NCSSFL members would design the 2008 LF that would consolidate work done in Nebraska and Indiana with that done in the Five State area. NCSSFL members included three groups: state supervisors from those states that have supervisors for languages, former state supervisors who were continued as associate members, and the heads of national foreign language centers. Excluded from membership, and from development of future versions of LF, were classroom teachers K-16, as well as researchers not represented by the national foreign language centers. VCU faculty and other AATF university-level members thus began in 2007 to design a new electronic adult and university-level language portfolio under the name of Global Language Portfolio (GLP).

University-level concerns reported during the LF pilot and 2008 solutions

Colleges reported to NCSSFL three major problems with the 2005-07 Five State LF checklists, outlined in the following paragraphs. While the 2008 LF began to address them, the Global Language Portfolio addresses them more fully.

The blending of ACTFL and European levels was the first problem. Colleges, needed two distinct checklists for the American and European rating scales. Future school teachers needed an ACTFL-only list to prepare for official ACTFL OPI testing or for K-12 standards for students. Learners preparing for exams of the Paris Chamber of Commerce or the Goethe Institute, or those planning to study abroad in Europe, needed to reference the Common European Framework.

Secondly, universities needed to go beyond the Advanced Low level. They wanted separate “can do” descriptors for the Advanced Mid, Advanced High, and Superior levels. The U.S. Government’s Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) levels also needed to be added for the most advanced students returning from study abroad or for certain graduate students. The Five State LF without the higher language levels did not allow applicants seeking employment with the FBI or CIA to demonstrate to their prospective employers what language-related jobs they thought they could do. Similarly business employers and nonprofits were not sure what international functions college students could fulfill based on the Five State LF checklists and Language Passport.

Finally, at the lower end of the scale, in VCU’s experiences with Arabic, Chinese, and Russian, there were problems using the same “can do” statements as were used for other languages – when languages did not use a Western alphabet, or when they added tones to distinguish meaning, the existing checklists did not show sufficient progress as students added to what they could do.

The 2008 LF did develop ACTFL-only checklists, and they included descriptors for the Advanced Mid, Advanced High, and Superior levels. There are no Common European Framework checklists, although there are vague references to columns in the grid where European and ACTFL levels intersect. ILR levels 3+, 4, 4+, and 5 are not addressed, and ACTFL Distinguished, which would correspond to such levels, is never mentioned. Start Talk grants adopted LF, and they have funded the refinement of LinguaFolio at the lower levels in Chinese and Arabic from 2008-10. However, the need to tailor LF by language has not been addressed beyond that.

AATF decided that its Global Language Portfolio project needed to be pursued by the entire National Standards Collaborative, whose membership includes language-specific associations, including not only French, German, Spanish , and Italian, but also Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Russian among others.

GLP provides both adults and university-level learners with college-specific templates to incorporate all the Five C’s of Language Learning (Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, Communities.) In addition to the checklists, there is a template that encourages learners to explore all the other four C’s. And another adult / university template helps learners to develop strategies to improve both their communication skills and intercultural competence.

The word “provisional” is used to designate each of the checklists, as a process has yet to be established to validate portfolios for the United States in a manner that parallels the validation by the Council of Europe for countries in Europe. Ideally the members of the National Standards Collaborative who created the Five C’s of Language Learning and oversee national standards for the United States will eventually come to serve in that capacity, with grant funding to support such an effort.

GLP checklists and compatibility with checklists from the LF pilots and ELP

GLP and the 2008 LF are compatible with each other, and high school students using LF’s ACTFL checklists will make a smooth transition to GLP in college. The 2008 LF checklists and summary grid were copyrighted by NCSSFL, and ACTFL approved of the summary grid for the ACTFL-referenced American levels. NCSSFL’s grid summarizes ACTFL levels from Novice Low through Superior. Rather than create a new ACTFL grid that would go through the ACTFL Distinguished level, it was determined that GLP’s Language Passport summary sheet should be followed by an explanation of the ACTFL levels using the NCSSFL grid as a common secondary-level / university-level grid that would underscore the joint origin of LF and GLP, as well as the commonality of learning goals K-16. NCSSFL authorized GLP to use its grid in the Language Passport.

Secondary students in International Baccalaureate Programs who kept a European Language Portfolio (ELP,) or whose levels were evaluated using European exams pegged to the Common European Framework, will also make a smooth transition to GLP checklists in college. GLP has checklists for each of the six European levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2.) In addition, GLP’s Language Passport summary sheet, where learners record their levels from the checklists for each of five skills, has space for both their American ACTFL level or their Common European Framework (CEFR) level. The summary sheet is followed by an explanation of both the American and European levels, with both the NCSSFL grid to illustrate the ACTFL levels and a similar European grid to illustrate the CEFR levels. The European grid is taken from the Language Passport found on the Europass web site and is copyrighted by the European Union and the Council of Europe. The European Union and the Council of Europe provided reproduction guidelines that allowed GLP to use their European grid.

Checklists’ place in a Language Biography for adults and university-level learners

Five C’s and the Language Biography. GLP checklists and other Language Biography templates address the Five C’s for university students and adult learners. Communication checklists address the first of the Five C’s of Language Learning, and so they appear as the first templates in the Language Biography. They are followed by a template addressing Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities. Strategies for developing both communication skills and intercultural communication are presented for both college classrooms and independent learning.

American adaptation of European (CEFR) checklists. GLP proposes provisional CEFR checklists based on validated ELP models and on descriptors established by the Common European Framework. It uses American spelling or terminology, and adds examples. The Council of Europe does not yet validate checklists or portfolios outside of Europe, and the National Standards Collaborative is American. While the lack of a validation process would in and of itself justify a “provisional” designation, the fact that the CEFR does not yet address the challenges posed by languages with characters and syllabaries, or the tones used in Chinese, means that we have only a provisional way to address those languages.

Provisional checklists for American ACTFL and ILR levels. The National Standards Collaborative has yet to establish a validation process for generic American checklists, and so they are labeled as provisional. Checklists in GLP are also identified as “provisional” because in university pilots, it was determined more needed to be done to tailor checklists to specific languages, especially Arabic and Chinese. It was further recognized that every language can develop its own “can do” statements related to syntax, phonology, and vocabulary. GLP at present provides two blank lines designated for faculty or for professional associations to refine or substitute “can do” statements according to the needs of a particular language or even a particular group of learners (business students, government employees, translators, or workshop participants.)

Pursuit of funding for future development and validation of checklists

The National Standards Collaborative members include language-specific associations plus ACTFL. Collectively or separately they are an ideal group to seek funds to establish a validation system for ACTFL-referenced checklists, and perhaps also for CEFR checklists developed in the United States. Eventually there may be an opportunity for them to participate in a transatlantic or a global validation system. Feedback from FIPSE concerning AATF’s unsuccessful 2007 funding request suggested that a proposal representing several languages would likely be more successful, especially if it were tied to a global scale representing two continents or more.

The National Standards Collaborative brought together language-specific organizations and ACTFL to define national standards for each language in the past. Teachers at every level K-16 were included in the process. Future steps ideally will allow the individual language associations to refine ACTFL-referenced “can do” statements based on their specific languages. Just as LinguaFolio and the Start Talk group decided that the lower levels of Chinese and Arabic needed more specific Novice and Intermediate level descriptors, the collaborative may decide to do more at every level in French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, or Spanish as well. The GLP “can do” descriptors are expandable, and since they are done in Microsoft Word, an instructor or a professional organization can add new rows of descriptors at the end of each listing.

The Interagency Language Roundtable would be an excellent partner for the National Standards Collaborative at the upper end of the ACTFL scale, as it has worked with ACTFL in the past and has a symbiotic relationship with all language associations. When several associations collaborated to form the National Standards Collaborative, the proprietary rights to the national standards were shared. In the national standards project, the identification of performance standards went beyond the ACTFL scale, even dividing the ACTFL speaking skill into presentational and interpersonal modes to determine oral proficiency. That group’s division of the productive and receptive skills into three modes (presentational, interpretive, and interpersonal) is one of the new hallmarks brought by the national standards. ILR has already addressed in detail the higher end of the proficiency scale (3+, 4, 4+, 5) beyond what ACTFL or anyone else has done. In addition, ILR has addressed the special needs of translators and interpreters, giving language educators a model to follow in tailoring “can do” statements for specific groups.

The June 2007 AATF proposal to develop a Global Language Portfolio web site combined several strengths. The three AATF Commissions addressed articulation K-16. Faye Rollings-Carter, who developed LF Virginia, was a NCSSFL associate member retired from the Virginia Department of Education; she was to be housed at VCU in order to oversee technical aspects of the project, and she was to assure seamless articulation with the K-12 LinguaFolio. Both European testers and researchers were included in the AATF proposal, as well as American researchers and testers. ACTFL President Ray Clifford was listed as the evaluator, and ACTFL had agreed to a subcontract in which it would deliver samples of the different ACTFL levels on the GLP web site that was to be developed through the grant. To make a resubmitted proposal stronger it would be necessary to show how all of the key players, such as those of the National Standards Collaborative and perhaps ILR, would be involved. An endorsement by the Council of Europe and clear connections between that body and the National Standards Collaborative would also make for a stronger proposal. Finally, the buy-in of other stakeholders (government agencies, businesses, nonprofits, textbook publishers, foreign embassies, and testing agencies) all would help to secure funding for a project of this significance. Validation issues and web site development are being discussed by National Standards Collaborative members.

Pursuit of funding for activities related to the checklists

Proficiency, achievement, and performance are integrated in the GLP checklists, just as they are in the checklists of the European Language Portfolio. At conferences and in articles there have been debates about whether checklists should be talking about proficiency, achievement, or performance. While individual “can do” statements talk primarily about performance, learners use the checklists to prepare themselves for both achievement tests and proficiency tests, and so all three terms will apply. Learners are only allowed to check off the “can do” items they are able to do 80% of the time or more. Once they take a final exam, however, they have an achievement result, and once they take an ACTFL proficiency test (or a Goethe Institute test or other European proficiency test), they have an actual proficiency rating to back up their self assessment. Opportunities for funding to develop these distinctions and their applications are available for collaborative members to pursue collectively or individually.

In addition to multi-language funding opportunities, there may also be private and public funding sources that target individual associations within the National Standards Collaborative. Much work remains to be done in assessing each of the 5 skills. Samples of how learners sound and write at each level, samples of how they read or comprehend what they hear, all need to be added to the web site for each language. Without funding, it is hard to make progress with volunteer help alone. The AATF is interested in collaborating with other organizations. Contact AATF Executive Director Jayne Abrate at abrate@siu.edu.

A list of AATF members of the Commission on Colleges and Universities appears elsewhere on this web site. Those wishing to assist the commission in its work on the checklists should contact Patricia Cummins at pcummins@vcu.edu or (804) 827-0958.



GLP Home Page Content June 6, 2008. pcummins@vcu.edu