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Exploring foreign language classroom-based assessment through subject-specific professional development: A participatory action research case study

Sheri L Hurlbut, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


In an educational climate increasingly concerned with assessing student achievement and holding teachers and students accountable, it is important for foreign language (FL) teachers to be well versed in classroom-based assessment (CBA) concepts. However, little is known about what is happening with regard to assessment in classrooms where high-stakes tests do not drive the curriculum, such as in the foreign language field, where few opportunities exist for FL teachers to participate in subject-specific professional development that explores classroom-based assessment in detail. This qualitative instrumental case study embedded within a participatory action research (PAR) framework explores the CBA decision-making processes and practices of one high school FL department and paints an in-depth picture of FL assessment as it is practiced at the classroom level. In addition, the study describes the collaborative development of a series of professional development workshops related to classroom-based foreign language assessment from both the participants’ and researchers’ points of view. Qualitative and (limited) quantitative data that include interviews, observations, questionnaires, exemplars, and reflections are collected, coded, and analyzed for themes based on five research questions: What does foreign language CBA look like? How do FL teachers make CBA decisions? What challenges do FL teachers face? What type of professional development is needed to improve CBA practice? How can universities and K-12 schools collaborate to help FL teachers make CBA decisions? In addition to discussing FL specific challenges such as incorporating performance-based assessments, assessing interculturality, and integrating technology, teachers describe ever-increasing demands on their time unrelated to teaching and learning FL. It is determined that CBA decision making is primarily based on gut feeling and experience rather than knowledge. Educational background and personal characteristics, as well as how teachers interface with peers and the larger educational community, play a role. Also important are student attitude, motivation, and cognitive and physical limitations. Kemmis and McTaggart’s (1988) four-stage PAR model (plan, act, observe, reflect) serves as the basis for designing, implementing, and improving workshops that influence FL teachers’ assessment practice. Lessons learned in conducting PAR studies in a FL context include setting realistic expectations, developing trust, and considering affective aspects.

Subject Area

Foreign language education|Education|Teacher education

Recommended Citation

Hurlbut, Sheri L, "Exploring foreign language classroom-based assessment through subject-specific professional development: A participatory action research case study" (2015). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3717957.