IPA’s seem to be the new hip thing sweeping the country. There is a new town with a new IPA popping up almost every single week. Everybody thinks they can do an IPA, because they think, if you want to be taken seriously you have to do an IPA. Some are pretty simple. Some of them are more sophisticated than others, but to be honest, many of them just leave a very bitter taste in my mouth.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the occasional Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA) because they provide such richness to a mostly outdated assessment model. I’m exited to see so many teachers trying their hands at developing IPA’s for the learners in their classes, but with any good model (or any good beer) there can be too much of a good thing.
A “new” model for assessment
Introduced almost twenty years ago to the field as a way to develop “standards-based assessments that connect to classroom practice“, the IPA model allows teachers to integrate performance and feedback opportunities for learners throughout a unit as they work their way through different phases of learning that directly correspond to the three modes of communication.
The well-designed IPA process allows teachers to find answers to these important questions in the learning journey:
- Are my assessment tasks meaningful to students?
- Are my assessment tasks authentic and asking students to demonstrate actual communication skills?
- Do my assessment tasks mirror how learners acquired their language skills?
- Do my assessment tasks allow learners to receive feedback so that that they can improve their performance?
World Language Assessment Crime
So, why do I cringe a little when I find well intentioned resource banks for IPAs? Seems to me that the IPA model is the gold standard for assessment in the world language classroom and in an ideal world every unit would lend itself to the development of an assessment cycle that allows learners to demonstrate growth in the three modes of communication. In our quest of developing models for teaching, learning and assessment, we sometimes forget about the real world. Some units just don’t lend themselves to presentational assessments and some units just don’t lend themselves to interpersonal assessments. Are you committing a world language assessment crime if you don’t assess in the three modes in each and every unit? Absolutely not.
The danger of models can be that they are adapted wholesale, without regard of the local environment. The pressure to follow any kind of model in education, especially if it’s one that has been endorsed by and supported by “the” national world language association, should not let us ignore the needs of our learners. The ones that we know best. The ones that don’t have a space in the model. An IPA clearly is “a prototype for measuring student progress“, that can and should inspire teachers to create their own assessments. It’s a prototype that can be adjusted. I’ve spent a lot of time helping others develop assessments that allow teachers and learners to answer the questions outlined above. What these teachers have developed doesn’t always address each mode of communication, but rather place students in situations that require them to use their new language skills and that are of interest to them. It’s those last two that lead to truly inspiring performances by learners.
Shifting from Assessment Focus to Feedback Focus
It’s about time to shift our focus from the structure of assessment (even when the model is a good one) and focus on the real purpose of assessment in learning: performance & feedback. Let’s create assessments that allow students to perform in real-world contexts and receive the feedback they need in order to improve their language proficiency. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Oh, and if we focus on real-world contexts, of course we will address the modes of communication. There is no need to be burdened by the pressure to make sure that everything is integrated and aligned, just as the model prescribes. There is a need to have assessments that allow students to perform. There is a need to have assessments that allow students to receive quality feedback on their performances. Yes, it’s that simple. And we can leave the complexity of IPA’s to craft brewers, who allow me to enjoy my IPA served cold and outside of a classroom.