Contribution by Cree Whelshula, NLCC TTA Director

Language assessments are necessary for monitoring quality control of language transfer. It is also important to use an assessment that measures language acquisition as accurately as possible as not all assessments are created equally. Many assessments rely on paper/pencil-style tests that rely on semantic memory recall. These types of tests are limited in their ability to measure a person’s ability to actually use the language and are more suited for testing what a person knows about the language. For example, one can take a written test about color theory and score high, but can they actually apply it to an art piece in an aesthetically pleasing way? There are actually terms to describe these concepts in regard to language learning. One is called performance language, which is learning in order to pass a test. Another is proficient language. Proficient language is acquiring language to effectively communicate.

Performance-based assessments are a great option for assessing proficient language. A performance-based assessment utilizes tasks that are related to real-life situations to demonstrate what the learner can do with the language. Another great feature of performance-based assessments is it allows for freedom of expression from the learner. You can offer learners a menu of options on how to demonstrate their ability to use the language. Here are some examples of activities to use as assessments.

  • Role play
  • Oral presentation
  • Exhibit
  • Portfolio
  • Storyboard
  • eBook / Book
  • Illustrations / drawings
  • Videos / skits
  • Responding to, or giving, Total Physical Response (TPR) direction
  • Responding to, or giving, Accelerated Second Language Acquisition (ASLA) or Greymorning directions.
  • Language material development
  • Topic sticks (pull a stick and talk about that topic)
  • Observation of teaching practicum (for those studying to be language teachers)
  • Lesson plan (for those studying to be language teachers)

Once you have found some activities that align with the learning goals, you can then develop a rubric to assess as you will need something to be able to give a score to. Below you will see an example that I developed using an online generator you can find at

Performance-based assessment is a tool that identifies the level of language proficiency and demonstrates the student’s ability to apply or use their knowledge to perform and articulate their language skills as a result of the instruction they have received.