Formal Assessments at the French American Academy

Our Philosophy and Tests

The French American Academy uses varied forms of assessment in our classrooms (such as project-based work, presentations, discussions, and self-assessment).  Formal standardized tests are minimal and chosen very selectively and mindfully. In fact, at our school, we have only four formal assessments that are offered periodically for students as they progress through elementary and middle school: The DELF, the PSAT 8/9, the French National Exam, and the MAP. 

Academic benchmarks, determined through formalized testing, are important, but they only provide partial information about a child’s learning. At the FAA, we work to develop a child’s personality and character, their artistic abilities and physical strength, their teamwork and leadership skills, their goodwill and empathy, their grit and their focus. Only classroom interaction, discussion, observation, and group work can reveal and strengthen these capacities. This whole child approach is at the center of our teaching philosophy, so while we do administer periodic formal exams, we always operate on the understanding that test scores only show a part of students’ overall development. 

Before taking these particular tests, teachers ensure that students understand the testing format and technology. However, they do not necessarily “teach to” these particular tests – that is to say, they do not dedicate extra class time or deviate from their lesson plans to include “test prep”. The skills and notions that students acquire throughout the course of their education typically prepare them well for the tests that we offer. In this article, we will provide a summary of our four formal tests, as well as a deeper dive into some of the results that our students obtain on the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) Growth test. 

Summative Assessments

Summative assessments are designed to evaluate students’ cumulative learning in a particular subject. They are used by teachers and schools to determine how effectively the curriculum has been taught and how well it has been mastered. The results from formal summative assessments might be used for certifications or admission to educational institutions. 

  • The DELF, or Diplôme d’études en langue française (Diploma of French Language Studies) is an internationally recognized French language proficiency exam.

    It evaluates whether students have met certain language benchmarks according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). Our students take this exam in third grade, fifth grade, and eighth grade, and receive an official certificate of language proficiency when they master the benchmarks. 
  • The PSAT 8/9 is a standardized test designed for eighth and ninth-grade students in the United States. The acronym PSAT stands for “Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test,” and the 8/9 indicates the intended grade level. It serves as a precursor to the more well-known PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) taken by high school sophomores and juniors.

    In our school, we give students the opportunity to take this test in 7th grade, as it provides valuable experience for them and can help determine their personal study plan for the upcoming school year. The PSAT 8/9 is a prerequisite for admission to some competitive high schools. 

Formative Assessments

Formative assessments are designed to be administered throughout the school year, and their purpose is to inform educators not only of what material and skills students have mastered, but also of what areas are ready to be developed in class. Formative assessments can help determine a teacher’s plan for upcoming lessons; they can also help students with goal-setting in their education. Aside from multiple formative assessments that teachers deliver in class, our school offers two official formative assessments to help inform instruction. 

  • Les évaluations nationales, or French National Exam, is administered at the beginning of certain years in a child’s education. Currently, students take this exam at the beginning of first, second, fourth, and sixth grade. This test is identical to the one taken by students in France, which is a valuable reference particularly for our families who might move back to France in the future. The results are a crucial resource for our French teachers, providing information for them about what skills students are ready to develop. 
  • The Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP Growth, is an American computer-based adaptive test that elementary students take at the beginning and end of each school year.

    This test of reading, language, and math measures a student’s progress from one year to the next, painting a comprehensive picture of each student’s areas of strength, as well as the skills that they are ready to develop next. The MAP Growth is useful for teachers as they plan their curriculum. We can also use the data generated to differentiate among students and to provide extra support to children whose scores need a boost.
    MAP Growth also provides results that can be compared with other schools across the country, providing insight into the value of our bilingual education. 

A deeper dive into the MAP Growth

From our years of experience administering this test, we have developed some valuable insights into the ways that the data can reflect our unique academic environment. 

The non-English-speaker reading curve

New non-native-English-speaking students may confront some language difficulties when they come to our school. Our teachers and immersion program can help them develop their English proficiency quickly, but we do not administer the MAP Growth test to any child who’s been here for a year or less because they will experience particular difficulty with the language of the test. If a non-English-speaking child has been in our school for more than a year, they take the test along with everyone else. We have noticed that this sometimes results in temporary lower scores, but the growth reports for subsequent tests reveal impressive progress from the first test to the next. 

The benefits of language transfer

Our student’s MAP language scores are generally quite strong. This is because language skills, vocabulary, and grammar transfer from French to English and vice versa. Our students have a deeper understanding of the underlying structure of language and its usages. These abilities are reflected in stronger language scores. 

Exponential growth

A common experience with students in a bilingual environment is that as they’re receiving rich input in two languages, it may take a few years for their brains to synthesize the information and develop the neural capacity to think, communicate, and learn in two languages. The MAP growth scores may therefore be relatively low the first few times students take the test, but we have found that students who are with us for many years (especially those who started with us in Pre-K) typically demonstrate excellent Growth scores and high overall scores by the time they reach upper elementary. 

While we are mindful that formal or standardized assessment does not reflect whole-child development and character, it is still an important part of modern education. It provides a snapshot of students’ learning progress, helps teachers and students with goal-setting and planning, informs decisions about differentiation, furnishes easily communicated results to families, and prepares students for real-world challenges. It also provides a basis to compare our students with their peers in other schools and back in France. The exams that we choose to administer at the FAA are carefully chosen to provide useful, meaningful results for our learning community.

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