My introduction to the AAPPL test came with the inception of the Seal of Biliteracy in the State of Iowa. Like many world language educators in Iowa at that time, my department began investigating the different ways that we could help our students prove their qualifications and obtain the Seal. Earning the Seal of Biliteracy is a tremendous opportunity that should be and has been blogged about in detail. However, I’ve heard enough “it’s just a sticker” responses that I came to reframe my view of the AAPPL. There are two angles I use when encouraging students, parents, and district leaders to implement the AAPPL test.

Program Validity and Viability

My husband is a math teacher, and he reminds me of the importance of state testing each year: state and district administrators want to measure the math department’s effectiveness, determine how well core standards are being met, and see data-informed evidence that students are meeting adequate yearly progress at each grade level. While he feels the heat from that situation, I’m over in “elective-land” with no community eyes requesting data demonstrating my courses’ validity through standardized tests. But the AAPPL can offer similar insights. Because it’s developed by ACTFL and scored by ACTFL-trained raters, it’s an objective, standardized assessment that can deliver results measuring the learning in our programming, independent of teacher judgement.

If my students complete four years of instruction and consistently all rate at a Novice level, that might be something my district should be interested in. Looking at AAPPL results can give you great ideas, and sometimes it’s a little scary! Instead of looking at ACTFL results as a reflection of your own teaching, I think it’s more helpful to look at the larger picture and examine the entire program’s viability. Are we scaffolding learning opportunities? Are there significant gaps in our unit design? Are there areas of stagnation? Is there growth within each level of programming, and how do we know?

My district is a small one, and the AAPPL test is only offered to those who want to take it. I’m grateful for the data I receive every year as it allows me to get a glimpse of language learning at the end of our language program. But the best practice for using the AAPPL is to administer the test to learners in all levels of a language program and to do it annually or twice a year.

My math teacher husband can track a student’s math scores over several years and see empirical proof of growth and learning. The AAPPL score reports mean that I can see a student’s AAPPL scores from their 1st year of learning and watch it develop over time. I believe students and parents benefit from data like this too. Today’s generation of students need to know that they are doing things that matter and that have value. Imagine how empowering it would be for them to see a snapshot of their learning at the end of the year to compare with previous years.

Value in Trusted Feedback

There is value in being able to prove what you know and how well you know it. I understand that standardized tests can be flawed for a variety of reasons, but the same can be said for individual teachers. My students have had only two language teachers during their high school years (I am one of them). And unless they are mature and self-aware, they are basing their sense of achievement off feedback and opportunities those two individuals have given them. And I can be quite flawed. Many lessons and unit design ideas have not panned out the way that I would have liked. My interpretation of the ACTFL standards might be slightly different from the teachers in a town across the highway. I often tell my students that my declarations that they are biliterate, an A student, or an Intermediate High writer are somewhat empty. I remind them that’s just what Emily Huff thinks. Imagine using a solidly designed, nationally recognized measurement of language ability that could substantiate such declarations. That has value. Students have done so much work over the years learning and acquiring language skills. The AAPPL is an opportunity for them to finally demonstrate and receive affirmation for how well they have done – beyond a grade I give them or a sticker they receive.

In a nutshell, that is the greatest reason to use the AAPPL test in your classroom: you receive objective and valid evidence of the language skills students are developing. The results can validate your presumptions, and you can celebrate your students. It’s also possible that reality could leave you disappointed. I’d like to think that understanding the truth of any situation is a valuable reward that will help you grow – much more valuable than a sticker.

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