Tulane University started using online assessment for student placement a few years ago, discovering that student performance data — like duct tape — can solve all sorts of problems.

Language Placement Testing: The Duct Tape For Student Success

Water leaking into boxes of explosives during World War II was a large problem. So, in 1943, the War Production Board commissioned Johnson & Johnson to develop a solution. They came up with a treated cloth tape they colored green to match the ordnance boxes. GIs called it “duck tape” because of its color and water-resistant properties. Some brought rolls home and found it useful for … well, pretty much everything. Now, no home would be complete without at least one roll of duct tape. Tulane University has also found its duct tape for language student success—online language placement testing.

Tulane’s Solution For Placing Students In The Appropriate Level

“We used to place students into our large French and Spanish programs based on high school seat time,” explains Ryan Judd, head of Tulane’s Language Learning Center, “but, of course there were certain problems with that.”

Teachers spent the first few weeks of each semester scrambling to shuffle students into the appropriate level. That’s when Tulane started using Avant’s PLACE assessment.

“It saved a huge amount of faculty time,” says Judd, “and students perform better when they are at the appropriate level.”

This is exactly what PLACE is designed to do. But — like duct tape — with a little creativity, it can serve many other purposes.

“We have a three-semester language requirement here,” explains Judd. “Students can test out if they wish.”

How The Placement Testing Data Is Used

Avant PLACE became a screening test for students to test out of the requirement. If they score at Level 5 (intermediate-mid) or higher, they qualify to take the more secure STAMP proficiency test to meet the requirement.

“Departments were worried that it would hurt enrollments,” says Judd, “but that wasn’t the case at all.”

About 90% of students scoring above Level 5 signed up for upper-level language classes, which traditionally have lower enrollments, rather than try to test out of the requirement.

Seeing the positive impact of online assessment on the French and Spanish programs, Professor of Practice, Huimin Xie started giving STAMP to students in her intermediate and advanced Chinese classes.

“I use it to self-evaluate the program and also to monitor individual student progress,” she says. “It points out our strengths and weaknesses, which helps guide our teaching.”

Starting in the Spring of 2019, Huimin began assessing beginning students with Avant STAMP 4S to help bolster the quality of those lower-level classes.

Now that online testing is embedded in the culture of Tulane’s language programs, other creative uses have become apparent.

“It might be nice to give students some sort of credential or certificate based on their STAMP score,” muses Judd. “Employers and graduate schools might be interested in that information.”(Example:theglobalseal.com

As with a roll of duct tape, the uses of high-quality online assessment are limited only by the imagination.

About Avant Assessment

Avant’s mission is to improve the teaching and learning of language in the US and around the world through effective language proficiency testing and professional development. Our products are not only for educators but also for business and government agencies that see the significant positive impact from bilingual team members.


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