Update on the Ukrainian Language Assessment Project: Year Two

CEFR-Based Assessment of Ukrainian Language Learners

Nadia Prokopchuk, Prairie Centre for the Study of Ukrainian Heritage (PCUH), University of Saskatchewan

In spring of 2017, PCUH Academic Affiliate Nadia Prokopchuk embarked on a three-year project focused on assessment of student progress in Ukrainian language programs in Canada. Sparked by recent immigration trends and greater diversity among students in Ukrainian language programs, the project places renewed emphasis on the language profiles of students entering a Ukrainian language program. Language profiles provide a snapshot of the student’s background experiences and connections to the language being learned. Factors in a student’s profile that influence language progress include: (a) prior exposure to Ukrainian (b) current level of fluency in Ukrainian (c) support systems for learning or maintaining Ukrainian (d) access to language learning resources, and (e) time/hours spent studying in a Ukrainian language program. 

Authentic samples of Ukrainian language progress from students with differing profiles are not readily available. As a result, teachers continue to search for answers to the following questions:

What does progress look like for a language beginner?

How should progress be assessed?

What does progress look like for a student with basic conversational skills?

How can progress be assessed for a native speaker of Ukrainian?  

An international reference scale called the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) addresses all these questions by describing language skills along a six-level scale of progression. The scale identifies what students know and “can do” at each level by using a series of descriptors for listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The scale is applicable to all types of language programs and student profiles.

The Ukrainian Language Assessment Project introduces the CEFR to Ukrainian language educators and suggests that this scale be used to coordinate efforts to teach Ukrainian language learners in Canada. The following is a summary of initiatives completed in the first two years of this three-year project.

YEAR ONE – INFORMATION-SHARING (2017)

  • UKRAINIAN LANGUAGE ASSESSMENT SYMPOSIUM (October 2017): Information about the CEFR was shared with representatives of Ukrainian language programs from four provinces. The Ukrainian Language Education Centre, ULEC, assisted PCUH in this endeavour. Symposium participants learned about the widespread use of the CEFR as a language reference tool in Canada and in Ukraine.  An informal working group was created to continue the dialogue on language assessment and the CEFR.
  • SKILL DESCRIPTOR COLLECTION: Following the symposium, skill descriptors from several CEFR documents were gathered into one document.  This master list of Ukrainian/English skill descriptors for listening, speaking, reading, and writing was distributed to the working group through a shared Google Drive site. This master list is currently in draft form.

YEAR TWO – STUDENT EXEMPLARS OF WRITING SKILLS (2018)

  • UKRAINIAN WRITING SAMPLES COLLECTION (March-May 2018): The writing strand of the CEFR was selected as a starting point for the collection of authentic samples of student writing at various stages of language learning.  Ukrainian Bilingual Program teachers in Saskatoon contributed to the PCUH project by gathering writing samples in their classrooms, analyzing the samples using CEFR writing descriptors, and then assigning a CEFR level to each sample. Some writing samples were selected to create a professional learning document for Ukrainian language educators who want to know more about CEFR-based assessment.
  • NATIONAL UKRAINIAN EDUCATORS’ ONLINE CONFERENCE (NUEC and ULEC, May 2018): A conference session titled Ukrainian Language Assessment Using the CFR/CEFR – Samples of Student Skills was delivered by N. Prokopchuk, O. Kovpak, and O. Andrusyak. The presenters shared information about the process of gathering and analyzing writing samples. A few reading samples were also recorded and shared.
  • FIRST WORLD FORUM OF UKRAINIAN SATURDAY SCHOOLS – MIOK International Institute of Education and Culture (Lviv, August 2018). An online webinar titled Оцінювання мовного поступу за допомогою таблиці мовленнєвих умінь CEFR: Приклади письмових умінь канадських учнів на рівнях А1-В2 was delivered by N. Prokopchuk. The purpose was to underscore how the majority language (in this case, English) impacts Ukrainian language learning in the diaspora. Examples were drawn from the CEFR-based writing document.

YEAR THREE of this project is now underway. The focus is on gathering additional writing samples so that a broader representation of language abilities from various locations can be included in the CEFR-based writing document. If time permits, a collection of student reading samples will also begin.

The process of gathering more writing samples is already underway. On January 17-18, 2019, two professional learning workshops were delivered by N. Prokopchuk in Edmonton and Vegreville, Alberta. The workshops, titled Local Students and Fluent Newcomers: How Can Ukrainian Bilingual Educators Assess Students Equitably, were coordinated by the Ukrainian Language Education Centre (ULEC), Edmonton Catholic Schools, and Elk Island Public Schools. A total of 35 participants attended. Each workshop included a brief overview of CEFR language levels and descriptors, followed by an exploration of how the CEFR can inform resource selection and assessment practices with diverse language learners. Teachers were given a hands-on task involving assessment of student Ukrainian writing samples using CEFR scale descriptors. To conclude each workshop, teachers were invited to join the Assessment Project by contributing samples of student writing to the current CEFR-based document.

As Ukrainian language classrooms become more diverse, teachers and administrators need to find innovative ways to support two distinct target audiences – Canadian (predominantly English-speaking) students who are learning Ukrainian and students who are native speakers of Ukrainian. All students want to see signs of progress with language learning, and the CEFR provides a reporting tool that can help teachers to identify areas of progress using descriptors that are positive and encouraging.

Another session on the topic of CEFR-based Assessment will be delivered at the National Ukrainian Educators’ Conference taking place on May 23-25 in Winnipeg.

More information about the Edmonton/Vegreville workshops can be found on the ULEC website.

CEFR-based student language portfolios from Ukraine
CEFR-based documents produced in Canada
CEFR-Based Student Writing Samples Document (May 2018)
Ukrainian Bilingual Teachers at St. Martin School, Edmonton (January 2019)
PCUH Presenter Nadia Prokopchuk at the ULEC-sponsored workshop in Edmonton