We are finishing up midterm exams, and this is the first year I feel the test has been meaningful for my students. This year I set the test up to have three parts: an oral assessment, a written assessment and a traditional vocabulary/grammar section.
The students recorded the oral assessment on Google Voice the last two days of the term, giving me a weekend to start grading them. They have been practicing story telling all quarter, and I was very pleased by the recordings. Students have been telling each other stories based on cartoons their peers drew for homework. The day of the test I took 5 different cartoons and shuffled them all in one big pile. Each student received a different cartoon, but it was a cartoon they had previously seen in class. The students were asked to flip the paper over at the same time, and I gave them two minutes to think about what they were going to say. All my students called Google Voice at the same time and talked. The story needed to be narrated in the past tense (preterit & imperfect) and was thematically specific to a lesson from this semester. I told my students they needed to talk for at least 90 seconds. Most talked for 2-2:30 minutes.
My rubric is very generous for this assessment, but I strongly believe it needs to work in favor of the language learner, and reward the steps they are taking toward becoming fluent speakers. I told them that I did not expect perfect grammar. Out of 140 students I only had 6-8 who had problems using the past tense consistently, and even those students could tell me a story, they just narrated primarily in present tense.
Although my students are asked to produce & use Spanish in their Spanish 1 & 2 classes, my class is the first time they are assessed orally. Although they have practiced this activity for over 12 weeks, they were still nervous. Although the assessment is far from a natural conversation, I feel it accurately reflected how each student can communicate orally.
I would like to do more of these types of assessments, but they are very time intensive to grade. At 2 minutes per student (assuming I don't have to listen twice), that is 280 minutes or 4 hours and 40 minutes. I will continue to assess my students with Google Voice, but rather than grade all, I will randomly grade the recordings, keeping track of who I have listened to until I get to all of my students... and then start the process over again.
I would strongly encourage language teachers to include some form of oral assessment for their students. I really believe it brings together everything they have been working on and reinforces the importance of speaking.