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Category Archives: scoring

Below is a link to six speaking samples of two college students. What score would you give them?

6 samples rar

Please listen to each sample carefully and score each individually. They may have been made at different times.

For business topics the student is speaking from a prompt card that had a topic and the student had 3 minutes to prepare. The student had no access to any materials to prepare, only time to think and plan. For personal topics the answers were spontaneous to the questions.

Give one score per sample. If you want to use the IELTS scale, you can find the band descriptors here: IELTS Speaking Band Descriptors. Please say what scale you are using.

Generally, it is expected that students can speak about familiar topics, like family or friends, better than unfamiliar topics like business. So the difficulty of the task has to be considered in scoring.

Now you can try it: Can you rate speaking?

Please do not discuss your scores on the List until all of the scores have been published after the one month waiting period. If you have any questions or problems, please contact Dave Kees at: davekees[at]

Write your scores in the “Leave a comment” section on the left side of this page or click here: Comments. All score submissions will be withheld for one month and then published. This way submissions will not be influenced by previous submissions.

Your score:

What scale?:

Sample 1:
Sample 2:
Sample 3:
Sample 4:
Sample 5:
Sample 6:

(Special prize for the submissions that are closest to the average scores. The prize is Uncle Dave’s Tie Score Tie. Yes, now you can be the envy of your school and own one of these specially designed high-quality silk ties perfect for teachers who do oral English testing. While the student is talking, the teacher can adjust the gold tie clip up or down to indicate to the student how he is doing and as a reminder to the teacher of how the student performed! Note: This offer is void in countries outside of China and in all areas inside of China.)

By Peter Preston, Poland

Teachers do calculate the average score from tests, but then nothing serious is done with it. Even when the average score is close to the pass mark little statistical comment is made about the glaring problem that this represents. For example, if the average and the pass mark are the same and the population is normally distributed around the average, this means that 50% of the students fail. Can it be considered acceptable for 50% of the candidates to fail an end-of-the-year examination or even worse an end-of-the-course examination?

In fact at our college the last third-year UoE exam failed 80% of the students. Now you would think that a statistically-minded person would immediately start asking questions about validity of the exam. Construct validity – did the items set test the points intended to be tested? Course validity – did the items tested figure in the course syllabus? Is there a proper tie-up between the course syllabus and the test specifications (if the latter exist at all)? Did the distribution of correct responses discriminate between the weak and strong candidates? Were the items either too easy [not in this case] or too difficult? Is there any objective reference to competence standards built into the teaching programme? To ask just a few relevant questions.

I would love to hear that other institutions do use statistical analysis of exam data and look at the variance between different exam sittings using the same exam or different ones, but I wonder if small institutes can ever bring together the required expertese to carry out such work either before the exam goes live or afterwards. It would be great to conduct a poll on this matter to try to assess the use of statistics in the analysis of exam data at as many institutes as possible.

Peter Preston's students in Poland

My own experience inclines me to believe that exams are in fact not so much an educational evaluation of the work being done as a policy instrument to give face validity to the programme. As such one does not need to worry about the quality of the exam since one can adjust the results before publication. Or in the case of my institute the exam can be repeated by order from above until the teachers get the message.

I do not like the cynical manipulation of exam data, so having good quality statistical information and quality control of all documents involved in the course would be the start to a reevaluation of the course and teaching methods. By accurate assessment at the beginning of a course it should be possible to predict the level students could get to after a given number of teaching hours, taking into account the realities of life. By keeping proper statistical records over a few years one would accumulate powerful information. This is what insurance companies do to calculate their premiums.

By Erlyn Baack, now retired, formerly at ITESM, Campus Queretaro, Mexico

Both the IELTS and the TOEFL are proficiency tests that measure overall proficiency. They are both global in nature. I do not think they should be seen as achievement tests to be used at the end of a semester of study. Instead, they may be used to inform the achievement rubrics that should be developed within successive levels within an English program. Likewise, these proficiency exams should not be used as placement exams either because there are better placement exams available. There is not a single question on the TOEFL, for example, that discriminates the difference between English ONE, TWO, and THREE levels for instance. So for placement, even Michigan’s very old English Placement Test (if it is still available) would be better than the TOEFL for placement.

That said, the IELTS and the TOEFL should inform the achievement (and the rubrics in each of the four skills, ideally) that teachers and/or course administrators want to achieve at each level within an English program. Teachers and/or course administrators have to decide the curriculum at each level: For example, in developing the curriculum for English ONE, teachers and/or course administrators must ask and answer the following questions: At the end of the semester, (1) What do we want the students to know (or achieve, or be, or be able to do)?, (2) How are we going to teach it?, and (3) How are we going to test it?

Teachers and/or administrators are then responsible for designing a curriculum and an ACHIEVEMENT exam, _with rubric_, that measures the level of student achievement throughout the semester. By definition, all students should have the ability to STUDY or PRACTICE the curriculum within the semester that would lead to higher achievement scores meaning there would be a high correlation between (1) the number of hours a student studies and (2) his/her final semester score. Those achievement scores, then, would affect the TOEFL and the IELTS only indirectly.

I think it is helpful to distinguish between various exams and what they measure.

(1) Placement exams contain questions at all levels to place students within an English program. Michigan’s EPT is an example.

(2) Proficiency exams measure overall proficiency. The IELTS and TOEFL are examples, and they are used by universities, generally, to determine whether proficiency is sufficient for university studies.

(3) Achievement exams measure the level of student achievement within a semester of study. A major monthly exam, a mid-semester exam, or a final exam are examples of those. Did the student “achieve” what was supposed to have been taught and learned within a given week or month or semester?

>By Erica Hughes – Tallahassee, Florida

In my opinion giving a participation grade is basically a way to motivate students to speak in class. It’s a way to encourage informal, spontaneous speech and give students “credit” for it.

I have started a system in my more advanced classes where the students receive a page of about 15 or so little squares that say “I participated” on them. The write their names on the squares and cut them up. Then every time we are having a discussion in class, and they make a contribution, they pass up on card. At the end of 1 or 2 weeks, I count the cards and return them to each student.

That is a way for me to quantify and defend the participation grade I give them, but more importantly the student who don’t usually participate, because they don’t see the benefit of making a comment in class, get immediate “credit” for their comments. It can get a bit cumbersome in big classes, and of course there are still a few students who always participate and others who never want to, but I have stuck with it.

>By Frank Holes, Jr

Starting your class on the right foot each day is very important to both you and the students. There are certain expectations you will have, be they required materials (texts, folders, gym clothes), basic supplies (pencils/paper), or behaviors (on time, in seats, working on opening activities). You are going to want these expectations met every day.

We designed a simple set of 5 rules to start out every class. These are easy to remember and easy to keep track of. Several of our teachers use a variation of the 5 rules to start their classes, and you may feel free to adapt these to your class. These are the rules I use in English class:

Rule 1: Students must be in their seats when class begins. In some schools, classes begin (and are dismissed) by a bell. Some classes begin at a specific time. Still other classes are started by a
particular signal from the teacher.

Rule 2: Students must have a writing instrument. Again, different teachers have different expectations, be it pencil or pen or whatever. For me, it doesn’t matter as long as it s dark enough to read. I only balk at silver, gold, white, or any other light or fluorescent color (hot pink or yellow for example).

Rule 3: Students must have their folder out on their desk. Each of our classes requires students to keep important papers, notes, and other course artifacts. Some teachers allow students to keep these, and others provide a location in the room for folders.

Rule 4: Students must have all required materials for class that day. To reduce the number of times students ask me about what they need for the day’s class, I will either write the materials list on the board or put it on the class announcements on our TV (watch for the article on creating a class cable TV network our upcoming March issue).

Rule 5: Students must be working on the class warm up activity. In English class, students write out Daily Oral Language (DOL) sentences, practicing proofreading skills. On the edge of each day’s entry are the numbers 1 through 5, making it easy to grade. All you have to do is circle the appropriate number.

Again, we give each student a daily grade of points (1-5). Some teachers have only four rules and one rule is worth 2 points. You can change up and set your own rules and create an easy to grade set of points to fit your own classroom.

After a few weeks of practice, the checking of daily points becomes a student job. One student from each group (the RECORDER) gets the weekly responsibility to check the students’ daily points and circle the proper number. The teacher is freed up for other activities, and you only need to spot check through the room. This way I can record the daily points only once every two weeks and they are already tallied up for me.

Find Frank Holes, Jr.’s website at:

>By Maria Spelleri, Manatee Community College, USA

Every semester I mess around with my scoring systems, trying to find “something better.” I’m not happy patrolling for homework, nor do I like points for attendance because I find myself making all kinds of exceptions for people. I teach in a community college, so, I cannot just assume behavior and habits conducive to college learning; therefore, it seems that part of my grading needs to be for rewarding the development of successful student behavior like completing homework and showing up to class. Yet, I loathe the time-swallowing nickel and dime approach to grading: daily collection of points spread out over many different categories so that no one category seems more important than another, or perhaps in our students’ eyes, all categories seem equally unimportant.

Just as an observation as I mulled my own grading problems, I realized that we give points/ grades for behaviors we want to encourage (attendance, homework, completing a paper according to format), points for amount of effort put into something (bigger tasks get more points, we may reward a quantity of something or a completion of something, quality of research, or we take off points for late submissions), and points for demonstrating achievement (tests, quizzes, essays, presentations). I believe that if students develop certain behaviors and if a certain effort is expended, then the last point, a demonstration of achievement, will almost always occur.

To get away from 2-4 mini-categories of grading (attendance 10%, HW 15%, etc.), I am trying a catch-all category for a larger percentage of the grade called “Specified in-class and out-of class assignments and activities.” My idea is that this category encourages the behavior I want and the amount of effort going into studies, which will then lead to success in the class. This category does not include tests or major class projects like major essays in a writing class or major presentations in a speech class.

As I see fit, I will pre-announce that a specific homework assignment will be for points, that a particular class discussion will receive points for quality of participation, a pair activity writing an introduction will be given points, or a quiz will be for points. Not only do I get a larger, and I believe, more meaningful percentage value, but I also don’t have the daily grind of remembering who participated and to what extent, nor do I have to go around with a grade book like a third grade teacher checking for homework. (Well, I do that, but maybe only once every 4 classes!) My quiz category is enveloped into this mega-category as well. (I don’t care about quiz grades as a measure of evaluation — I leave that for the tests. I give quizzes to keep students on their toes studying and to find areas of weakness.)

I’m almost half way through the semester using this method in 5 courses. I certainly have been less frustrated than when I have to be overly strict, tediously marking every lousy point, or when I am too lax and students walk all over me. We’ll see how it goes. Some class examples: in my high intermediate grammar class, the scoring for the class is Tests- 60% and “specified in-class and out of class assignments and activities”- 40%. My high intermediate writing class does six major papers for 70% of grade, and “specified in-class..” for 30%.