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University of Oregon

Language Proficiency Benchmarks


Benchmarks are a statement to students, teachers and parents of what students of NW Indian languages need to know and do in order to make progress toward proficiency in their languages. It is important to remember that these benchmarks are statements of minimum expectations. Certainly students can exceed these levels. It is also important to remember that these benchmarks articulate what students can do in a face-to-face interview with a stranger. Students will certainly be able to perform at higher levels in the classroom where they feel more comfortable and have more contextual clues. These benchmarks do not specify curricular or teaching methodology. Teachers, tribes and districts are free to teach whatever they wish in whatever manner they see fit as long as students meet the minimum standards articulated here.
NILI Benchmarks


Benchmark Definitions
Functions Definitions
Functions Definitions List

Six benchmarks of student performance are outlined below. They are analogous to nationally recognized proficiency guidelines established by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). Because most NW Native American students speak English as their primary language, we have delineated six levels of performance rather than the three ACTFL proficiency levels, as it takes longer to become proficient in their Native language than it would to be proficient in a European language as the NW languages are extensively rich in morphology and syntactic and cultural complexity. Another key difference between these two scales is that the Benchmarks specify particular topics and functions whereas ACTFL guidelines are written in much more general terms. (ACTFL proficiency levels are in italics.)

Benchmark I
Beginning Speaker Skills – Novice Low

Benchmark II
Experienced-Beginner Speaker Skills – Novice Mid

Benchmark III
Beginning Conversational Speaker Skills – Novice High – Intermediate Low Good

Benchmark IV
Conversational Speaker Skills – Low-Mid

Benchmark V
Advanced Conversational Speaker Skills – Intermediate Mid-High – Advanced

Benchmark VI
Master Speaker

The standards are based on four broad criteria: topics (content), function, goals (text type) and accuracy.

Benchmarks • Topics (Content) refers to what one can talk about. Students at lower proficiency levels will be limited to talking about simple things in their immediate environment, such as objects or people. At higher levels students are expected to talk about activities, areas of study, traditions and abstract concept such as beliefs, mythology and politics.

• Functions (found following each skill area) are what one can do with the language, for example “identify objects and people”, “express feelings”.

• Goals (Text type) is the kind of language a student can produce. At first, students are only expected to say isolated words. Later they must progress to phrases and full sentences.

• Accuracy is measured primarily by how well a student can communicate with another person. If pronunciation or grammar mistakes make it impossible for listeners to understand the student’s speech, that student will be counted off for accuracy.