This past year, WOU faculty Dr. Patricia Gimenez-Eguibar and Dr. Claudia Costagliola have collaborated with the Willamette Promise team to create a more easily accessible and diverse Spanish proficiency exam to reward potential WOU students with Spanish credits. Their primary goals and following achievements were centered on designing a secure online assessment—given our current virtual setting—and allowing options for varying dialects, so all participating students could fully understand and engage with the exam. Additionally, this team managed to shorten the length of the exam to 45 minutes, and they opened access to practice tests and study guides for students.
Gimenez-Eguibar has been involved with Willamette Promise since its early stages in 2014, while Costagliola joined the team during the 2019-20 school year. Although this project has lasted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts to improve the online examination will continue, as the assessment is designed to be adaptable and increasingly accessible.
When prompted about this initiative’s primary focus, Gimenez-Eguibar responded, “Our main goal was to provide as many opportunities as we could for our prospective students who already have a knowledge of Spanish. I put a special focus on creating an assessment tool with a communicative component allowing students who already speak Spanish but [haven’t been formally taught] standard Spanish. Hence, these students will have the chance to get credit for their current knowledge and fast-track their college degree at WOU. Since Spanish is the official language of 21 countries and spoken by 450 [million] speakers, another goal we had was to be as inclusive as possible with the language variation across the world. Therefore, the oral and listening component of the assessment includes recording of different speakers from different parts of the globe.”
Costagliola added, “The test maintains a communicative focus and examines student interaction in interpersonal, interpretive, and public speaking modes. However, the online assessment allowed us to further emphasize the authenticity of the material.”
Although this project seems ambitious, both faculty members, as well as the larger team they collaborated with, had high hopes for the outcome, imagining a brighter future and greater opportunities for Spanish-speaking students of many backgrounds. Gimenez-Eguibar recounted, “Our hope was to create an objective and effective assessment tool for our target population of prospective students. We were successful, and the state of Oregon awarded us with the Seal of Biliteracy.
“[Offering this assessment tool for free was] critical for our prospective students’ profile given the historical gap that Latino students have to overcome when they encounter assessment tools by for-profit companies.
“This tool has been adapted from paper to online in order to better serve our community, [when the] worldwide pandemic has hit us hard. From the technological point of view, this is certainly the most complex project that Willamette Promise and WOU faculty have ever taken on since the start of [the] program. It has a very sophisticated online component that has required the collaboration between IT, Willamette Promise personnel, and us. It has been very demanding, but it is totally worth the effort, given that our main goal is to serve our Latino community.”
On another note, Costagliola highlighted other hopes and priorities she valued: “Our priority was ensuring as many students as possible the benefit of obtaining university credits for free through this exam, despite the impossibility of being physically in the classroom. It was clear then that our exam should focus on maximizing student participation in a safe and easily accessible environment. […]
“Likewise, the process of implementing the exam in Canvas is highly complex. Challenges are always present, such as choosing the appropriate platform and incorporating the different elements that make up this tool. Then comes the beta testing stage, where we had the voluntary participation of some of our Spanish students at WOU. In addition, we had the privilege of working with people very committed to the project and with a high degree of qualification from WESD. They aided us with IT services, administrative support, and logistics coordination.
“Besides developing this tool, we wanted to minimize the anxiety of the students regarding this new online version of the exam as much as possible. This is why we developed support materials for them with tips and resources, sample test questions with native speaker responses, and study guides. Also, several training sessions with teachers were conducted to familiarize them with the different sections and instruct them how to use the assessment rubrics. Feedback from the teachers is very important for us, since they are the ones who know the needs of their students better than we do.”
When asked about how this improved exam will aid both future and current WOU students, Costagliola responded, “The online version of the Willamette Promise Spanish test allows high school students to still earn WOU-recognized college credits, for free, without putting their health at risk, as they can take it anywhere with internet access. Likewise, the program provides students with study guides and a series of resources, so that they can prepare in advance and obtain the highest possible accreditation with the possibility of obtaining the Seal of Biliteracy.
“The latter gives them the greatest advantage considering admission to future universities. Also, it gives them a greater competitive edge for future employers. To wrap things up, let’s not forget that one of the main objectives of this program is to encourage high school students to continue higher education with WOU and have better opportunities in their professional future. If we consider the fact that Willamette Promise serves many students of Spanish heritage–young people who grew up in a home where Spanish is spoken but who need to study it systematically to use this language to its full potential–we are also aligned with WOU’s purpose of becoming a Hispanic Service Institution.”
Due to their work on this project, Gimenez-Eguibar and Costagliola were honored with the Willamette Promise Advisory Board’s Community Spotlight Award for the month of April.