Proficiency-Oriented Language Instruction and Assessment:
A Curriculum Handbook for Teachers

POLIA HandbookBackground Information

Written by Diane J. Tedick

Concerned that large numbers of students were not persisting with language study and that too few students were achieving high levels of proficiency in world languages, the Minnesota Coalition for the Articulation of Language Learning, a consortium of language professionals representing the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Private College Council, the Minnesota State University and Community College Systems, the Minnesota Department of Children, Families, and Learning (MNDCFL), and the Minnesota Council on the Teaching of Languages and Cultures (MCTLC), began plans for establishing the Minnesota Articulation Project (Metcalf, 1995).

Under the leadership of Michael Metcalf, professor and director of the Institute for International Studies and Programs at the University of Minnesota, Dale L. Lange, professor of Second Languages and Cultures Education and former director of the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) at the University of Minnesota, and Suzanne Jebe, then world languages and cultures specialist at MNDCFL, the Minnesota Articulation Project was launched in 1993 with major support from the Fund for the Improvement of Post secondary Education (FIPSE) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

The Minnesota Articulation Project (MNAP) was dedicated to the concept that the learning of languages other than English is essential in preparing students to participate in the global community. Its work revolved around two core values: continuity and persistence. Students learn another language best when their language study has continuity, i.e. when they pursue an uninterrupted course of study from their very first class in the language. Students also need to persist in their language studies so that they are able to attain high levels of proficiency. MNAP leaders believed that as the need for high levels of proficiency became recognized in the state and across the nation, the need for coordinated and continuous language learning beginning in elementary school and continuing in middle school, high school, and college would follow.

The Minnesota Articulation Project benefited from the commitment and efforts of over fifty language professionals representing twenty-three private and public post-secondary institutions and junior high and high schools from across the state. A complete list of the Project members appears with the Acknowledgments. The work of MNAP, led by co-directors Michael Metcalf and Barbara Swanson of MNDCFL, was divided among three teams that have been responsible for carrying out a portion of the project’s goals: the assessment team, the political action team, and the curriculum team. The Project also enjoyed the support of Karin Larson and other CARLA staff, as well as key faculty from the University of Minnesota. Headed by Micheline Chaloub-Deville, the assessment team developed large scale proficiency-oriented assessments in speaking, reading, and writing in French, German, and Spanish to be used with graduating high school seniors who plan to enter postsecondary institutions. The Minnesota Language Proficiency Assessments target the Intermediate-Low level of the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines 1 (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 1986). More information about the assessments is available on the CARLA website at website at:

The second team represented the political interests of the project and was led by Ray Wakefield from 1995-1996 and then by Phyllis Van Buren. With a project of this magnitude, it was imperative to establish clear lines of communication and that representatives of the project actively worked as liaisons with key constituencies such as state institutions (MCTLC, MNDCFL), national organizations (ACTFL, AATSP, AATF, AATG), high school and college teachers, counselors, and administrators, etc. Directed by Diane Tedick, the third team was in charge of curriculum development. The primary goal of the curriculum team was to develop a process for helping teachers to consider changes in curriculum and instruction to provide students with the kinds of experiences they will need to achieve higher levels of proficiency and to succeed with the assessments developed by MNAP’s assessment team. The Handbook was the result of our efforts.

A Process of Evolution and Transformation

The Handbook is far from complete—indeed it will never be complete in the full sense of the word, because language and culture are dynamic, ever-changing entities that require perpetual rethinking. Just as language and culture—and our understanding of language and culture learning and teaching—constantly evolve, so too must the Handbook. With that in mind, we originally published the background materials and collection of tasks/units in a three-ring binder intentionally to encourage teachers to contribute to its evolution..

In the spirit of promoting the ongoing nature of the Handbook, it was reprinted in 2002. Diane Tedick added significantly to the foundational chapter entitled “Proficiency-Oriented Language Instruction and Assessment: Standards, Philosophies, and Considerations for Assessment” for the 2002 version of the Handbook and care was taken to update references to web addresses and other resources throughout.

The Handbook Goes into Cyberspace

The next logical step for us to take in sharing the great work of the Minnesota Articulation Project was to put the Handbook online. All the materials are included on this website and we urge you to use them in your classrooms to move your students toward the goal of proficiency.

The end goal of the Minnesota Articulation Project—enhancing students’ proficiency levels “ that they might communicate across linguistic and cultural boundaries” (Tedick et al., 1993, p. 44)—can only be accomplished by teachers as they begin the process of transforming language education. We hope that the Handbook (in print and in the online form) continues to guide teachers in that process.

A Note on Copyright

Multiple copies of the supplementary materials that accompany the tasks and units (e.g., the authentic texts, song lyrics, handouts and exercises, peer review forms, rubrics for assessment, etc.) can be made for classroom use—in fact, we encourage it! The other materials in the Handbook (e.g., task and unit descriptions, preliminary section that focuses on standards, philosophies and assessment procedures, etc.) are protected by copyright. Permission to copy these materials must be obtained by the Regents of the University of Minnesota and can be sought through the CARLA office. Copyright permission for other materials in the Handbook must be obtained by contacting the respective copyright owners.


American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. (1986). ACTFL proficiency guidelines. Yonkers, NY: American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. (1999). ACTFL proficiency guidelines—Speaking, Revised, 1999. Yonkers, NY: American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. (1986). Preliminary ACTFL proficiency guidelines—Writing, Revised, 2001. Yonkers, NY: American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

Heilenman, L.K., & Kaplan, I.M. (1985). Proficiency in practice: The foreign language curriculum. In C.J. James (Ed.), Foreign language proficiency in the classroom and beyond (pp. 55-77). ACTFL Foreign Language Education Series, vol. 16. Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Co.

Metcalf, M.F. (1995). Articulating the teaching of foreign languages: The Minnesota Project. ADFL Bulletin, 26(3), 52-54.

National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project (1996). Standards for foreign language learning: Preparing for the 21st century. Yonkers, NY: ACTFL.

Tedick, D. J., Walker, C. L., Lange, D. L., Paige, M., & Jorstad, H. L. (1993). Second language education in tomorrow’s schools. In G. Gunterman (Ed.), Developing language teachers for a changing world (pp. 43-75). ACTFL Foreign Language Education Series. Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Company


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