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Assessment in Russian

This is an overview of assessment in the Russian Language and Literature Program at the University of Denver for students and parents. Assessment seeks to examine the three areas of student and faculty endeavor in the Program, which are language ability, cultural fluency, and personal self-definition. Students completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Russian Language and Literature are expected to graduate with an ability to speak and write -- as well as understand written and spoken -- Russian at a level appropriate to their experience in class and abroad, and to attain a basic linguistic understanding of how the Russian language functions. The BA major also provides the student with a broad overview of Russia's literary and cultural tradition as well as in-depth exposure to the work of select writers and artists, a fundamental grasp of Russia's history, and an understanding of Russia's place in the world today. The Russian Program's assessment protocol includes traditional tools such as portfolios and course evaluations as well as more innovative measures designed to gauge the less tangible results of the study of Russian at DU. Assessment is intended to provide a continual exchange of information between the faculty and student partners in the Program. Assessment includes:


The Russian Language and Literature Program at the University of Denver seeks to give its students the ability to understand how language shapes their lives, and how culture seeks to express it -- differently according to the language being studied.  To achieve this, it seeks to integrate the learning of Russian in three areas of endeavor: the student's language ability, cultural fluency, and personal self-definition. Each area interacts to form a whole: language ability is strengthened in classroom instruction and, when possible, study abroad; cultural fluency is learned through exposure to literary traditions, translation skills, and the media; personal self-definition is attained through work in the Russian community, the informal use of Russian, and internships in Denver and/or abroad. Each student equally serves to vitalize the faculty in the Russian Language and Literature Program by bringing new and fresh perspectives on the assimilation and the integration of the three areas of endeavor. The Program is thereby a partnership between student and faculty and is assessed as such.   Each element of this mission statement is based on the University of Denver?s Vision, Values, Mission and Goals Statement in that the Russian Program functions as a community of faculty, students, and community members; it encourages study abroad, community-based work and a greater learning of the self and the world through a culture of robust scholarship in all of its courses and extracurricular experiences.


  • RUSS 1003 and RUSS 2110:  standardized exit conversations about class topics in Russian based on modified ACTFL criteria for reading, writing, speaking, listening, and cultural ability, utilizing real-life situations such as telephone conversations (to demonstrate cultural fluency and expand the use of Russian beyond the strictly academic setting); assessment of writing assignment.
  • RUSS 3901:  cross-graded final project assessed using modified ACTFL criteria for reading, writing, speaking, listening, and cultural ability.
  • Honors Thesis for exiting honors / distinction majors


1st-year: RUSS 1003 (end of first-year language requirement)
2nd-year: RUSS 2110 (end of second-year language sequence)
4th-year: RUSS 3901 (Senior Capstone Seminar)


  • Faculty in charge: Polina Rikoun
  • Faculty responsible for developing assessment: Luc Beaudoin and Polina Rikoun
  • Assessment has been utilized to improve the 1st-year and 2nd-year Russian language curriculum as well as the 3rd-/4th-year literature curriculum
  • Faculty assessment: class visits
  • Distribution of assessment and feedback loop: returns to Polina Rikoun and is distributed to the faculty in Russian.


Direct assessment: The assessment plan in the Russian Language and Literature Program was formulated officially during Winter Quarter 1999, was put to test at the beginning and the end of the quarter, and continued in subsequent quarters as per the outline above (modified in Fall Quarter 2001, Spring Quarter 2007, Fall Quarter 2010). By comparing the entrance conversation and the exit assessment, the faculty in the Russian and Literature Program have been able to coordinate learning objectives across courses in order to better meet student needs. 


Below are summaries of the modified ACTFL (American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages) standards. These standards were modified by the ACTR (American Council of Teachers of Russian) to better reflect the unique challenges Russian poses to the American university student. These standards were modified by Russian Program faculty of the University of Denver to be more specific at each individual level and to include cultural ability.  Please note that native speakers can be at Advanced High or higher. Standard university Russian programs have the following goals for the end of each level (cultural fluency is not rated):

1st-yr level: between Novice and Intermediate Low
2nd-yr level: between Intermediate and Intermediate High
3rd-yr level: between Intermediate and Intermediate High
4th-yr level: Intermediate High
DU's Russian program aims for the following after each course sequence level (including cultural fluency; study in Russia on the Cherrington Global Scholars ACTR program is factored into these expectations):

1st-yr level: Intermediate Mid
2nd-yr level: Intermediate High
3rd-yr level: Advanced Low
4th-yr level: Advanced Mid
Below are the descriptions of the modified ACTFL outcomes:

SPEAKING:  NOVICE:  able to form basic words and a few sentences, often with inaccurate pronunciation and/or grammar constructions.
NOVICE HIGH:  able to speak in basic sentences, such as asking directions and describing objects and places.  Must be face-to-face conversations, often with hand-gestures to help comprehension on account of linguistic inaccuracies.  May speak with much linguistic inaccuracy and have difficulty getting understood.
INTERMEDIATE LOW: able to handle successfully a limited number of interactive, task-oriented and social situations, responding to simple statements and maintaining restricted, face-to-face conversation often with some linguistic inaccuracy. May have difficulty getting understood.
INTERMEDIATE MID: able to handle successfully a variety of basic communicative tasks and social situations. Can talk about self and family, and participate in conversations beyond the most elementary. Frequent pauses and struggle with grammatical forms.
INTERMEDIATE HIGH: able to handle successfully most uncomplicated communicative tasks and social situations and use linguistic strategies to ensure understanding. Circumlocution still required in order to compensate for limited vocabulary. Simple narration is bolstered with increasing grammatical sophistication.
ADVANCED LOW: ability to converse in participatory fashion.  Topics tend to be concrete, such as living conditions and school, but can include a variety of social topics.  Beginning of paragraph-length discourse, although inconsistently.
ADVANCED MID: ability to converse in participatory fashion, initiate and sustain conversation on a variety of topics, satisfy most school and work situations, use paragraph-length discourse.
ADVANCED HIGH: ability to initiate conversations on almost any topic and sustain them in participatory fashion, using paragraph-length discourse, cultural references, and humor.

WRITING:  NOVICE:  able to make letter shapes and write a few simple words, with occasional spelling errors.
NOVICE HIGH:  comfortable with Cyrillic alphabet and able to write simple sentences on a variety of topics, sometimes with grammatical errors.  Able to transcribe oral dictations with some spelling errors.
INTERMEDIATE LOW: able to meet limited practical needs: short messages, postcards, and simple notes. Some errors in grammar and vocabulary.
INTERMEDIATE MID: Able to meet a number of practical needs, writing short everyday letters with good control of indexual time and the imperfective aspect.  Not comfortable with perfective verbs, particularly in the future tense.  Able to use basic forms of verbs of motion.  Varying levels of conscious organization.
INTERMEDIATE HIGH: Able to meet most practical writing needs and limited social needs. Can respond in writing to personal questions on a variety of topics. Able to use imperfective and perfective verbs with some accuracy. Able to use common forms of prefixed verbs of motion with some accuracy.  Increasing use of complex sentences and paragraphs, particularly using ??????? clauses.
ADVANCED LOW: able to write multi-paragraph texts narratives and descriptions of a factual nature on familiar topics, with some mastery of aspect and verbs of motion.  Limited use of verbal adverbs and participles.
ADVANCED MID: able to write narratives and descriptions of a factual nature of at least several paragraphs in length on a variety of topics, with regular use of basic participles and verbal adverbs.
ADVANCED HIGH: able to write narratives and descriptions on most topics, although more difficult and esoteric topics remain a challenge.  Comfortable with participles, gerunds, and registers of politeness.  Increasing use of Church Slavonicisms and humor.

LISTENING:  NOVICE:  Able to understand basic words and a few sentences when spoken slowly and distinctly.
NOVICE HIGH:  Able to understand basic sentences used in common social situations when spoken slowly and distinctly.
INTERMEDIATE LOW: able to comprehend the most basic of social and practical situations. Frequent repetition needed to overcome misunderstandings, particularly at native-speaker speed.
INTERMEDIATE MID: able to understand discourse in a variety of social situations with repetition required for comprehension.
INTERMEDIATE HIGH: able to understand most basic social situations and the majority of simple interactions with native speakers speaking at normal speed. Still some need for repetition.
ADVANCED LOW: able to understand most social situations and interactions with native speakers speaking at normal speed. Still some need for repetition at times.
ADVANCED MID: able to function in situations with native speakers on topics ranging from the familiar to the more esoteric. Little need for repetition--circumlocution can overcome most vocabulary difficulties.
ADVANCED HIGH: able to function in situations with native speakers on almost any topic, although less familiar topics may require some explanation of vocabulary.

READING:  NOVICE:  able to recognize Cyrillic letters and familiar short words.  Able to recognize and read some short familiar sentences.
NOVICE HIGH:  comfortable with Cyrillic alphabet and able to read simple texts on familiar topics.
INTERMEDIATE LOW: able to read texts on basic social and practical situations, although with some lack of comprehension based on grammatical limitations.
INTERMEDIATE MID: able to read multi-paragraph texts on a variety of practical and social topics, with frequent need for explanation of more difficult vocabulary and grammar.
INTERMEDIATE HIGH: able to read texts on a variety of topics, although texts that are in high style with frequent use of participles and verbal adverbs impede comprehension.
ADVANCED LOW: able to read most texts with some problems related to more complicated grammar and stylistic forms, such as participles and verbal adverbs.
ADVANCED MID: able to read texts with comparative ease on most topics, although recognition of word formation still causes problems for comprehension.
ADVANCED HIGH: able to read most Russian texts and able to understand meaning of unfamiliar Russian words using word-formation rules, although sometimes with some difficulty.

CULTURAL:  NOVICE:  little knowledge of Russia or Russian culture, may know where Russia is and what its capital is called.
NOVICE HIGH:  basic knowledge of some Russian geography and culture, unable to function correctly within social demands of Russian interactions.
INTERMEDIATE LOW: able to conform to some of the cultural needs presented by familiar situations (use of correct wording and intonation when addressing people in formal situations) though there is frequent interference from the native culture, some understanding of cultural differences (stereotypes), little familiarity with either high or low cultures.
INTERMEDIATE MID: able to negotiate typical intercultural situations (generally correct use of polite forms and intonation, though there is still misunderstanding about in-group versus out-group), able to navigate familiar social situations (store etiquette, drinking in social situations), limited knowledge of some familiar cultural icons (Pushkin, Dostoevskii).
INTERMEDIATE HIGH: able to correctly handle polite forms of address and intonations with little interference from the native culture, able to grasp some humor and navigate more unfamiliar social situations such as impromptu interactions in the public sphere, though mistakes may be made in this instance. Some knowledge of cultural icons and their achievements (Pushkin, Dostoevskii, Tolstoi, Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva), some knowledge of low culture (pop music, film, music videos), some acquaintance with the most important political players and issues (Westernization, Mafia and crime, the Duma).
ADVANCED LOW: able to make and maintain friendships and relationships in Russian, although English may be needed to navigate more difficult and complicated issues.  Increasing sophistication in understanding humor and its use in Russian interactions.  General understanding of current Russian politics and a good overall understanding of Russian high culture and literature, although less-translated works may still not be known.
ADVANCED MID: able to develop and maintain Russian friends and professional contacts with little need for English.  Good awareness of most significant figures and trends in both high and low culture in the Russian context, increasingly sophisticated understanding of the complications of the relationship between Russia and the West, and the questions posed by the legacy of the Soviet Union.
ADVANCED HIGH: able to function at all levels of Russian society with little difficulty, and able to handle appropriately confrontational situations, some knowledge of mat (Russian obscenities, though unable to use any but the most rudimentary forms correctly), able to grasp humor in a variety of situations and navigate most unfamiliar social situations correctly. General knowledge of cultural icons and their work (most periods of Russian culture), as well as a general knowledge of low culture and popular influences. Able to formulate Russian vocabulary on-the-spot using linguistic rules of combination, though mistakes may occur. Able to understand influence of the Soviet period and World War II. Able to discuss current political and economic situation with some ease, though misunderstandings may occur.