Language Assessment Tools

language assessment tools Suzanne Marie

Purpose of Language Assessment

Language assessment is important for educators and students to measure outcomes for lessons. The specific choices I make for language components assessment includes developing a strategic plan for overall language learning goals set in one month, three months, six months, and ten months.

I use pre-assessment and post-assessment for reading and writing. Pre-assessment is at the beginning of the year in the first week of classes and pos-assessment is at the benchmarks throughout the year.

The assessments throughout the school year are both formative and summative. Formative is used with each lesson to ensure the learning outcomes are met as well as at the end of each unit. Summative is in the form of mid-term and final exams in reading and writing. 

This post will highlight the following key points in language assessment:

  1. What should be included in a language assessment tool.
  2. A process for lessons plans to incorporate language assessment.
  3. Strategies to reinforce learning and prepare students for assessment.
  4. Considerations for creating a language assessment tool.
  5. Sample speaking assessment for English language learners.
  6. How to reiterate learning through self-reflection.

What makes for a Good Language Assessment Tool?

In the reading, ‘Supporting English Language Learners with Formative Assessment’s (Guest Author, 2018) the author suggests that ‘teachers work with students to co-create appropriate goals for using more sophisticated academic language.  It’s critical to promote student ownership of the assessment process through goal setting, self-assessment as well as peer assessment opportunities.’ (2018) This resonated with me as I have always asked learners their goals for English reading and writing and then discuss what I think is best with my learners.

Discussing goal setting with timelines that students set for themselves and self assessment is helpful to guide your assessment process throughout the year. Ask students to prepare one goal they are willing to share with their peer and create a classroom norm to support each other and work together with peer assessments.

This is a great strategy for my high school students to take ownership of their own learning and prepare them for the peer assessment process in university studies. 

Process for Lesson Planning

I teach grade ten high school students at a Chinese high school international department. The students are learning English reading and writing. Here is the process I us when teaching reading and writing to English language learners:

  • Choose appropriate novels. In this class I use fiction novels we read together and at the end of each chapter students discuss the plot and characters.
  • Identify key target vocabulary. We extract vocabulary words as they are asked to highlight words while they are reading.
  • Use the target vocabulary. Create a word list of synonyms and antonyms from each chapter for students to make connections and expand their vocabulary.
  • Use Translanguaging in students’ mother-tongue language. Discuss these words in Chinese and set expectations when students are speaking and writing to communicate the new vocabulary they have learned. 

Strategies to Reinforce Learning

Students will discuss the chapter questions together then complete five questions about the reading in their writing journals. I find this helps them with both reading comprehension and writing as they have opportunities to use new words learned and I can assess their writing for grammar and spelling. 

In reading, ‘Watch Them Grow: 5 Non-test Alternatives for Assessing English Language Learners’ (Saralicain, 2019), the author listed this method as ‘describing/explaining/retelling/paraphrasing/summarizing texts’ (2019).

The strategies suggested include asking students to retell the story or to choose their favourite character and tell the story from their point of view. This type of assessment for discussing the chapters during class stimulates creative thinking and sense making of the readings.

My students are creative artists and most are phenomenal at art and drawing so I believe this type of question will tap into their artistic abilities where they can think and write creatively.  

One of my students drawing a scene from ‘The Little Prince’.

Creating a Language Assessment

In choosing the language assessment it was important I maintained consistency with previous assessments so I chose to evaluate speaking based on the IELTS Band Descriptors for English language learners (British Council, 2020).

The modification I made was choosing my own topic for the assessment. I chose the topic my student has been reading and writing about in classes. This decision seemed most appropriate as it can provide him with the most meaningful feedback about something he’s interested in and to help him meet his goal of of presenting a public speech about his topic next week.

This assessment will also help to prepare him for his public speech and any follow up questions he may get from his audience.

Speaking Assessment

For this assessment I worked with a student to prepare a speech he was presenting to the Hainan government, educators for primary, secondary, and university. I chose the method I use for the IELTS evaluation for speaking:

  1. Choose a topic for discussion.
  2. Ask the student to describe their topic.
  3. Ask follow up questions for clarification and further exploration of comprehension about the topic.

During this assessment there are some corrections made for word choice, grammatical structures and pronunciation and the students are not provided with information about the topic prior to the assessment. 

Video of Speaking Assessment

The follow up debrief includes the following questions:

  1. What do you think you did really well?
  2. What do you think are some areas for improvement?
  3. What would you have said differently?

After we discuss these questions I provide my feedback. For this assessment Eden made a few minor word choice errors like when he said ‘publics’ instead of public. His vocabulary was appropriate for his level of English learning, consistent with our studies in class, but he could have expressed his ideas more succinctly. For example, when I offered him the option to use ‘compound’ to describe how little problems turn into big problems. From the IELTS Band Descriptors rubric (2020) I have assessed him at:

  1. 7- Fluency and coherence
  2. 5.5- Lexical resources
  3. 6- Grammatical range and accuracy
  4. 6- Pronunciation

Eden is a high level English learner in my class as he has voluntarily studied English since the age of eight years. He watched English videos online and started to learn how to read English on his own with self-study. He did this while he was living abroad and studying at a Dutch primary school for grades two to six. His mother tongue is Chinese (Mandarin), his grandparents speak Hainanese dialect specific to the region of his hometown in Hainan, China, and he also reads, writes, speaks, and listens with understanding in both Dutch and English. Edens goals are to attain university entrance level English to be competitive in an English environment for his studies. Other than school he only speaks English wth his brother who is currently studying at the University of Toronto in Canada. English exposure outside of class and talking with his brother includes reading English books and watching English television and movies. He is a talented artist and spends most of his free time drawing and creating artwork he can commission for his passion about the environment. His current age is sixteen years old. 

Self-Reflection Following a Language Assessment

It is important to self-reflect following an assessment process with your students. Self-reflection helps to uncover missed opportunities about the administration process and learners’ areas for growth.

For example, in the assessment you just reviewed, I noticed Eden’s word choice and how he chose words that were safe in his explanation. He did not attempt an expanded vocabulary for a more concise message. He also made a few errors with pluralizations throughout.

Self-reflection of my language assessment process helped me to see that Eden, in particular, would benefit with my focusing on giving feedback to him about grammar and word choice when he is articulating his ideas.

Asking students to also self-reflect provides an expanded view of the assessment process. Eden’s feedback was that he could have used better words when describing the environment. He said, “I know to say climate change but I was nervous” (Wei, 2021). 

In reading and writing classes following this assessment I focused on the two key goals we discussed about pluralization and word choice. There is confusion with pluralization and past tense with my English language learners and Eden’s assessment showed me what may be helpful to focus on in his last weeks of school.

Further Reading

World Readiness Standards for Learning Languages

Assessment of Young Learners

Assessment of English Language Learners

Cambridge Test Your English- Young Learners

5 Ways to Assess English Language Learners

Criteria for High Quality Assessment

Culturally Sustaining Assessment

The SIOP Model

Featured

Teaching with The SIOP Model

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References

Guest Author. (2018, February 13). Supporting English Language Learners with Formative Assessments. Getting Smart. https://www.gettingsmart.com/2016/04/supporting-ells-with-formative-assessments/

PETER PAN BY J. M. BARRIE – Free eBook Online. (n.d.). Www.literatureproject.com. Retrieved June 10, 2021, from http://www.literatureproject.com/peter-pan/

sarahlicain. (2019, January 17). Watch Them Grow: 5 Non-test Alternatives for Assessing English Language Learners. FluentU English Educator Blog. https://www.fluentu.com/blog/educator-english/assessing-english-language-learners/

SPEAKING: Band Descriptors (public version) Band Fluency and coherence Lexical resource Grammatical range and accuracy Pronunciation. (n.d.). https://www.ielts.org/-/media/pdfs/speaking-band-descriptors.ashx?la=en

Speaking Assessment IELTS. (n.d.). Www.youtube.com. Retrieved June 11,    2021, from https://youtu.be/4PEn6RyV–8

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