10 – The Importance of Meaningful and Consistent Assessment Practices

Kelly Koshinsky

The word assessment is often intimidating for both students and teachers. When it comes to school-aged English as an Additional Language (EAL) learners, assessment can be extra challenging as it encompasses both language and content. Although assessment can be difficult, it is essential that it start immediately after newcomer students enter Canada and continues throughout their entire education. Whether students are in a pull-out, push-in or co-teaching type of support program, assessment helps guide teachers to successfully help their students learn English. Assessment is a crucial component of newcomer EAL learners’ success. Students deserve meaningful and consistent assessment to help them achieve the ultimate goal of full integration in a mainstream classroom.

As a relatively new teacher, with most of my teaching occurring abroad in South Korea, I have limited experience with consistent and meaningful assessment practices. Throughout this course I have gained knowledge about the value of the right kind of assessment for both teachers and the students. Through readings, module content, and EAL classroom observation, I have learned about effective assessment practices for immigrant and refugee students and I am motivated to continue learning about how assessment is used to benefit newcomers in our province.

Assessment begins as soon as both immigrant and refugees enter into Canada and before they are placed in any type of EAL program. In Saskatchewan, protocol requires students to complete the important first step of Initial Assessment at a Newcomers Student Centre (or other assessment site). “The procedure should include an interview followed by assessment tasks” (Coehlo, 2012, p.22). Anderson and Tilbury (2014) explain, “By reviewing a student’s academic background and administering assessments in the four skill areas of reading, writing, speaking, and listening, baseline data can be recorded and an appropriate educational program for each EAL student can be developed” (p.89). Initial assessment allows professionals to gather information on students’ L1 and L2 skills, as well as their cultural backgrounds and values. The information gathered is used to find the best fit for the student to meet their language needs and position them into a program where they can be successful. Anderson and Tilbury (2014) further explain that the data acquired during initial assessment can be used in the long term to track students’ language learning over time). It is important that initial assessment is part of families’ reception into a new country and new school system.

As mentioned above, initial assessment serves a key role in immigrant and refugee students’ intake into a new system. It is vital that initial assessment and all following assessments hold both validity and reliability. Coelho (2012) explains, “In order to ensure that students are progressing steadily and sufficiently towards the high levels of literacy that are required for success in school and beyond, teachers, and others involved in the education of L2Ls need some means of assessing and tracking progress over time” (p. 84).  In order to ensure the level of validity and reliability required, “the ministry introduced the Common Framework of Reference, a provincial language reference scale for charting language proficiency. The CFR presents a reputable reliable and objective scale for monitoring and recognizing formal and informal language learning experiences” (Prokopchuk, 2014, p. 84). “The CFR consists of six levels between absolute beginner and a highly proficient user of the language whose performance is virtually indistinguishable from that of an extremely competent native speaker” (Coelho, 2012, p.86). In the CFR all six levels are explained for the four language skill areas of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Each level provides an explanation of language abilities at that level. It is a well-known assessment too throughout Europe and North America that helps teachers track students’ language competence.

As ELLs progress in their language skills it is important for their teacher to continually assess their growth and movement from conversational language to academic language. Roessingh (2016) uses Beck, McKeown, and Kucan’s (2013) three-tiered model for understanding communicative  and academic language. They explain Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) and Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) in terms of three tiers: Tier 1 as conversational words; Tier 2 as high utility/general academic words; and finally Tier 3 as subject specific words. As students move closer into Tier 3 it is important that teachers continue to assess students’ progress by continuing to refer to the CFR and their levels.

In Saskatchewan, once students have reached an adequate level of academic language, they will begin to be assessed alongside their peers. Anderson and Tilbury (2014) state, “The goal of English as an additional language program at both elementary and secondary levels is to improve students’ cultural and linguistic competency so that they can be successfully integrated into mainstream classrooms (p. 89). As students work towards fluency and the goal of integration, “teachers working with English Language Learners have to consider both language and content” (Gottlieb, 2006, p.64). Therefore, they need to develop both language and content objectives that line up with Saskatchewan standards in the form of curriculum outcomes.  Objectives for both language and content need to be measureable to accurately track student knowledge and skills (Acevedo, 2014). Teachers must complete both formative assessment and summative assessment and use it as wash-back into further teachings. Once students have reached this level of competence it can be common for them to participate in large-scale assessments in a standard classroom.

Although many students will achieve the goal of integration and participate with their peers in learning and assessment for all subject areas, there will be challenges when it comes to assessment of ELLs; alternative assessments may be required for EAL learners. The Colorin Colorado website explains that alternative assessments allow teachers to track the ongoing progress of their students regularly and often and it also allows teachers to target specific target areas, adapt instruction, and intervene when needed. This eliminates the problem of standardized tests not accurately showing students’ abilities or knowledge. Colorin Colorado suggests portfolio assessments and performance-based assessments and the website provides different examples of assessment to try with EAL learners. Hill (2016) also provides educators with information on alternative assessments for EAL students,including the importance of using tiered questions and tasks.

It is undeniable that assessment plays a key role in teaching both in standard classrooms as well as EAL support programs. After teaching abroad for two years, I fell in love with teaching English as an Additional Language and I knew it was a teaching path I wanted to continue on upon returning to Saskatchewan. When I came home I soon realized the difference in standards and protocol between South Korea and Saskatchewan. A key difference is the area of assessment. The information I have gathered from this course through the module material, readings, interactions with English Language Teachers (ELTs), and observation of EAL students has given me a firm understanding of the importance of consistent, constant, and purposeful assessment.

Initial assessment requirements, CFR standards, language and content objectives, tiered academic language, assessment adaptations for EAL students, are all valuable sets of information for ELTs and classrooms teachers. Knowledge about each topic should impact the steps teachers take to ensure ELLs receive the support they need to be successful in learning English. As I move forward in my teaching career, I hope to use what I have read and heard throughout this course in practical ways. First I will have students go through the initial assessment process so they are placed in a support program that best fits their needs. Secondly, I will refer to the CFR when teaching and assessing students’ language skills in all four areas. Third, I will continually monitor and assess students with both formative and summative assessments using measureable language and content objectives that meet Saskatchewan curriculum standards.  Finally, I will make any adaptations necessary to assess students’ abilities and help them reach their academic goals. Although assessment is viewed negatively at times, the use of consistent and meaningful assessment can help both teachers and students successfully navigate the learning of English as an Additional Language.

 

References

Anderson, L. & Tilbury, S. (2014) Initial intake and assessment of EAL learners. In Education Matters: The Journal of Teaching and Learning, 2(1), (pp. 88-94). Open Journal Systems.

Coelho,E. (2012). Language and Learning in Multilingual Classrooms: A Practical Approach. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Colorin.Colorado. (n.d.) Using informal assessments for English Language Learners. Retrieved from: http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/using-informal- assessments-english-language-learners

Government of Saskatchewan. (n/d). Saskatchewan Curriculum. Retrieved from: https://www.edonline.sk.ca/webapps/moe-curriculum-BBLEARN/

Gottlieb, M. (2006) Assessing academic language proficiency and academic achievement: The bridge to accountability. In Assessing English Language Learners: Bridges From Language Proficiency To Academic Achievement. pp 63-83. Corwin Press.

Hill, J. (2016). Engaging your beginners. In Educational Leadership. 73(5), pp. 18-23. Retrieved from: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb16/vol73/num05/Engaging-Your-Beginners.aspx

Prokopchuk, N. (2014) Supporting strategies for English as an additional language (EAL) in PreK-12 Education. In Education Matters: The Journal of Teaching and Learning, 2(1). pp. 81-87. Open Journal Systems.

Roessingh, H. (2016) Academic language in K-12: What is it, how is it learned, and how can we measure it? In BC TEAL Journal, 1(1), (pp 67-81). Retrieved from: https://ojs-o.library.ubc.ca/index.php/BCTJ/article/view/235

Acevedo, M. (2014, August 10). Writing Educational Objectives in a Lesson Plan. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tm-m63qhk&feature=youtube