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Assessment on computer screen

Assessment in an EAL context takes many forms. It can be formal (e.g. tests and examinations), informal (e.g. teacher observations) or learner self-assessment.

At the beginning of the year, or when a new learner starts, teachers need to be able to make judgements about a learner’s language strength and learning needs. This is when teachers often look for a test or assessment to determine learners’ English language levels. There are a number of commercially available tests available, but in reality, there is no single test that will assess all of the necessary aspects of language skills. Teachers need to use a variety of assessments to make accurate judgements about learners and must be prepared to revise those judgements if necessary.

Why we assess

Teachers need to know about learners’ strengths and learning needs in the key skill areas of reading, writing, speaking and listening. It is also helpful to know about a learner’s vocabulary level. This knowledge helps us to determine what we should teach learners. For example, if a learner already knows the first thousand words of English, we would start teaching at the second thousand words.

There is a wide variety of both formal and informal tools to determine learners’ skills and knowledge.

Continuing learners at a school will have previous work from EAL and other subjects that can be used to determine language strengths and learning needs. It is also good practice to involve mainstream teachers in making judgements, as they will know how learners are coping with the demands of the curriculum.

Assessment types

Whilst it is not best practice to assess learners within a short time of arrival, it is often unavoidable. Judgements for newly arrived learners often have to be made using observation and more formal assessments in EAL classrooms. Such assessments might include:

  • A speaking assessment: This could be a short interview, which will also enable you to find out about the learner’s learning background and allow you to gauge the learner’s listening skills.
  • Assessment of vocabulary knowledge: You will need to know a learner’s vocabulary level, which is usually measured as the first 1,000 words, the second 1,000 words, and so on.
  • A writing sample: Referenced against the learning continuum used in your context, e.g. CEFR, NASSEA, EAL Assessment Framework for Schools or the ELLP Matrix.
  • Reading assessments: This might include assessing decoding (i.e. can learners say the words) and, perhaps more importantly, assessing comprehension. Constructing reliable reading comprehension assessments is a highly skilled task and it is best to purchase a commercial decoding and comprehension test, such as the New Salford Sentence Reading Test, which provides an assessment of the learner’s reading age for decoding and comprehension, the New Group Reading Test (NGRT) or the Probe 2 Assessment in New Zealand.
  • With very new learners of English, you will also want to assess alphabet knowledge and letter sound correspondence.

Once you have gathered the data from the assessments, you need to place the learners on the learning continuum used in your school. Armed with this information, you will be able to determine what the next learning steps for your learners are.

Further learning - Blog

Notes in pencil
Created: Fri 13th Jul 2018

Many researchers agree that note-taking is an important skill, as it facilitates learning from text (Kobayashi 2006, Rahmani and Sadeghi 2011, Wilson 1999). Siegel (2015) iterates that note-taking benefits second learners, as it provides them with an ‘external record’ which they can use for future tasks and review. Furthermore, Dyer, Riley and Yekovich’s 1997 study confirmed the effectiveness of note-taking in enhancing reading skills.

Created: Sun 6th Dec 2015

NASSEA (Northern Association of Support Service for Equality and Achievement) have recently revised their EAL assessment framework with a few interesting differences.

Designed to provide a, "cross-curricular tool which helps practitioners to observe, document and accelerate the ways bilingual pupils start to use  English as a tool for learning in school, then continue to develop their use of English through their subject areas. " NASSEA, 2015

Multilingual class
Created: Sun 23rd Jan 2022

If Katerina spoke in Russian again in the classroom, the teacher warned her, her name would be put on the board and she would miss out on certain privileges. 'Katerina' - a seven-year-old Russian speaker newly arrived in the UK - was finding it difficult to let go of her mother tongue (also referred to as 'home language', 'first language' or 'L1') in class, to the frustration of her teacher. Her story is the central point of a recent research paper by Olena Gundarina and James Simpson (see References below).