When teaching EAL, assessment procedures need to be in place in order to have a concrete analysis of student starting points.
This area is a minefield! Without other references or expertise to hand, a new teacher often turns to an expert for help… Google! Results popping up on the first page of a search shows the Oxford placement tests on the first page, but are they the answer?
They are actually more suited to EFL students (those in language schools rather than those in mainstream schools where English is the language of instruction). Although useful for the context they have been designed for, they don’t lend themselves well to the International Baccalaureate PYP, the national curriculum or the International Primary Curriculum (IPC). Maybe Google doesn’t have all the answer after all!? So what assessments should we choose?
An EAL assessment continuum can be used as the main assessment document that starts from absolute beginner and takes a learner through to the advanced levels of proficiency. By the time learners are half way through the continuum they can often access the curriculum around them. At this point, the easiest option is to withdraw not only the EAL support, but also the assessment in the English language learning area (taking them off the continuum). However, this can result in gaps in their understating of the basics of English needed for later success. It’s important to ensure learners are still progressing on an English language learning curriculum alongside the content learning they are receiving day-to-day. In an ideal platform of learning, EAL professionals can work closely with class teachers to embrace both elements systematically. This takes time to plan carefully. Communication Across Cultures runs courses to support teachers with professional development in this area.
As a result of the importance of the EAL assessment continuum, you need to select the right type to ensure your learners gain the most from their language learning experience. Once this is in place, supporting evidence needs to be completed to support the assessment you are providing on the continuum. This can include the Caroline Scott’s Baseline Assessment (Teaching English as an Additional Language 5-11) which allows teachers to regularly check on progress in vocabulary and grammar, writing samples, reading records, phonics checks and meetings with teachers etc… This supporting evidence can be collected over a half term and used to inform the teacher of how to mark the learner on continuum termly or half termly.
Another way to make assessment more manageable is by allocating an EAL assessment day where you can assign each student a 30 minute slot for assessment. This offers an efficient and quicker way of managing the process. We have included an EAL Progress Review template and notes on how to use it. Click here to view!
On a recent visit to LISA (London International Schools Association day), after asking many questions it seemed that the ELL assessment kit by Rigby was the most commonly and successfully used by international schools. Although American in content, it covers all aspects of listening, reading, speaking and writing. On an EAL assessment day, while the listening and oral section is completed (after 15 minutes), you can begin the writing and comprehension. This also enables the teacher to be present if the first student needs any support.
In the UK the EAL extended scale is often used. It provides some national curriculum steps that lead into the national curriculum (Language in Common) and NASSEA do an extended version of this that you can purchase (Wigan Council have published a version online). We have found this assessment tool easy to work with, however, the continuum leads into a mother tongue curriculum which may not be so supportive for new to English language learners. A more comprehensive tool has been developed by NALDIC (NALDIC Formative Assessment Descriptors). Another good assessment is the Bonne Campbell-Hill (Reading Continuum & Writing Continuum). In addition to this, First Steps has its own language assessment continuum that is often adapted by schools (First Steps). The Common European Framework is also widely used, although designed more for a wider age range, some schools have adapted it to their learners’ contexts.
Whichever EAL assessment continuum you choose, it should systematically work through the steps of language learning from new to English through to advanced levels. Many have been adapted to young learners in schools.