Author: Breda Matthews, EAL Specialist
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.
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.
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:
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.