For educators, assessing students' progress is as necessary as planning engaging activities or building lessons around core themes. Without assessment teachers have no way of knowing what types of help their students need, and assessing students can also gauge their progress through a course of study. This is true in ESL classrooms as well as in single-language settings. There are a wide range of options for ESL educators to choose from when assessing their students' grasp of the English language.
In order to plan curricula and design activities that will be useful and beneficial for ESL students, it is necessary, first, to know what the students' goals are for learning English and what their current linguistic capabilities are -- needs assessment fills in these blanks. According to the Center for Adult English Language Acquisition, needs assessment is a tool educators can use to understand the language and literacy abilities students may already have, the skills and proficiencies they want to develop and the contexts in which students generally use English language skills. Needs assessments are ongoing throughout a course of study and inform the development of curricula and activities as the students continue to expand their capabilities.
According to the Education Alliance LAB at Brown University, assessment is an integral part of the teaching and learning process. Portfolio assessment, which the Alliance endorses, involves analyzing and evaluating multiple examples of a student's work and assessing that student's proficiencies and problem areas. English language learners are sometimes left out of portfolio assessments because of their perceived limited abilities in English, but, the Alliance says, because portfolio involves scoring a wide range of student work based on predetermined criteria, all students can benefit from this type of assessment.
There are many different ways of assessing an individual English language learner's capabilities. Cloze tests provide a good way of gauging a student's written, reading and vocabulary proficiencies. A Cloze test consists of sentences with blanks in places words have been removed. Students must choose the proper word to fill in the blank. Cloze tests have a wide range of applications, from testing vocabulary retention to honing reading comprehension skills and deductive logic. One popular Cloze activity is using a song that students learn to sing. Later, a Cloze version of the song with key words removed is presented to the students, who must then fill in the missing links.
Other Assessments for English Language Learners
Dictation exercises, strip stories, multiple choice tests and written assignments are all examples of different types of assessments suitable for English language learners. Simple dictation exercises require students to write down a passage read aloud by the teacher. These exercises offer an assessment of students' listening and writing skills. Strip stories require students to organize a short passage into the proper order after it has been taken apart and reorganized. Strip stories test reading comprehension and narrative awareness. Multiple choice tests and written assignments are good ways of assessing vocabulary, reading comprehension and writing skills.
- Center for Adult English Language Acquisition: Resources: Needs Assessment for Adult ESL Learners
- Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory A Program of The Education Alliance at Brown University: Portfolio Assessment and English Language Learners: An Annotated Bibliography; Emily Lynch Gomez; 1998
- Union University: Assessment