Assessment of English Language Learners

Assessment of English Language Learners

The Reading Rockets Professional Development
Webcast Series is a production of WETA. Funding for this Colorín Colorado Webcast is provided
by The American Federation of Teachers. The Reading Rockets Project is funded by The United
States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. (music) Hello, I’m Delia Pompa. Welcome to this
year’s first Colorín Colorado webcast. Today, we’re going to talk about assessment
for English language learners. Dr. Lorraine Valdez Pierce is here to help us. She’s
coordinator of the ESL Teacher Licensure Program at the Graduate School of Education at George
Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Dr. Pierce, before we talk about assessment, tell
us a little bit about English language learners, some of the characteristics that make teaching
— make teaching them challenging. Well, there are three big areas that make
teaching English language learners challenging. The three areas are language, culture, and
previous educational experience. So when it comes — when we’re talking about assessment,
language is right up there as one of the big three with regard to the difference in language
between the language that they speak and the language that they’re being assessed or
tested in. Then there’s culture, which will maybe lead to some differences in classroom
behavior from what native speakers would be producing or preparing. But then there’s
also the parental role. When parents come from different cultures they may be less eager
to run and participate in the American public school system. And then finally, the previous
educational experience that these children bring may include literacy, or not literacy.
And this is a very important variable in assessing students. You’ve brought up lots of characteristics.
Could you go back and define — give us a little more information on each one. Language,
could you define how that would be different? What we would see there. What a teacher might
see. Well, children who speak English as a second
language, or bilingual children, come from, you know, over 100, 200 different language
backgrounds. And what we know is the closer the language is to English, such as a romance
language, the easier it would be for that child to acquire the language. But the more
distance between their language, such as Russian, or Arabic, or Turkish, the more distance there
is between the written language and the spoken language and English, the more challenge there
might be in learning the English language. So that’s — and that’s the language part.
The cultural part comes where children are raised in a home where they are maybe given
a rather passive role, and they’re taught to also go to school and just do what the
teacher tells you, and not really engage or ask questions. And so the teacher may get
the impression that these children are passive, or even not interested, or not making the
effort, when really it’s a cultural upbringing issue. So the culture really reflects the styles
of the different children and what their family values and what childrearing styles. Right. Childrearing definitely has an impact
on the child’s behavior and performance in the school. And finally, previous education. How does
that play into it? How does that make a big difference? Well, research tells us now, we have pretty
clear evidence that says a child who brings native language literacy to the classroom
has a tremendous advantage over the child who does not bring any kind of significant
amount of native language literacy. So what we want to determine then when a child comes
to the classroom is whether or not they have literacy in the native language. And if they
do, then we can use that as a building block to acquiring English as a second language
literacy. Makes a lot of sense. So, it seems like assessment
would be particularly important for this group. What exactly do you mean by assessment? We
toss that term around all the time. What are we talking about when we talk about assessment? Yeah, assessment basically is the gathering
of data, information, on a student’s learning or knowledge or skills. And with regard to
reading, it’s what kind of information do we have on the student’s reading skills
and ability? And is that a formal process that we use?
Because it seems to me that teachers are gathering information on kids all the time. Right. It can be formal or informal. At the
classroom level, it’ll most likely be informal. And it must take the place of some kind of
observation on the part of the teacher and then translating the observation to some kind
of documentation. So it’s very broad. Well, the assessment itself has become a key
issue when we look at No Child Left Behind, and when we look at Adequate Yearly Progress,
which is another term we toss around a lot. What can you tell us about how assessment
fits into No Child Left Behind in general, and to Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, which
we’ll try not to use, Adequate Yearly Progress we’ll say. In particular, how is that interaction taking
place when you look at assessment, and then also when you look at the context of the characteristics
of these children? Well, I think there’s good news and there’s
bad news. I think the good news is at last we have some requirements on the part of the
federal government and the states following those requirements, for accountability, accountability
for the learning of English language learners who, for the longest time, have been an invisible
student population, because their test scores on standardized tests have typically been
excluded, or disaggregated. But now this is no longer allowed. And so the good news is
we do have accountability requirements for monitoring the progress of these students.
The bad news is that most school systems take the approach that one size fits all. And so
the same tests that are used with native speakers of English are now being used with English
language learners for the most part. And those are not appropriate, because of the language
difference. And then, in the case of states that are developing native language assessments,
this is still in kind of an — kind of an emerging field. There’s not a whole lot
of research out there on native language assessments for accountability at the state level. So
you see a lot of states kind of searching for answers, and the whole field is evolving.
So it’s a very challenging aspect there, to get issues such as accountability and reliability
and validity, important measurement issues addressed at these levels of assessment. You used the word “disaggregation” awhile
ago, which is probably something a lot of our audience is hearing about. What’s the
key thing about disaggregation that’s important about English language learners in the context
of No Child Left Behind? In the context of No Child Left Behind, disaggregation
means the ability to find out how specific populations are doing with regard to approaching
learning goals and objectives. So it’s very important not to just mix in the English language
learners with native speakers, but to pull out that data and information on all English
language learners in the school system to find out how this group is progressing as
a group from year to year. So then how does assessing English language
learners become an important piece of what we’re doing? Why is it especially important? It’s especially important when we talk about
accuracy. And accuracy is another word for validity. That is, if we’re going to make
inferences from test data then we need to make sure that those inferences about where
these students are, what they’ve learned, and what they haven’t learned, that these
inferences are accurate. And the only way you’re going to get accuracy if you either
use the language of instruction that these students are familiar with or use different
kinds of assessments that more closely relate to instruction. Okay, so how would a school handle a new student?
Let’s take a look at a real-life example. Eight-year-old Marlon Escobar Lopez has an
important appointment today. He’s checking into his new school system in Arlington, Virginia.
He’s at the Arlington Intake Center where staff will figure out exactly what he needs
from his new teachers. Intake Center is the place where children
who speak another language or have another language background enter school. The Intake Center stays very busy. Arlington’s
English language learners speak 104 languages and come from 122 different countries. Most of the children speak Spanish. But those
kids are very diverse, too, both culturally and economically. Children from the middle class have had certain
experiences that other students may not have had. They’ve been to museums. They have
been read to in their own language. Marlon is from Honduras. He looks like he’s
ready for school. But will the school be ready for him? The process starts with his dad. Parents are just that part of the learning
equation that we cannot do without. You know, it’s the child, the parent, the teacher.
They’re the three most basic components. The interview gives Arlington some important
information about Marlon, like the fact that he’s been to school in the United States
for a year already. [Speaking Spanish] We look not only at the academic background
but we also look at the whole child. We look at his health situation. We look at family
history. When his dad’s finished with his questions,
it’s Marlon’s turn. His teachers need to know how well Marlon can understand spoken
and written English. Can you put the girl behind the man? So if you’re assessing a child you not only
want to assess their knowledge of letters and sounds and so forth in English, but you
want to tap into it in Spanish, too. [Speaking Spanish] Because whatever they know in Spanish,
you can be quite certain you can use to help them acquire the skills in English. …put strawberries and carrots… Marlon can read a little bit in English already.
And his comprehension skills in both languages are strong. So the Intake Center places him
in a second grade class for English language learners. Short sound of “I”, everybody. His teachers at Abingdon Elementary have received
all the information gathered at the Intake Center, both social and academic, so they
know exactly where to start with Marlon. Using time for instruction right away at the
correct and appropriate level is important to us. We want all our students to achieve
at a high level, to be challenged, regardless of where they started. Indigo. Indigo, excellent! That was a very complex process. So what do
you do if you’re a school that has not had a lot of experience with this? How do you
handle a child like Marlon? Well, first you need to make an assessment,
a determination of native language literacy, and prior educational experience. And to the
extent that that shows that the child, the learner, has some native language literacy,
you will know where you can begin as far as sound/symbol recognition, phonemic awareness,
especially if the language is a romance-based language similar to English. If the assessment
determines that the child is not literate in the native language then there will need
to be some serious, perhaps one-on-one instruction that goes on with the student to acquire literacy,
if not in the native language, if that’s not possible, then in a meaningful way, in
a very meaningful way, in English. I’m guessing that some assessments are more
appropriate for English language learners than others. Could you tell us about what
an inappropriate assessment might look like? Well, some of the problems with inappropriate
assessments, there’s at least three problems. One of them is a heavy language load. Another
one is that the test item is presented out of context. And the third one is that the
test item might have a cultural base. And so if we talk about heavy language load, a
heavy language load is where the wording of a test item or directions to take the test
presents an obstacle in and of itself to the student responding to the item and giving
you the information that you’re actually looking for. And so if I can’t get past
the directions or the wording of the item to give you the answer, that’s going to
pose a problem. That’s what I’m calling heavy language load. The second problem is
that the items tend to be decontextualized on a standardized or multiple choice test
where you have these items separate from any meaningful reading passage or meaningful personal
experience, and these items, in and of themselves, may out of context provide a challenge, a
stop to the student who goes, “Out of context this doesn’t really make a lot of sense.”
That’s what I mean by meaningful. It’s got to be in some kind of context. Finally,
the cultural base, itself. A lot of cultural assumptions are made on the background knowledge
of the learner. And depending on whether it’s a teacher-made test, or even a standardized
test, these assumptions may be incorrect. And if the student has to get past these assumptions
to answer the item in reading then — and if he’s not able to do so successfully then
the item itself will not serve the purpose for which it was intended. This is something that people ask about all
the time. And I’d like you to talk a little bit more about the cultural background and
what is an example of cultural bias in a test? If you could just give us a sample. Oh, sure. An example, I’ve seen so many
reading tests, standardized reading tests with samples of cultural base, or some have
called cultural bias. If it’s a test of reading and you have a question in there about
Halloween and there’s a picture of a witch in there, and the student comes from a country
where — or background — because many of these students can be native-born — a background
where they’re not familiar with Halloween or witches, then your purpose of determining
the reading ability has been defeated. Because if I’m not familiar with witches and Halloween,
even if I’m able to read every word on that item, I will not be able to determine the
answer. A good example. So how does all this relate
to assessment of reading skills in English language learners? Well, the way this relates is that the assessment
of reading for English language learners needs to be very much tied to classroom instruction
and exposure to the kinds of literacy that students are exposed to in K-3 and upper elementary
grades, and beyond. That is, there has been, I think, a serious gap occurring between the
standardized test that we see now more and more on the market, and the actual kinds of
assessments that are taking place in the classroom that teachers are using to diagnose, very
specifically, decoding skills, reading comprehension skills, reading strategies and so on, that
take place in an interactive, hands-on way that provides the context that I’ve been
talking about, the context for learning, which is pretty much absent on a paper/pencil, standardized
test. So those are the benefits of a classroom assessment
in reading skills. Is there a way that a teacher can then connect that to the broader test,
or the standardized test? Are they useful in supporting that? Absolutely! Teacher-made assessments can be
used. First of all, they can be linked to state standards, which is the basis for most
state standardized tests. So, first of all, teacher instruction and teacher assessment
can be linked to state standards assuring that connection to the state test. Secondly,
they need to reflect what the student’s experience has been in the classroom as far as learning.
So if you’re having the student do a retelling — or retelling of a story, or a reading
passage, then this same activity can become an opportunity for assessment. So, as a teacher is listening to you right
now and wondering how her assessment is going to prepare the child, what should she be thinking
about? What kind of classroom assessment should she be creating, or thinking about assessing
in the child? Well, when we talk about classroom-based assessment,
there’s two kinds: The first kind is the teacher-useful assessment, and the second
kind is the student-friendly assessment. So the teacher assessment can be observations
of student behavior and performance, such as ability to read letters, recognize letters
and sounds, sound/symbol discrimination. The teachers can keep a checklist of reading skills.
They can take anecdotal records. They can keep notes of when a student is making progress
or having a particular problem. Documentation is such an important part of assessment, because
all of us have our days go by very quickly, and we can quickly forget specific diagnostic
details of student progress and learning. So it’s so important to keep records such
as checklists, anecdotal records, scoring rubrics. Scoring rubrics which detail expectations
for reading performance on a criterion reference scale. What about assessing kids with disabilities,
English language learners with disabilities? What would you do different then? English language learners with disabilities
can be assessed using the same kinds of performance-based assessments, but perhaps with different kinds
of materials, or different levels of materials. I know that English language learners with
disabilities can be assessed using manipulatives, using pictures, using illustrations, which
we tend to use with beginning level English language learners in any case. So it’s the
same kind of approach, but possibly with different kinds of instructional material that they’re
used to using in the classroom. Now, I asked you that question assuming that
teachers would know that children had disabilities. Often people talk about the difficulty in
diagnosing someone with learning disabilities or misdiagnosing them if they’re second
language learners. How does one prevent that through assessment? Well, one must take a history. One must take
a history of the learner and find out, number one, what kinds of previous instruction he’s
had or she’s had. And number two, interviewing the parents and finding out if the student’s
had any learning issues, or previous teachers. And then number three, interviewing the student,
him or herself, because they can usually tell you many times what they feel are problematic
tasks for them in the classroom. And then again, most importantly on the part of the
teacher, observation — observation of student — the student working in different tasks
under different conditions, and comparing his before and after performance on these
tasks. You’ve been talking about assessment, and
giving us some of the good examples of how you do that. I think some of our audience
members might want to know what the next step is after assessment. How do you tie — how
you make sure your assessment is tied to instruction? Well, the next step is informing instruction.
That is, for too long, teachers have been taught to believe that assessment is something
you do at the end of a book, or chapter, or unit test, or end of a grading period. And
that’s more evaluation, where you’re making a decision for some purpose. But assessment
comes way before, and must inform evaluation, and it must inform instruction. And assessment
is something that needs to be conducted on a weekly, bi-weekly, monthly basis, so as
to keep up with diagnosing student progress. So once you find out that the students, for
example, are not able to summarize in your class. Summarizing, putting a summary of reading
comprehension in your own words, has been shown to be one of the most challenging tasks
for children learning another language. So if you can image your own self learning Japanese
or Russian or Spanish and I ask you to summarize something that you’ve read, you can probably
read it and understand it, but putting that in your own words, that’s a different kind
of task. And that’s the kind of task where if the teacher determines that the students
cannot put in their own words, or summarize what they’ve been reading about, then the
direction for instruction is to give them the words, give them the examples, give them
the models for how they can then summarize and accomplish that reading comprehension
strategy. It sounds as if you’re describing a sort
of cycle of assessment that takes place in the classroom and in the program of instruction
for English language learners. If you were to try and give us the pieces of that assessment,
what would they look like? It would start with classroom assessment? Or would it start
with another kind of assessment? Oh, that’s an excellent question. What we
have is the teacher comes in, and many times the teacher will have information given or
passed on to her or him from powers that be saying, “Here’s the student, here’s his
folder, here’s his standardized test, and here’s his language proficiency results.”
And that’s a lot for any teacher to go through. But the first thing the teacher wants to do,
at the classroom level is to do some kind of a needs assessment, or a diagnostic assessment,
or a pre-assessment based on what he or she is going to be planning to teach for the next
few weeks as to diagnose, produce a diagnostic profile on each child. And then be able to
perhaps place these children in reading groups based on the results of this diagnostic assessment,
and also direct instruction for different levels of ability, and so on. And then, yes,
definitely, it’s a cycle. Assessment is definitely a cycle that needs to be used to
systematically and continuously inform the instruction, the direction of the instruction
for the students to take them from where they are to where they need to be with regard to
state standards. With regard then to tests that aren’t necessarily
classroom tests, how would you advise our audience to fit this whole notion of classroom
assessment into the larger — the state tests, or into looking at themselves with regard
to the growth that the kids are going to show on state tests? All right, it is a fact that state tests are
used to measure annual growth. By definition therefore, they will not be sensitive to weekly
and monthly growth. Therefore, while it may be wise to compare teacher and classroom assessments
on an annual or semi-annual basis to the standardized test score, it would — using that test score
would not be useful for informing weekly and bi-weekly, and monthly assessments that are
going to be so much more specific to instruction, and so much more diagnostic than those broad
statewide tests could ever be. So we’re talking about a very full program
of assessment. Let’s take a look at a real-life example. This time we’ll catch a glimpse
into the Mark Hopkins Elementary School in Sacramento, California, where teachers assess
children who speak English, Spanish, Hmong, and more.
Video We’re gonna do our letters, pictures, and
sound. Ready? Letter? T! Picture? Timer. Sound? T-t-t-t-t. Even in kindergarten an important ingredient
of any reading program is assessment. We don’t want to start a program in September
and wait ’til June to get a sense for whether or not we’re successful. We want to start
in September. We want to see how we’re doing in the middle of September, at the end of
September, the beginning of November, every month we want to have some sense of whether
or not the investment we’re making, the interventions we’re using are effective
for kids. We can’t do that without progress monitoring systems. Show me the front of the book. Mr. Lee regularly measures each student’s
progress. Today, it’s Samuel’s turn. Show me the title of the book. Good. I will
show you letters. You tell me the name of the letter, okay? This one. T. T, good. G. Good. How about this one? Right now, he’s still very low in terms
of reading, letter recognition. Listen. Door, floor, sound the same? Good. But he should come up. How about makes, shoes? Hearing a rhyme requires phonemic awareness.
These quick tests will tell Mr. Lee which skills each child needs to boost. Reading
coaches will offer one-on-one help to the bottom fifth of students. Can you write your first name, last name for
Mr. Lee? Okay, right here. Most of my students, in fact, almost all of
my students at the beginning of the year, they don’t know anything. And towards the
end of the year, I have this feeling that I’ve done something good with them. You
know, they just blossom. Good. Keep going. Even those who don’t speak English. So I
feel real good about that. Very good, Sam. Wow! K.D. Lee is leading his students on one of
the most important journeys of their lives. If you want to be on my train, you have to
tell me a word that starts with the letter “S.” Mr. Lee’s last stop today is bringing together
phonemic awareness and letter sound correspondences. Socks. Good. Get on the train, get on the train. Almost all of Mr. Lee’s kids are on track
for becoming readers. What sound? Help me.
Studio Dr. Pierce, you’re an expert in this. What
did you see in that classroom that the rest of us may not have noticed? Yeah, I saw the teacher engaging the student
in a task, the task of doing something to follow specific instructions. And while the
student was writing his name and performing certain literacy tasks, the teacher was keeping
records. The teacher had already walked into the situation with a plan. He already had
some kind of a checklist, or some kind of anecdotal record sheet. He knew exactly what
he was looking for. And he was keeping records on this individual child to be able to carefully
diagnose his strengths and needs. And then, therefore, direct instruction based on that. Now, I imagine we might see that in any number
of classrooms. What specifically, what techniques was he using that were appropriate to English
language learners in this situation that we saw? Well, he was relating to prior experience
and prior knowledge. He was asking him, “Write your name.” And he was using manipulatives
where he had the little flashcards up; manipulatives, any kind of hands-on experience. He had the
learners engage in kinesthetic activities. There was quite an incentive to answer the
question when he said, “You can get on my train.” So he had kinesthetic activities,
the learner felt that he was belonging if he was able to provide the correct answer.
He had the students participate in writing down, there was a writing down task. And he
was tapping prior knowledge and making the learners feel that they could contribute something
in the classroom. Now, this particular classroom was really
diverse, it looked like. And clearly he wasn’t using the native language, because there were
kids of so many different language backgrounds. How do you assess and diagnose in a classroom
like that? Well, what you want to have is a common set
of objectives or standards for teaching. And then compare each student’s accomplishments
toward the standards. Instead of comparing the students to themselves, to each other
in a class, you compare the student to his or her mastery of these objectives as specified
in expectations for performance, on a scoring guide or checklist or criteria sheet. So it
doesn’t matter if there’s a hundred different languages in the classroom. What matters is
that the teacher is consistent in keeping records on how close or how far each student
is from accomplishing the learning objective. Now, earlier in this explanation you talked
about the necessity to assess a child’s native language and to know where the student
was. When you have a classroom that is this diverse and the teacher doesn’t have the
capacity to speak all the languages, and doesn’t use the native language very much in the curriculum,
how do you adjust for an English as a second language approach? Well, there’s two ways, I guess. One way
that we’ve seen a lot of school systems do is to gather your resources. And you can
gather resources from parents, from concerned neighbors, from business organizations in
the community that can provide a native language resource. So gathering resources and networking
is one way. The second way is the teacher herself or himself, providing language supportive
activities in the classroom, which are referred to as scaffolding. Providing language supports
in the classroom through reducing the language demand using possibly simplified language
to the learners, writing everything on the board, directions step-by-step, making the
sound/symbol connection. So if the teacher is talking rapidly, such as I am right now,
teacher wants to identify the two or three priority points that we’re gonna be learning
about today, and we’re gonna put these on the board so the students can constantly refer
and see what’s on the board, and remember and recognize what was said earlier. Sort of a preview of what they’re going
to be doing? Right, previewing, involving the learners
in games and kinesthetic activities, a lot of cooperative learning activities. There
are a lot of teaching approaches and strategies that teachers can use to in particular reduce
the nervousness, the affective load that students bring in when they’re nervous, and they’re
not accustomed to working with students from other language backgrounds, or native speakers.
We want these students to relax enough to bring their defenses down, so that they can
open themselves up to learning. Well, obviously, assessments help teachers
determine what and how they teach, and you just talked about that, but can assessments
themselves be used to promote learning? Yes, absolutely! There’s now a recent thrust
about in the education field to help teachers understand that assessment is not simply for
the purpose of auditing and counting and tallying, but that assessment itself can be used as
a diagnostic tool for informing the teacher as to the immediate strengths, strengths and
weaknesses, not just weaknesses, not just what the student does not know. But the learning
strengths and weaknesses of the learner by, number one, keeping records and documenting,
and then number two, providing feedback, providing descriptive feedback to the learner as to
how close or how far he or she is from the goal. How does this type of assessment apply specifically
to English language learner students and to their teachers? English language learners can benefit tremendously
from any kind of verbal or comprehensible written feedback that the teacher gives them
that’s descriptive and productive and sends them on the path to learning. Simply giving
the student back a paper, a writing paper with a C+ on it, does not give the learner
any kind of direction for improvement. But a grade plus two or three comments on there,
and I’m not talking about red inking the paper, bleeding the paper, that’s not going
to help, that’s only going to intimidate. But what I’m talking about is one or two
notes on what the student did well and what the student needs to work on further. This
kind of descriptive feedback is so helpful for students who are searching for how to
improve, but simply a grade, simply does not provide that kind of direction. Dr. Pierce, that sounds like a difficult task
for younger students. That sounds like something you could do with older students, but how
do you do that with younger students? What kinds of feedback do you give them? I have worked with kindergarten teachers.
I have worked with kindergarten and elementary teachers who they, themselves, have gone through
a training sequence where they learn how to deliver this information to the students,
even kindergarten and first grade students. And you could have wall charts, you could
have smiling faces, you could have games, all kinds of figures there, where the student
realizes that he or she has accomplished step one, step two, goal one, goal two, maybe not
with numbers but color-coded things, representations of accomplishment at different levels. For
example, a red light means stop. A green light means go. Go ahead, move onto the next step.
So color coding and using student-friendly feedback and symbols that reduce the language
can help English language learners understand where they need to go next. You mentioned rubrics and checklists. How
do you use that with students? That’s something traditionally teachers have kept. How do you
teach children to use those for themselves? Well, as I said earlier, there’s two categories
of assessments, teacher-useful and student-friendly. So scoring rubrics that can be complicated
to design and use can be useful for the teacher. For the students, when you want to translate
this information to student-friendly language, it needs to be primarily put in the form of
a checklist, and maybe not a 30 or 50-item checklist, but maybe a five-item checklist.
And maybe you can convert it to a rating scale where they are A, B, C, or 1, 2, 3, or smiling
face, whatever, frowning face on a checklist. But a range, so that the student, himself,
is engaged in monitoring what he or she feels they have accomplished based on the learning
in the classroom. And then what they do is they get a reality check from the teacher,
who sits with them after having taught them how to monitor their own learning, sits with
them and says, “Okay, you say that you feel that you’re able to recognize words beginning
with an “F” or a “T”, show me that you can do that.” So the teacher confirms and verifies
what the student has, himself or herself, said they can do. Given what you just said, are you saying that
teachers should share some expectations, or the information on the teacher’s own expectations
with the students? Oh, absolutely! It is no longer acceptable
for a teacher to keep secret what the learning goals and objectives are in the classroom
and how high the student must jump in order to get a particular grade, or pass a particular
project. That’s no longer acceptable. In the world of assessment these days, it is
a widely known that both parents and students, since they’re being held accountable for
meeting the criteria for standardized tests, and statewide tests as well as at the classroom
level. They need to be informed before they see any kind of test or assessment what the
objectives will be for the learning period, for the grading period, and how well he or
she has moved toward that. Because without that, without sharing expectations and criteria,
then both parents and students are aiming at either a moving target or an invisible
target, and nothing’s harder to hit than a moving target or an invisible target. This sounds like a very rich and rewarding
approach to teaching. I’m wondering, how much one-on-one time does this take with young
children? How much one-on-one time does this take with older students? Lots of assessment, observation assessment,
can be conducted while the students are working in small groups, or whole class. And the one-on-one
time comes in when you need more specific diagnostic information on an individual who
may not appear — who appears not to be making progress. So the one-on-one factor doesn’t
have to be one-on-one with all 30 students or all 25 students, as long as you’re systematically
keeping records of how the others are doing. And so this really talks about conducting
a collaborative classroom where the teacher makes time for students to engage in cooperative
learning activities, or individually structured activities, so that he or she does have that
time, once a week, once a day to meet with individuals or small groups at a time with
whom he or she needs to conduct individual diagnostic assessments. Is there a way to draw parents into this process? Absolutely! Parents are such an important
role of the assessment cycle. I’m glad you said it is a cycle. Oh, that’s not something we usually talk
about. Tell us more. Parents are definitely part of the assessment
cycle, especially when it comes to elementary-aged children. Because parents cannot only be useful
as native language informants and as to the history of the child’s previous learning,
literacy, and experiences, educational experiences, but parents can also help the child meet the
goals. They can only help the child if they know what the goals are. If they know what
the learning objectives are, if they know what the teacher’s expectations are, and
if they know what the kinds of tasks are that the learner’s being engaged to engage in.
It may even be that the parents can engage the learners, the students, at home in a family
literacy hour where they’re actually working, even if it’s family literacy in the native
language. Native language literacy led by the parents as role models has a tremendously
positive effect on literacy in any other language. Well, that’s a lot. Let’s summarize. What
do educators, administrators, and policymakers need to keep in mind as they think about assessment
for English language learners, and parents, too, it sounds like? I would say there’s at least three things
they need to keep in mind. The first thing that comes to mind with No Child Left Behind
and standardized tests being required now, and there’s higher consequences attached
to them, I would say that one size does not fit all. One test cannot measure everyone’s
growth toward specific objectives, especially if their language — their native language
is not the same as the one on the test, or if they’ve had significantly different learning
experiences. If they’ve not had learning experiences in U.S. schools that’s going
to be problematic, so the first one is that different tests, just as we differentiate
instruction at the classroom level we’ll need to differentiate assessment at statewide,
national, and classroom levels. The second thing that needs to be taken into account
is the role of parental involvement. Parents more than ever need to be involved in the
understanding, the comprehending of the expectations for their students — for their children,
and the consequences for achieving or not achieving particular goals. Parents also need
to be engaged helping in the classroom setting, native language resources, parental liaisons,
having community meetings, and so on. Parents can be one of your biggest resources. Finally,
I think one of the most important things for me, as a teacher/educator is that we need
state legislation. We need serious state legislation across the entire United States that requires
teachers to acquire assessment literacy. Most states do not have a requirement for teachers
getting a license to learn anything about conducting systematic approaches to assessment
literacy for diagnosing students. Most states do not have that requirement. That needs to
go hand in hand with school systems providing professional development opportunities for
teachers to gather and get this kind of information that will allow them to put in place the kinds
of classroom-based assessments we’ve been discussing. Thank you, Dr. Lorraine Valdez Pierce. And
thank you for watching. Don’t forget to browse the recommended readings for this topic.
And let us know what you thought about this program by taking our survey, which you can
find on the main web page for this webcast. This program is a part of a larger series
of professional development webcasts. Please, visit our main web page for more information.
And to find resources for teaching English language learners to read and information
on how to reach out to their families visit our website,

10 thoughts on “Assessment of English Language Learners

  1. The English Learners video was well presented and explained.  Some of the topics were inappropriate assessment, cultural background and bias, classroom-based assessment and assessing children with disabilities.

  2. RE: "She says English is a romance language…untrue." If you review the video at 2:40, Dr. Pierce actually says, "..What we know is, the closer the language is to English, such as a Romance language, um, the easier it would be for that child to acquire the language. But, the more distance between their language (such as Russian, or Arabic or Turkish) … the more distance there is between the written language and the spoken language and English, the more challenge there might be in learning the English language."
    So, what is she saying here? It appears that students who are literate in a 
    Romance language (e.g., Spanish, Portugese, Italian) as their primary language might acquire English more readily than students who are literate in a non-romance language  such as Russian, Arabic Turkish, because those languages share fewer similarities with English in terms of their alphabetic symbols, cognates, syntax, etc. She is not calling English a Romance language.

  3. Yes I agree with you. She is describing the challenges EL's face in learning English in terms of "distance" from English. I believe the point she's making is that when you examine various components of language such as alphabet, syntax, structure, etc., English is "easier" to learn if your native language is a romance language than if it's Arabic, or Chinese, or Russian, etc. Romance languages are "closer" to English than these other languages in that they share numerous similarities in their alphabets, syntax, structures, etc. She is NOT saying that English is a romance language.

  4. Madam, Russian is part of the Indo-European family of languages. English is not Roman, but it is a Germanic language. Go back to school and take a refresher course. LOL!

  5. I thought the comments about assessments hit the nail on the head re second language learners inability to be successful on state testing due to the stumbling block called, the directions. Most instruction for testing is in formal language and most if not all second language learners have been taught informal language. Until we change the way we present testing to these students, they will continue to fail state mandated testing.

  6. Wow so good. My favorite part?

    If we differentiate teaching, we should also differentiate testing.

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