3 Tips for Assessment of ELL Students

3 Tips for Assessment of ELL Students
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The Editorial Team February 24, 2013

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The proper assessment of ELL students (English Language Learners) can be a challenging task for teachers, even as the need for such assessments continues to grow. As the country’s classrooms continue to diversify, the need for testing students’ abilities and understanding remains constant.

More and more students are learning to speak English right along with their standard core curriculum. For teachers, the ability to accurately assess these ELL students becomes increasingly important. Tests are necessary to measure ability, and accurate results are required to teach most effectively.

The ability to truly measure the knowledge of ELL students takes time to develop. The crafting of a good ELL assessment, along with the training of students to take such assessments, is as much an art as it is a science. That being said, there are certainly some useful guidelines teachers can refer to in order to get off to the right start.

What follows are three powerful tips for the assessment of ELL students. These are useful approaches to creating and conducting effective assessments. Teachers should remember, however, that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the assessment of such students, and it is always worthwhile to consult an ELL professional for advice on the subject.

Three tips for ELL assessments

Determine the goal

This may seem obvious, but it is paramount to conducting an effective assessment. Assessments can become confused very quickly if one is not careful to define what it is that is being assessed. If the teacher fails to construct the test around a particular goal, he or she may fail to create a test that measures anything other than the student’s English proficiency.

Consider an assessment to determine a student’s ability to use addition and subtraction. If the goal is to measure his or her ability with arithmetic, the test can be constructed to contain little to no English. The teacher can even read the instructions aloud, in the native language if possible, to avoid potential confusion.

In contrast, if the teacher were to hand out the assessment with only instructions written in English, the students could become quickly confused.

When testing ELL students, teachers should determine what it is that needs to be measured, and ensure the test does so as efficiently as possible while taking into account the English level of those being tested.

Use a dual language approach

Vera Gutierrez-Clellen, researcher in ELL assessment techniques, stresses the value of using a dual language approach when testing ELL students. She points out that the ability of ELL students may vary significantly in differing areas, depending on the language being used. A child may be better at counting in one language and reading in another, and it is important to take this into consideration when attempting to accurately measure such abilities.

The idea of using two languages in the classroom may seem prohibitively difficult, but it does not have to be. If the teacher only speaks English, it is still possible to seek the services of a Spanish speaker, for instance, for help with assessments. Teachers can have instructions translated beforehand if necessary. If possible, they may also request the help of a fluent speaker during test taking.

Teach test-taking skills

The emphasis on test taking instruction can be frustrating for teachers at times, as it seems to take away from time that could be spent learning actual academic subjects. However, for some ELL students, instructions in test taking may remove a significant barrier between them and an accurate assessment.

Some ELL students, especially those new to the U.S. school system, might not be familiar with common test structures. Teachers can remove this obstacle for ELL students by explaining, preferably in their native language, the structure of tests and the appropriate strategies used in taking them.

A learning process

As with any other kind of testing, teachers will develop their own approach and style to ELL assessments. However, there are some key factors that remain constant when approaching the assessment of ELL students. By using the tips above, teachers can learn to better focus both their assessments and the minds of their students on the task at hand. Assessments are meant to measure ability, and anything teachers can do to aid in their effectiveness is worthwhile.

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