Assessment Strategies for English Language Learners
ELL students deal with a variety of development issues, such as self-esteem, peer acceptance and socialization, physical development, and abstract reasoning (Herrera & Murry, 2005, p.35). Students perform at a higher level when they understand what is expected of them and that the expectations are set high. One method does not work for all students. True equity requires diverse ways of solving problems and accomplishing tasks. Many factors must be addressed to achieve inclusive and equitable assessment for ELLs. These factors include “the prior knowledge and language skills that assessment tasks require; whether test content, procedures, or scoring criteria are biased; whether tests are valid for the population being assessed; and whether all students have had the opportunity to learn the material assessed” (Lachat, 2004, p. 69).
Assessments must be useful, meaningful, and equitable. Some authentic assessments for ELLs include oral interviews, story retelling, writing samples, projects, portfolios, and experiments. Daily instructional modifications in addition to assessment accommodations include paraphrase in English, adapt pace of instruction, provide visual organizers, use computer/software, use spell check, use foreign language dictionaries, link instruction to prior knowledge, provide language instruction, build background, model language/task completion, engage in academic conversations, scaffold responses, speak slowly and clearly, and provide interaction opportunities. Software programs and the use of various technologies are excellent methods of providing visual organizers and aiding in the progression of writing, speaking, reading, and listening skills.
WIDA’s (World-class Instructional Design and Assessment) vision includes both social and academic contexts in school by focusing on standards, curriculum, and instruction. WIDA assesses content language across the four domains: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The content areas include: Social & Instructional Language; Language of Language Arts; Language of Mathematics; Language of Science; and Language of Social Studies. The WIDA content standards are organized with both formative and summative frameworks and sample topics. Model performance indicators (MPIs) include the language function, the content stem, and the support or strategy. For teachers unfamiliar with the ELP standards, the CAN DO Descriptors provide a starting point for working with ELLs and a collaborative tool for planning. The CAN DO Descriptors are general enough to be appropriate to share with students’ family members to help them understand the continuum of English language development.
TESOL (Teachers of English to Students of Other Languages) standards were designed to be used in conjunction with content-specific standards and articulate the English language development needs of ELLs, provide direction on how to meet the needs of these students, and highlight the central role of language in attaining content standards. These standards address three main goals:
1. To use English to communicate in social settings.
2. To use English to achieve academically in all content areas.
3. To use English in socially and culturally appropriate ways (Lachat, 2004, p.48).
In addition, three elements are included for each standard:
1. Behavioral Descriptors: Representative behaviors that students exhibit when they meet a standard.
2. Progress Indicators: Assessable, observable activities for students to perform to show progress in meeting a standard.
3. Vignettes: Real classroom scenarios that include instructional sequences or activities to demonstrate the standards in action, and discussions that link the vignettes to the standards and progress indicators (Lachat, 2004, p.48 – 49).
Communicating With English Language Learners