Language assessment measures the proficiency a language user has in any given language. It could be a first or second language. Tests are one form of language assessment, and there are many others. They fall into two categories: summative and formative. Please read our other Teaching Wikis to learn more about summative and formative assessment.

Three main concepts in determining meaningful language assessment are validity, reliability, and feasibility.

  1. Validity means that what is assessed should be assessed.
  2. Reliability refers to the accuracy of the decisions made from the assessment.
  3. Feasibility means that the assessment has to be practical.

A language assessment can cover one or more of the following four essential skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening.

What is the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)?

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is the international standard for defining language learners’ proficiency. On a six-point scale of ability, it describes what learners should be able to do as they progress in language learning. The progression points in reverse order of ability are Proficient, Independent, and Basic. These are then broken into two levels (three for Basic).

What’s the purpose of language assessment?

Language assessment has two primary forms: achievement assessment and proficiency assessment.

  • Achievement assessment is the completion of specific objectives set out by a course. It refers to work completed in lessons. It measures the extent to which the pupil has met the learning goals in a given time frame, such as a lesson, a series of lectures, or an entire course.
  • The proficiency assessment assesses a pupil’s ability – what they know and can do in the real world. It measures a learner’s proficiency in a context outside the classroom.

What are the different types of language assessment?

The meaning of your language assessment will depend on your setting.

If you’re teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), you must first gauge your learners’ proficiency based on the standard reference levels (using the scale for your chosen qualification).

Suppose you’re in a primary setting responsible for supporting learners with English as an Additional Language (EAL). In that case, you’ll need a clear strategy for integrating children and their families into school life.

How does language assessment work?

As we’ve seen, meaningful language assessment covers four essential areas: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. So how should each one be assessed, and where can you find resources to help you?

Assessing Reading

Reading takes place in a variety of contexts, not just books. Children read on tablets, computers, and phone screens. No matter what they’re reading, the same simple process applies. They have a goal or purpose for reading. They use knowledge of words and grammar to make meaning from the terms.

So reading assessment should focus on a range of texts and tasks to fit the reader’s purpose; this might be through reading comprehension activities or putting words into sentences, so they make sense.

Assessing Writing

Writing is a complex process. Children need a topic and the message they want to communicate. They might also consider the audience, the overall structure, and the vocabulary they must use.

So when assessing writing, it’s essential to set a range of specific writing tasks to gauge their ability to write for different purposes and audiences. The tasks should also be about something relevant to them.

Assessing Speaking

Speaking happens every day. Like writing, speaking requires children’s brains to find the right words and put them together in a way that makes sense. But, like writing, how we speak and the terms we use depend on the context: who we are talking to and the purpose of our conversation.

Therefore, there are many ways to assess speaking, such as interviews, presentations, and group or paired work. In addition, some everyday speaking activities involve describing pictures or discussing personal information like hobbies or interests.

Assessing Listening

Hearing is one of our five senses. Listening is the act of making sense of what we’ve heard. It’s a bit like reading and reading comprehension. A child might be able to pronounce the words, but do they understand the meaning?

Listening is a complex process. First, our brains process the sounds reaching our ears to recognize them as language. They then organize the sounds into phrases and start to develop our understanding of the gist of what’s been said. Then they use our existing knowledge to understand the overall message better.

For listening assessments, they must copy real-life situations. In general, listening assessments involve listening to a recording or live speaker and then giving a response such as:

  • Identifying the main ideas.
  • Selecting specific information.
  • Picking out words from a list.
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