Celebrating your English Learners’ Success through Assessments

by Vanessa Garde.

Vanessa Garde has a passion for language acquisition. She taught Spanish as a foreign language for two years, and then went on to teach English as a Second language for over four years. 

Assessments. This word can bring the feeling of dread to students and teachers alike. As teachers, many of us feel that the amount of required testing for our students is overwhelming. Especially for our English Learners, who have to take state and district required assessments on top of their annual English proficiency tests. 

Although the required assessments are time consuming enough, it is extremely important for teachers to also conduct their own classroom-based assessments for more authentic data on their English Learners. The content of the other required assessments can oftentimes be challenging for the students who are learning English, and does not give an accurate representation of the skills they possess. The students also appreciate being given assessments that they can feel confident about while taking, and proud of when they see the results. 

Formative assessments are a great place to start whenever beginning a new topic with English Learners. A formative assessment is simply an assessment to see where students are at with the given material. It can provide valuable information about each student’s strengths and weaknesses on the skills being assessed. This gives teachers a clearer path on how they want to plan and proceed with their teaching. It can also be used to put students into small, flexible groups to support students specifically around what their next steps may be. 

I tend to design formative assessments to be quick, easy, and painless for the students. The best part about designing these assessments on your own is that you can take into account your students’ literacy levels. If their English literacy skills are not developed yet, you can always do an oral or picture-based assessment.  I also remind students every time they take an initial formative assessment that this is just to see what they know and not to be worried if they do not know anything about this topic yet. I use the data from the initial formatives to choose a starting point for my teaching, and also group the students if possible. 

I also use a variety of informal formative assessments during my teaching, so that I can assess progress and help guide my teaching even further. Informal assessments can include questioning, exit slips, journals, games, and many other activities. There are so many wonderful resources available on the internet with ideas about different kinds of informal formative assessments for you to use. These are a great way to keep the learning fun for the students, while assessing them at the same time. Many times the students do not even realize you are assessing them. 

Once I have finished all my teaching on a specific set of skills, I give a summative assessment. This is the final assessment to see if the students have mastered the skills you were teaching them. These are directly tied to standards or learning objectives and given at the end of the unit. Summative assessments can be longer than formative assessments, and the students are always aware that it’s the final time for them to show me what they have learned and that it’s their time to shine. 

Something I enjoy doing that brings great pleasure to the students is showing the students how far they have come. I like to hand back their initial formative assessment with their summative, so they can see how much they have grown and what skills they now know that they did not at the beginning. This helps them gain confidence and allows them to be proud of all the hard work they have put in to their learning and mastery of the skills. 

I keep all the students’ assessments in a folder for each student. The data that I gather from all of the formative and summative assessments gives me a distinct view into each of my student’s learning paths. I can use this data as reflection for how I want to teach future lessons, and see what worked best for the students. This data is also used for report cards, which can be done quickly when I have all of the necessary information right there in the folder. Lastly, I love to show parents the student’s folders when they come in for conferences. This allows parents to see that their children are being successful, and how their learning is progressing. I have witnessed parents feel relieved to see these folders, after feeling defeated when seeing their child’s low scores on state and district assessments. 

If you can follow a pattern of assessments as I described above in your own classroom, I have a feeling that you and your students will not continue to associate the word “assessments” with the typical feeling of dread. Instead, you all will begin to celebrate the progress they are making and have the data to back it up. 

To Further Your Learning:

Supporting English Language Learners with Formative Assessments from GettingSmart

10 Innovative Formative Assessment Examples for Teachers to Know from Wabisabi Learning

56 Examples of Formative Assessments from Edutopia

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