Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Common Assessments and ELLs

T. King, 2012

Last week I had the chance to work with a small group of local high school teachers.  Their district has been doing some extensive curriculum work, and they have now reached the assessment stage.  They wanted to know what they needed to do to appropriately assess their ELLs across several classrooms.  They hoped to learn about different types of assessment tasks that are appropriate for students at different levels of English language proficiency. Some even wondered if it was enough to just assess content area knowledge. (Hint: we also need to assess student’s academic language proficiency).  Ultimately the teachers will be working to create a balanced system of assessments that allows students to show what they know about content area knowledge and academic language over time.  With this information, the teachers can make decisions about future instruction, student placement and
when to begin transitioning students into mainstream classes.
 In a nutshell, I spent the day teaching them about common assessments for ELLs.   What are common assessments?  Margo Gottlieb explains in her new book that assessments are considered to be common when several educators work together to create an assessment. Together they reach consensus on:
·         The assessment’s purpose (language proficiency, content area knowledge)
·         The assessment’s format and supporting materials
·         The assessment activities, task, or project
·         How the results will be gathered and documented
·         How the assessment data will be interpreted and reported (e.g. establishing inter-rater reliability with the rubrics to be used)
Also to be a common assessment, the same assessment is given
·          in more than one classroom by more than one teacher
·         at the same time with the same instructions to students
·         to a similar group of students (ELLs at levels 1-2 of English language proficiency, all 6th graders, etc) (Gottlieb, 2012)
While many districts are interested in common assessments for academic achievement, some educators are starting to look into creating common assessments for English language proficiency.  Still others are seeing the need for common assessments for native language proficiency (e.g. Spanish, etc).   Not only does the creation of common language assessments increase teacher collaboration and dialogue about the goals of language instruction, it highlights the need for academic language instruction in all languages.  As teachers, it helps us remember that we need to teach the language of the content areas – not just the content (more on that topic here).  It reminds us to ask ourselves – what is the language that my students need to understand, talk and write about this particular topic? The answer to that question impacts the design of our lessons and our assessments.  It often means moving away from multiple choice tests and towards performance-based assessments.  It also means creating different common assessments for ELLs – assessments that take into consideration their level of English language proficiency.  ELLs need sensory, graphic and interactive support during instruction and assessment. 
If you are looking to design common language assessments in English for your ELLs, consider using the writing or speaking rubrics from WIDA.  They are free to download and if you give the ACCESS or MODEL, you are already familiar with the layout of the rubric.  Remember that there is no right or wrong answer with language! It’s about where the students are on the continuum of language proficiency.  It’s about what our students CAN DO.

Written by: Tammy King

1 comment:

  1. Love it! Very interesting topics, I hope the incoming comments and suggestion are equally positive. Thank you for sharing this information that is actually helpful.